My fifth pregnancy was a surprise—a pleasant one that both myself and my husband were both ready for, but still a surprise. When we got married, I already had a two-year-old son from a previous relationship, and he was perfect in every way (he still is, if you ask me). My husband and I knew we wanted at least one more, but never really put a strict limit on how many children we'd have together in the future. We figured if we had love between us and the means to support more children, we'd keep going, whether that meant one more or four more little ones. After more than seven years of marriage, here I am, pregnant with my fifth child, our fourth together—and I'm nothing but excited about the newest addition. I blindly assumed the rest of the world would be happy for my happiness, but I couldn't have been more wrong.
I do my best to make sure each kid gets their fair share of one-on-one mom time, which is why I took my daughter, a somewhat shy first grader, for a manicure recently. She was desperate for some girl time in a house full of brothers, and I was eager to have some quiet time alone with her. I popped on a cute, roomy maxi dress that would accommodate my four-plus months pregnant belly (it really seems to pop out pretty fast on your fifth round), and headed to a local nail salon. While we were there, I noticed a woman about my age—I'm 34 if you're wondering—staring at my daughter who was ogling the glitter polish selection, and then my belly. She quickly asked if this would be my second child.
"Fifth," I said and smiled.
Her otherwise-normal face turned more colorful than the rack of polishes behind her. She paused before adding her thoughts.
"Well, I have one. She's in pre-k. I know when to stop."
This was the first time I ever said to someone I didn't know that I was on my fifth kid, and it never dawned on me that people might be that judgmental, so it took me a minute to respond.
"I'm sure your baby is perfect!" I replied. I didn't know what else to say, because truly I was happy for this other woman's contentment with one, but was left sort of hollow by knowing she wasn't happy for my different version of happiness. I sat there through the filing, polishing, and drying wondering if I should say something more.
I shouldn't have to explain why I'm choosing to happily have a fifth child, but I recognize it probably seems downright crazy to a lot of people—like the nail salon patron—and I'm going to share it with you now, because the world has more than enough judgmental parents, and we don't need to be those people, do we?
I keep having kids because I really love them. If you have one or more, you can understand how a heart can swell. While I've definitely had my fair share of pregnancy-related struggles, I consider each healthy baby a triumph, gift, and enormous blessing. I cannot stand when people use phrases like "popping kids out" when referring to moms of many, because there's not a woman on this Earth who just pops children out as if they're nothing. Maybe some make it look easier than others, but the act of making a new human is far from easy, and I wish we'd respect the hard work fellow parents put into building their families.
I am also privileged beyond belief to live safely and with enough food on my table to have these children. I come from a line of women who haven't always been so fortunate. I feel I owe it to them for surviving. If you think I'm talking about some many-generations back story of struggles, I'm not. Of my two grandmothers, one was raised in an American rescue orphanage where English was not her first language, and the other was raised with so little food on her table that she went to work as a child and never had siblings because her parents feared they couldn't feed or protect more children from imminent war. In the culture I come from, having one child in the 1930s was considered a stark, bleak, and sorry occurrence, but a reality for the many who fled the wrath of World War II.
But I'm also on my fifth pregnancy because every woman tests herself in different ways. Some women run marathons, do triathlons, write dissertations, and climb mountains. You can do all these things with five children, too, but as a woman who experiences hyperemesis through each pregnancy, the simple act of being pregnant is my prove-to-myself-I-was-built-strong-enough test.
I still really love my husband, even when he annoys me (if he's reading this, I hope he puts the toilet seat down for a change), so I'm cool with there being more of him in the world. Somehow they keep coming out with his exact face, which happens to also be my mother-in-law's face.
Life, in some ways, is a war. Everyone has different battles to fight. Some battles are short, others linger for decades or even lifetimes. I don't judge the way you fight yours. Mine are fought with arms full of love, and my children are my little soldiers who will keep fighting all that's bad in the world with goodness long after I'm gone. While I can't imagine I'll be leaving them with literal riches, I hope they look back on their lives and know they were so fully loved that they have the energy and determination to paint their futures with all the colors of my affection.
Sometimes, though, having a big family is about the privilege of life itself. In my experience, it's not unusual to hear of a friend or relative being wounded or lost to senseless hate. If you heard the recent news of Ari Fuld, a man from my community who experienced a tragic death, you'll understand this from deep and sore parts of your soul. He was a friend, but I can't tell you how many friends and relatives I've had who have been hate crime victims, in school shootings (it was my little cousin you saw begging for safety in the White House after the Parkland, Florida shooting), and other horrible events. Having a part in creating life is an honor beyond words. Maybe it's cliché, but I am blessed beyond belief to even get a part in the motherhood process.
One of my fantasies is to be old, gray, and in a room with at least 100 great-grandchildren. I imagine passing out so many birthday cards that I'll need a stamp to sign them all to save my old, creaky hands. The fantasy continues with me not having to change any of the diapers for once.
So, I know a bunch of you probably judged me when I first shared that I was pregnant with my fifth child, and the flood of "Wait, are you kidding?" text messages after I shared my baby announcement on Facebook and Instagram was pretty funny. That's fine. You probably still will judge me, but at least you know why I've chosen my path, and I hope at the very least we can grow to respect each other's choices. I won't judge you for doing things some other way—kids or not.