This is our 5th unplanned pregnancy. Yes, we are abysmal at NFP and super-fertile, which is a fantastic combination when you’re swimming in student loan debt. But this time around, those two blue lines just weren’t the usual catastrophe.
I’ve never once had a positive pregnancy test that wasn’t greeted with some combination of trepidation and despair. I know it’s generally frowned upon to say that on the internet, lest my children one day come across this and have an existential crisis about being unwanted, but I think that would be pretty silly of them if they did, so I’m saying it anyway. My kids all know that they are loved to pieces, and that they are the most precious things in the world to the Ogre and I. 10 years ago, we learned that unplanned does not mean unwanted or unloved. For us, it never will. But unplanned can mean life-changing, and that can be terrifying. Even when it’s not life-changing, it can be overwhelming, and it’s stifling — not to mention disingenuous — to expect parents to react with unadulterated joy, no matter what.
When I found out I was pregnant with Lincoln, what I actually felt was unadulterated despair. Not because I didn’t want the baby, but because I was so utterly, completely defeated by life in the trenches of motherhood. It was so much more than feeling unprepared for another newborn — it was like a sudden awareness of my total inadequacy as a human being. Not just as a wife, not just as a mother, not just as a person capable of basic hygiene, but as everything that I was. From the tips of my fingers to the depths of my soul, I felt crushed by my own insufficiency.
I was also scared out of my mind. I felt completely out of control of my fertility, and with it, my future. I didn’t see it as another baby, I saw it as 15 more years of babies. It felt like I was being erased from my own life, that everything I was as a person was being obliterated by pregnancy, childbirth, housework, cooking, and all the daily tasks required to keep my family going…and I was doing a crappy job of all of it.
Part of that was selfishness, sure. Motherhood demands a pretty extreme death to self, and that’s hard for all of us. But part of it was an understandably human recognition of the enormity of task before me. My oldest was 6, which meant that the every need of four children, two of them toddlers and one a newborn, would soon be almost entirely up to me to care for. That’s not a task that can be completed, not ever — it’s the air I breathe, all the hours of all the days, for the rest of my life.
But what I couldn’t see then was that those needs would change, and so would I. Three years later, I’ve got three kids in school and only one toddler. My oldest can feed and clothe herself and her siblings, and regularly makes breakfast for the Ogre and I as well. The oldest three are able (if not always willing) to help with most household chores. These days, the demands of motherhood are not nearly as hands-on and relentless. I have time to read, write, and enjoy my kids more. I have time to enjoy my husband, too — so no surprise that this summer brought another positive pregnancy test.
I’ve kept going through four unplanned pregnancies. The first one happened when I was unwed and addicted to meth. The second and third happened in Vegas, when we were on welfare and thousands of miles from family. The fourth happened here in Florida, and brought crippling PPD in its wake. None of this was my plan for my life, and it sure wasn’t the Ogre’s plan for his. But all these unplanned pregnancies have filled our lives with crazy amounts of joy, too. Joy we could never have planned for ourselves. Yes, there’s also sadness, stress, fear, and frustration, but wouldn’t we have had those in spades anyway? At least this way, we have four little allies to cheer us up with their ridiculous antics, bizarre humor, snotty kisses, and unconditional love.
No one plans to spend their lives constantly working and still struggling to make ends meet, but most of us do that anyway. No one plans for unemployment, chronic illness, cancer, dementia, or death, but everyone faces them sooner or later. Even when our children come according to our plan, we can’t plan for autism, autoimmune diseases, asthma, or any of the zillion other things parents face every day. We can’t plan for how and when our children will experience bullying or heartbreak, nor can we protect them from it. Even our best-laid plans for parenthood usually get wrecked by something, and often by our kids themselves. That’s the thing about parenthood — the way it turns out is always unplanned.
So this time when the test turned positive, I actually smiled. It was a little shocking to realize I was happy about yet another unplanned pregnancy. We’re unprepared for another baby in every way — just like we’ve been the last four times. But the baby will come anyway, and we’ll figure out how to make it work. And next year we’ll have a new little person to love, laugh, and face all the uncertainties of life with. Really, that’s all the plan we need.