Samuel Robert Doverspike, 10 days old, is asleep on my lap as my mom hovers in the kitchen making lunch. With my previous children, I would have felt guilty and tried to put him down or wrap him in a sling to help contribute. Instead, I stare at his precious face for a while then enjoy some me time brainstorming this article in my notebook.
Life with three is an enigma to much of the population. The U.S. fertility rate is now below replacement rate. Some of that is due to increasing rates of women either delaying children or opting out of childbearing altogether. However, family size in the United States is also low. Only 28 percent of women have three or more children, and 52 percent of women, according to General Social Survey data, reported their ideal family size is two children. Fertility rates are highest in western cities, with the East and the Northeast corridor at the lowest.
I’m in a part of the country where having three kids is pretty normal and not necessarily called a large family. In fact, seeing families cart around two kids in a double-wide stroller with one more strapped to a mom or dad’s back normalized three for me. I started actively craving this child to complete something I’ve always felt was missing in our family tableau.
It’s not to say I wasn’t a bit nervous about it. After the stress of having my first two back-to-back, and some particularly nasty episodes of postpartum depression and breastfeeding difficulties, what the heck was going to go wrong with this one? If I couldn’t manage my first two at home with me all the time, how on earth could I manage a needy newborn with two hyperactive grade-schoolers?
‘You Really Get to Just Enjoy Baby Three’
To calm my nerves, I took to Facebook soon after announcing the pregnancy to beg for advice on handling a family where the kids outnumber the parents. I kept some of my favorites on hand to look at as I neared full-term, understanding the gift I was about to receive. I learned parenting is not an all-or-nothing proposition
“You really get to just enjoy baby three,” one friend wrote. “You are more relaxed as a parent so it’s just easier and more fun. Also, it is truly amazing to watch your older children engage with the baby lovingly and full of wonder. Final comment – number three definitely brings more chaos. A sense of humor is important!”
I thought I was an expert by my second child. After all, I had just spent a year raising the first, my daughter, and thought I did a rather good job. Although breastfeeding didn’t work for us and she was formula-fed, partially as a result she was a great sleeper and on a very manageable routine. All I had to do was get the nursing right the next time, and I was set.
Then my first son came screaming into my life, and I realized I knew nothing at all. I had to relearn how to parent this person, this unique, needy, very different baby. I couldn’t control things all the time. Oh, and having two children under two was very, very hard.
I just don’t care this time around. I don’t ascribe to one sort of parenting philosophy or one-size-fits-all solution. We breastfeed, but if we encounter difficulties, we’ll reassess. We might swaddle him and place him in a crib each night, or we may cosleep. We might babywear him all day, or he might be content lying under the play gym for significant amounts of time. I just need to figure out who he is first, and then we’ll parent this child the way he needs to be parented.
That goes for me, as well. I vowed to take medication if I got the first signs of depression, but I might be just fine. I have a whole stash of cloth diapers because I enjoy using them, but I have a whole stash of disposables too. In fact, I’m using both right now without rhyme or reason. And that’s okay. I have faith that I know what I’m doing
‘The Third Baby Is the Baby We Enjoyed the Most’
“[We] both feel the third baby is the baby we enjoyed the most,” another Facebook friend wrote. “The first baby is hard because you are learning so much and everything is new. The second baby is hard because you are dealing with multiples for the first time and all the dynamics that go along with that. Then the third baby comes along, and you realize how great babies are when you finally know what you are doing.”
I laughed last Saturday when my husband, last minute, suggested I join him and the older children at their gymnastics class. Eager to get out of the house for the first time after this birth, I started to load the baby up until I realized I didn’t have a diaper bag packed. So off I went, grabbing a grocery tote and throwing in wipes, a blanket, and extra set of clothes. Whatever was in sight, really. I figured I’d manage.
That’s the beauty of the third child. I didn’t have to extensively think through what we needed to pack. I could make do with what I had.
Turns out, I forgot the most important thing—a diaper—and I realized it changing him in the gym’s restroom. Even though I probably could have MacGyvered it with a tightly tied handkerchief, I shrugged, put the dirty diaper back on him, and told my husband that we would have to head straight home after gymnastics. We did. It was fine.
Now I Know to Cut Folks Some Slack
“We’ve got 4,” noted a Facebook poster. “When you have 3 or more (and sometimes true with 2 as well I guess) you can pretty much forget about both parents being there for every game, recital or other event. You can also forget just one parent covering these events. It takes a lot of planning, coordination and cooperation to get to ‘I’ll cover this while you cover that.’ Those times when you do both get to the same thing (or even better have the whole family in attendance) get rarer as you go. This starts once you get two children into activities in the preschool/early elementary years, and continues, well in our case, until they were done with college sports and performances. We wouldn’t have changed a bit of it even if we could.”
This started in pregnancy and continued. The kids watch more TV than I prefer, and eat more junk. During pregnancy, I slept after dropping them off to school because I was bone-weary, and things didn’t get done around the house. In the coming years, one kid will feel left out sometimes, field trips will be missed, birthdays may not be as grand.
Once the older two were in school full-time, I could be fully present with them when they came home. However, in the last 10 days, I’ve seen the children adjust to a new reality, where mommy can’t help after a toilet accident because she’s nursing the baby, or relatives gush over the little one instead of playing catch with them.
It’s hard for them. There have been tears. But there also have been moments of beauty: my daughter gently coaxing my son out from under the bed where he hid after a tantrum; my son eager to pick out his own uniform for school the next day, adding that task to an ever growing-list of his responsibilities. My oldest had to grow up fast when my second was born, and now I’m seeing a new, more mature growth for both of them.
Troubles Made Me Appreciate Baby More
The one thing I was absolutely almost religiously wedded to this time around was a natural, pain-med-free childbirth. I was very frustrated at not being able to achieve that with my first two kids, and this was my do-ever, my last chance.
Things started falling apart when my doctor strongly suggested induction at 39 weeks because my baby’s size was worryingly small. She started considering me more high-risk, although I strongly disagreed. I rolled my eyes at the weekly ultrasounds and nonstress tests, but went with it. I also had to weigh the risks of going to 40 weeks versus the fact that an induction would lessen my chance for an epidural-free birth. I finally chose induction, and decided I would fight my way through the Pitocin-induced contractions.
A week later, during a routine ultrasound, we realized baby had gone from head-down to lying sideways in my belly, a position that would necessitate a cesarean section. I laughed with my doctor that my goalposts had moved, that I could not care less about the induction and now just wanted to avoid what I thought was my worst nightmare—major abdominal surgery. I started to research all possible ways to get that baby to turn, and I only had five days to do it before that scheduled induction.
The next day I went into labor. Knowing how he was lying in my belly and the major risks of going into active labor with him in that position, I went to the hospital. They scheduled the cesarean within the hour. He was born with the cord tightly wound around his neck three times.
Had my doctor not insisted on those ultrasounds, I would not have known baby was sideways and never would have gone to the hospital that early, which could have led to a fatal outcome for him. Had I not gone into labor early, I would have tried a hospital procedure to manually turn him back to the correct position. With his cord so tight around his neck that could have put him into major fetal distress. Given his size was significantly smaller than even my doctor had estimated, going to 40 weeks with this pregnancy could have, indeed, led to stillbirth as my body was no longer nourishing him.
My worst nightmare was in fact not a C-section. Indeed, my recovery has been remarkable and relatively painless. My worst nightmare would have been losing him.
So I stare at my baby and enjoy him. The newborn period is my least favorite. The constant nursing, the sleep deprivation, the lack of feedback in the form of smiles and coos. But this is my third, and I know this tough period will not last long. My last baby: the final piece of our family.