My eyes rest on their blonde heads just seconds before my hands and fingers run through their hair. I watch their faces, just about mirrored images as they laugh, and I feel my chest and stomach warm. I feel my tight mouth loosen into a wide smile, and inside I know I am the happiest woman in the checkout line. I allow the happiness to soak in and loosen me… I might even start to sway ever so slightly.
I position our cart as to minimize access to strategically placed chocolate bars and crappy magazines, I feel my round stomach against the edge of the shopping cart. My body is full and aching after an afternoon of grocery shopping with three children, two of them wildly orbiting outside of myself, and one of them wildly inside. I recently told a therapist that I have three children, without ever thinking twice. She did a double take when I gave her their ages, and revealed that I was counting the one inside too.
I wonder if she will look like them - blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale. I wonder if she will be as wild outside as she is inside. Will she be their missing piece? Will she fill our cup right up to the brim?
If I analyze it too deeply, I feel guilty for imagining our family is a cup to fill or a puzzle that needs to be completed… that there is a finite amount of space or numbered empty slots, and it depends on me, and perhaps my husband, to figure out just how many we need to fill that void. Because its horrible and silly to think there is ever a void. Or is it terrible that there actually is one?
A few weeks ago I broke into tears at the thought that this might be the last baby I birth. That these kicks are the last ones, that this is the last time my belly will be this full, that this will be the last miracle my body is home for. Images of abandoned and vacant buildings come to mind, and I can relate to them; things that glimmered are now becoming dull from the wear and tear. The sharp edges of my trim are becoming rounded at the corners, chipped, and flat-out busted in some spots. This pregnancy has been my toughest, my most isolating, my most exhausting, my saddest… am I actually crazy enough to think that I could survive this season again, with not two, but three wild children? Can my body even endure another pregnancy, horrible or not?
I don’t want it to end like this. I cannot let this season of my life end with me so defeated. I want to finish with grace, with the blissful and healthy pregnancy that I know I can have. The one where I glow, and smile, and shop, eat all the right foods, exercise every day - and not the one where I shut the bathroom door and cry just about every night for reasons I cannot even make a list for.
Except for guilt. Guilt I can pinpoint, it is ever present and palpable. Guilt for not smiling more. Guilt for not being stronger. Guilt for being so proud. Guilt for even the possibility that I might not even want another child, but just another pregnancy. Guilt for crying over a bad pregnancy when I am carrying a healthy baby. Guilt for being disappointed when I have two healthy, happy, and beautiful children. Guilt for being inpatient with them when they are trying to put on their shoes. Guilt for considering risking the better part of a year of their lives, once more. Guilt for being miserable, unsociable, tired… for not getting out of pajamas, not answering phone calls, and for wanting to curl up under a thick blanket for the next three months. Guilt for not loving every minute of this.
The kids fight over who will put the marshmallows on the belt in the checkout lane. My hands continue to ruffle their hair and allow them to work out the half-smashed marshmallows. One minute they scream and screech, the next they laugh with dancing eyes. I watch them most every moment of the day and we share it all… we are in this together. I do love these moments. Our lives are all so closely knit that it is hard to know where my finger-tips end and their scalps begin. They touch my belly, the home of their sister - a common-place they have all shared. The body of the woman they all still share, and I know that this is really the best I could ever be. Just to be there now with my sore body. To be their mom with my sad, and happy, and full, and broken heart. To be mother to one or to two, three, or four - to all of them. To allow myself to be stretched and to cry, and to laugh, and to hold them all so tight. To find strength in the exhaustion…
I run my fingers over the two blonde heads in the checkout line, I feel my hips sway very slightly, and the baby kick, and I am the happiest woman in the world.