I turned 38 last week. I had a quiet birthday. Last year for my birthday, I got a babysitter and took myself to the Belissima Day Spa in Escondido for an hour massage. This year, I got a babysitter and took myself to my obstetrician’s office for my 12-week visit. I am pregnant with my fifth child.
I never thought I would have five children. As the third of four children, I pictured myself with three, possibly four kids. When my youngest child, Johnny, was born 21 months ago, I thought I was done having kids. I’d had a particularly uncomfortable pregnancy. I’d gained a lot of weight. Johnny was a fussy, demanding baby. My other three children were five years, three years, and 21 months old at the time of Johnny’s birth. I felt completely overwhelmed.
Until this past Christmas, I was still pretty sure I didn’t want any more children. “Four’s my limit,” I told friends. When Johnny was nine months old, my husband Jack and I took a refresher course in Natural Family Planning. We followed the rules religiously. “No cheating,” I told Jack when he suggested we take a chance on a possibly fertile day.
Then one Saturday last November, I stood at the kitchen counter watching my children eat lunch. Rebecca, Angela, Lucy, and Johnny sat around the little table in our breakfast nook. Jack puttered behind me, fixing his lunch. The day was bright outside the sliding glass door that opens onto our back porch. The kids had mostly finished eating and were singing a song from one of their Veggie Tales videos. Rebecca, my oldest, tried to tell Angela and Lucy what to do. “First I’ll say, ‘I’m Rack,’ ” Rebecca explained. “Then, Angela, you say, ‘I’m Shack.’ Then, Lucy, you say, ‘I’m Benny.’ Okay?”
Angela and Lucy agreed.
“I’m Rack,” Rebecca started.
“I’m Shack,” Angela chimed in.
“I’m Bennneeee,” Lucy threw her head back and flung her arms out for the big finish.
Johnny watched the girls. When Lucy said, “I’m Benneeee,” Johnny echoed the final “Neeeee” in his loud baby voice. He threw out his fat arms the way he’d seen Lucy do.
The three girls collapsed into giggles. Johnny looked around and joined in the laughter. They went around the table ten more times, each singing her part and Johnny always finishing with the final “Neeeee.”
I watched my four small children. I saw them for a moment as teenagers sharing a joke around the table. I saw Rebecca trying to tell everybody what to do, Angela following along, Lucy stealing the show, and Johnny making everyone laugh. “They’re going to grow up,” I thought. “I won’t always be changing diapers and cutting food into little pieces and dressing toddlers and helping people tie shoes. They’re going to grow up and be really wonderful people to know.”
In the weeks after that Saturday, the idea of another baby started to tug at me. I’d find myself paging through our photo albums looking for the pictures of my children’s births. Before Christmas, we had a family portrait taken for our parish directory. We began with a few poses of Jack and me with the kids. Then we had the kids pose without us. One picture turned out particularly well. The three girls surround Johnny, who sits cross-legged on the floor, beaming.
When we received our photos in the mail, I looked at the picture of the kids for a long time. I thought about how grown up Rebecca looked and how beautiful Angela was. I smiled at the way Lucy naturally posed like a child model, her hand under her chin, head cocked to the side. As I stared at the photo, I saw, in the way the children were arranged, a space on the floor between Johnny and Angela. “Room for another baby” came into my head like someone whispering over my shoulder.
When I found out I was pregnant in mid-January, I told Jack. We were standing in the entryway of our house after a Saturday trip to Costco. I’d bought a home pregnancy test and used it as soon as I’d gotten home. “Remember your birthday?” I asked Jack.
He nodded absentmindedly.
“You got a much bigger present than you thought.”
Jack looked perplexed for a moment. When I pointed to my belly, tears came to Jack’s eyes. “You’re kidding,” he said.
“Nope.” While the girls danced around us asking, “What? What?” Jack held me tight and twirled me around the living room.
On my 38th birthday, I lifted my dress and let my OB smear cold conducting jelly on my already slightly rounded belly. “Let’s see what we can hear,” he said.
He turned up the volume and moved the microphone around in the goo. We heard my stomach growl. We heard static. After about 30 seconds, he stopped moving the wand and pressed it into my skin. “There it is.”
Together in the silent room, we listened to the baby’s heart whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. My doctor counted the beats. “A hundred fifty,” he said and put the microphone away. “Sounds great.”
On my way down in the elevator, I placed my hand against my belly. “Happy birthday,” I thought, and stepped out of the elevator to meet my husband for dinner.