This past autumn was rough.
It began promisingly enough: my two oldest daughters started preschool, giving me three glorious days a week with only the baby; I was cranking away on my writing and had just landed a bi-weekly column in our local paper; and we’d decided to get a dog.
The very day that we put a deposit down on a new puppy, I found out that I was pregnant with our fourth child.
Now, my husband and I love children (even our own . . . most of the time), but I can’t think of many things that explode your life like an unplanned pregnancy. Suddenly, it seemed like everything had been pushed back at least another five years — the point at which all the kids would be in school full-time, the point at which all the kids would be out of the house. Sleeping space became a logistical challenge. College looked like an impossibility; someone was going to trade school.
By mid-November, I was falling apart. Caring for three children under the age of five, a new puppy, a house, and a very busy husband through the fog of first-trimester nausea and exhaustion was grinding me down. I felt like I was dragging myself along by the scruff of my own neck. I lost the joy I usually find in day-to-day existence. Sometimes I had three little girls simultaneously screaming at me — just as the puppy walked through the door covered in mud.
For the first time in my life, I thought, “I can’t do this. I am not enough.” And I really meant it.
I’ve been working very hard to process the reality of this pregnancy, of this new child who’ll be joining our family. In this process, my main prayer has been: “Please help me to find the JOY in this.” And slowly, as I feel those kicks from the inside, as I see our baby on the ultrasound screen, as I talk to mothers of four who seem happy and sane, the joy has crept back in.
But here’s something I still struggle with: Why do I get to become accidentally pregnant with a FOURTH child, when so many people I know would love just ONE child? This past year, I’ve been barraged with stories of loss and grief: miscarriages, infertility, infants and children dying. Heart-crushing stuff. And here I sit, with three beautiful, healthy children, whining about how overwhelmed I am to be expecting a fourth. CLEARLY it’s not fair: it’s not that I deserve more children because I’m such a great mother, while other women don’t deserve children because they wouldn’t be good mothers.
What’s UP with THAT, God?!?
But lately I’ve considered that I’m looking at things the wrong way. It may not be that life’s so much about what’s fair, as it is about this: Everybody has something different to learn.
To illustrate my point, think of life as an adventure-fantasy story where everyone is on a quest — like something out of J. R. R. Tolkein novel. At some point in this quest, each character has to walk alone through a dark cave, but here’s the thing: what they face in that cave is completely different for each person. It’s a challenge tailored to fit exactly what each person most needs to learn at that moment in order to successfully continue with the quest. (Surely there’s an actual adventure-fantasy story like this, right?)
So, apparently what I need to learn right now is how to live with complete chaos. I need to learn how to breathe, relax, and let go of my desire for control. I need to learn how to find joy even when life seems impossible, to find simple gratitude for what seems like unfair overabundance. And I need to learn how to ask for — and accept — help.
I have absolutely no idea what anybody else, like my friends who long for children they don’t have, needs to learn. That’s not my business. But then, it’s also not my business to judge that their struggles are “unfair.” My own viewpoint is so limited, so tiny; I am, after all, the same person who once thought that permed hair and feathered bangs were stylish. To quote God, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4)
In other words, for me to sit here and yell at God that life is unfair is like my daughters screaming because I won’t let them have candy for a snack, when all along I know that I’ve baked a huge chocolate cake for dessert.