Later this year, my wife Maile and I will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. That’s a long time. Seventeen years ago, it was a different millennium. We spent our first New Year’s Eve together in 1999 as newlyweds in Jacksonville, Florida, waiting for the world to collapse under the weight of all those nines turning into zeroes. Seventeen years ago not very many people had an email account. In 1999, Justin Bieber was five years old.
The main reason I bring this up is simply to say that 17 years is a long time, and after 17 years you get to know someone pretty well. So when Maile leaned around the corner a few weeks ago, her head peeking out of the bathroom, and asked me the following question, I knew she wasn’t joking. I had seventeen years of experience in knowing the difference.
“So, are you ready for baby number six?” she asked, her eyes round, like a deer in the headlights. I just kind of stared at her. Everything went silent, except, of course, the sound of our five children playing in other parts of the house. Yes. Five plus one does indeed equal six.
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It’s difficult to talk about this baby number six because I have more than a few close friends who would love to have baby number one, but for who-knows-what-reason, they haven’t yet. When I compare how I feel right now to how I know they would feel with a baby on the way, I feel a little guilty, a little ungrateful.
This is one of the most difficult things in life, the unfairness of it all. It seems like things should be more even. It seems like blessings should fall in a way that looks less random, makes more sense.
Good fortune, luck, blessings…whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t make me feel as ecstatic as it did when I was younger. I think I recognize better now the pain on the other side of the gift, the emptiness that trails along behind good things. I am happy, yes, I am grateful and amazed and full of thanks, but I also bear the weight of those who still seek, those who still yearn after something, something really good, something that just never seems to arrive.
Can we live in that tension between the having and the wanting? The blessing and the waiting? Can we celebrate and mourn with those we love at the same time?
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To be honest, my answer to the question Maile asked from the bathroom was, “Not yet. I will be, when it’s time, but not yet.” I know I’ll be ready. I know after I hear the heartbeat in a few weeks, I’ll even be excited, falling in love with this next addition to our wonderful family. But right now? Honestly? I feel too old to be setting out on this journey again – I turned 40 in December. Leo will be just over two, and he still isn’t sleeping well, and I’m tired. Lord, I’m tired. Maile and I both are.
Thinking about baby number six is also tough because Maile has miscarried twice before. Twice we’ve gone in for the first scan at around 12 to 14 weeks only to discover there was no heartbeat. Things were not progressing. Twice we’ve left that appointment in tears. Twice we’ve gone home and gathered our children in a mass of humanity on the couch and explained what happened to the baby growing inside mama and then had a huge, family cry together.
And we can get through that again, if Maile’s upcoming scan reveals the worst. But I feel too old for that, too. Too weary, right now, for deep grief.
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I remember when we found out Maile was pregnant with Cade, thirteen years ago. We had been trying for six months and Maile fretted she would never be able to get pregnant. We lived in England. I worked in London, and she was taking a cooking class at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, and everything they cooked made her morning-sickness tummy feel like throwing up. I would meet her at the tube station and we’d board the train and she would hand me the food she’d made and I would devour it.
That first night after we found out she was pregnant, I found a kid’s clothing store downtown and bought her an outfit for the baby with a little giraffe on it. She cried when I gave it to her on the train. We sat close the whole ride home, her head resting on my shoulder, the weight of the existence of a new human being heavy on our souls.
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I also remember Maile’s last miscarriage, three years ago, the two of us on the floor in the bathroom with her going back and forth between throwing up and passing blood clots. I ladled the ruby red human tissue out of the water with a slotted spoon so the doctors could analyze it. I put it in a baggy and we handed it in, feeling a sense of betrayal and deep loss. There was so much there, in the clear plastic. An entire world. A universe.
She slept for days on end. The kids asked what was wrong. I told them. It was like a nightmare but duller around the edges.
* * * * *
Now, here we are once again. We’ve got the noise and chatter of five wonderful children in the house, the mess and the chaos and the love to prove it. We’ve got a one-year-old who I lay down beside almost every night, the carpet leaving marks on the side of my face. And inside Maile, that miracle.
This is not the life I expected or planned. I can assure you of that. But it has more depth, more meaning, than I ever knew a life could have. The sadness is heavier, the joy less transient. Of course, it’s not just the children that make it that way – it’s the friends, the successes, the failures, the questions, the doubts, the certainties. The blessings. The empty spaces. All of it, balled up into one beautiful thing called life.
You know, just in writing this out I can feel my answer to Maile’s question shifting towards a yes. I am ready. There is a space here in our family for this little one.
Now, we wait.