I'm in the third trimester of my third pregnancy and while things are going well, I'm absolutely miserable. I feel like I can barely walk around. Each pregnancy has gotten harder for me and I just don't know if I can ever do this again. How in the world have you been able to do this nine* times?First, let me tell you that I sympathize with you. I felt the same way during my third pregnancy, and each one has been miserable in its own way (though there are three months in the middle of each one that are simply wonderful). Pregnancy is exhausting and emotionally trying. As mortals, we all want to avoid that which makes us miserable, and it takes a good bit of faith and courage to face pregnancy again, knowing just how hard it can be.
This is a question I've gotten a lot over the years. I think some people are simply hoping that I'll say something like, "Oh, pregnancy? It's just a walk in the park for me; THAT'S my secret." Sometimes I've wondered the same thing about other moms of large families -- is it because they don't feel huge and miserable that they can do pregnancy again? Or is it just as hard for them as for me? I belong to a discussion group of amazing moms of large families and I asked them how they would answer this question. And nope, not a single one said it was easy.** I'll be interspersing their comments with my own thoughts in the hopes of bringing a larger perspective to the question.
As I've pondered how to answer this, I came up with four ideas that have helped me endure: 1. Understanding through personal revelation God's will for me. 2. Trying to remember the joy that comes with the birth of a new child and his or her entrance in our home. 3. Focusing only on current challenges and taking it one pregnancy at a time. 4. Understanding and trying to appreciate the different seasons of life. I'll focus on each of these in turn.
1. Understanding through personal revelation God's will for me. If I were just making the decision based on logic or my own inclinations, I would have happily put pregnancy behind me years ago, most likely after number six. Some of my friends have felt the same way. I think Jenifer, mom of 8, summed up my feelings best when she said, "I also always say, 'Life is about learning. Everybody has SOMETHING hard... i just got to choose mine.' but, oh, the thought of getting pregnant again just about makes me puke. I'm trying not to think about the one more that follows me around each day, and hoping he is not hanging out with a few more sisters. how do you ladies do this?!"
It would certainly make my life easier if I had fewer kids. But acting on the experiences and feelings I've had in these choices has brought me great joy and the wonderful privilege of knowing intimately nine amazing little souls. I don't think true joy comes without sacrifice. It is a leap of faith to choose to have a child, to trust that things will be all right and will work themselves out in time. Having the assurance that this is what God wants me to do gives me the courage to do it again. I cling to His promises and assurances during the hardest months of pregnancy and I try to remember all the other times I've felt His help and His love. Every time, I've found that with His help, I can do all that's needed.
Ana, a mother of nine, says this about faith: "Something I've learned (and am still learning actually) is that if we trust the Lord, he will help us. Things are sometimes hard in life (with or without a large family) but somehow it manages to turn out alright when we turn to him . . . I did not HAVE to have my younger children. It was an act of supreme charity on my part that I assented to nine months' of torture for each of them (did I mention I DETEST being pregnant?) and I fully expect a hero's welcome in the next life. ;) It has taken a LOT of faith to go through it again with them. But I am so, so, so glad I did. Also, I would NEVER presume to make that kind of decision/judgment for someone else. It was hard enough to come to the conclusion for myself and I had all the facts in that case. I'm just saying I'm glad I did it and I would urge anyone wondering whether to have more children to be very prayerful about what they decide and to be careful not to get hung up on proximate difficulties. Circumstances have a way of changing."
2. Trying to remember the joy that comes with the birth of a new child and his or her entrance in our home. I wouldn't give up the chance to know any of my children. My large family friends felt the same way and most of them expressed it better than I would have.
Laura, expecting her eighth child, said this: "My biggest motivator is that I love children and babies. I also have a real testimony of the importance of being willing to provide physical bodies and a loving (even if somewhat messy and chaotic) home. If I didn't have that testimony, I wouldn't have the determination to push through the physical, emotional and financial hardships that come with large families. But I also know I would be missing out on such specialblessings and moments. Even if a woman has an unexpected pregnancy, resulting in a larger family than she had "planned", if you asked her which child she'd give back if she could, there's no way she could give you an answer. Because each child is so precious and brings something unique to the family. I hope that this is our last baby for several reasons, but even if we had a surprise, I know I could never imagine our life without that baby. The love I have felt with each of my children has given me the strength to do it all again."
Amy, mom of 8, says this: "There are a few things that really help me. One is John 16:21. 'A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.'. . . Another thing I am enjoying more and more is the wonder and awe of a new little person full of potential and individuality. I am humbled and fascinated by these little spirits that Heavenly Father has entrusted to me. And they just keep getting funner and cuter and more interesting as they grow up. (I still don't quite understand how there can be room in one heart for so much love.) "
Christina adds: "Pregnancy is hard. I think we all can agree it's generally unpleasant, exhausting, and way too drawn out of a process. One of my most cherished memories as a parent is after delivery (and most of the ordeal is done) when they hand me that sweet, little baby that I've carried for so long. For me, that moment makes it all worth while, and makes me completely ready and willing to do it again (when the time is right of course)."
Who wouldn't fall in love with something like this?
3. Focusing only on current challenges and taking it one pregnancy at a time. I've found over the years that nothing is more discouraging than thinking about all future possible pregnancies while in the midst of one. This lesson was reinforced for me when I was learning to run long distances last year. At the beginning, it was absolutely frightening to look at the schedule and see the distances it told me I'd be running. When five miles is hard, thinking about running 26.2 seems impossible. So I learned to just focus on what was on the schedule for that week. Amazingly, one run at a time and one week at a time brought me to a point where I could handle those long runs, just like that schedule said!
I love this talk by Elder Christopherson, where he points out significant lessons we can learn from the manna, or daily bread, that God provided to the children of Israel in the Old Testament. He points out that God provided each day what was needed for that day only. While it's good to plan and prepare for the future, we live in the present. It is intended for life to be a daily struggle at times, because we need to learn to develop a daily faith. Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed it’s because we are looking too much into the future when all we need to do is have the faith to pray for strength for that day’s challenges. I liked this part of his message:
"In the 1950s my mother survived radical cancer surgery, but difficult as that was, the surgery was followed with dozens of painful radiation treatments in what would now be considered rather primitive medical conditions. She recalls that her mother taught her something during that time that has helped her ever since: “I was so sick and weak, and I said to her one day, ‘Oh, Mother, I can’t stand having 16 more of those treatments.’ She said, ‘Can you go today?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, honey, that’s all you have to do today.’ It has helped me many times when I remember to take one day or one thing at a time.”Ana, I think, made this point better than I could: I am NOT fond of pregnancy but I go through it because of the end product. I used to want seven children and when I was 20 weeks with my fourth pregnancy I was sitting in church feeling absolutely miserable when it suddenly dawned on me that if I wanted seven children I was only half way there. I felt like bawling. I felt like all my future pregnancies were descending on me RIGHT THEN. If I could go back and talk to myself I would tell myself to stop worrying about future pregnancies--to basically let them take care of themselves. Don't try and take on the pains of pregnancies yet to be (beyond getting competent medical advice) before you face them. Do what you need to do today and if you need the strength for more pregnancies/children (we have nine now), it will be there. You do yourself absolutely no favors to borrow anxiety from the future. I feel like I wasted so much time wondering how many more children we'd have, when could I be "done", etc. I am continually amazed at how the Lord has blessed us to be able to do what we are doing. I could never have envisioned it back then when I was pregnant with number four. (In fact, in many ways, that was a harder time period with just those three little ones than now is with nine.)
Amy says this: I love to think of how I'm connected to women throughout the history of the world. I doubt many of them just lovvvvved the pain of childbirth or all the physical/emotional anguish that goes with pregnancy. And they didn't even have comfortable beds or microwave meals or epidurals or sanitary supplies or disinfected hospital rooms or clean water with which to wash their hands! (And don't even get me started on infant/mother mortality rates.) And yet when they held their tiny babies in their arms, they remembered no more the anguish, for joy. One of my favorite examples of this is Sacagawea. She was pregnant on the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. The way I heard it one day she just sort of wandered off and then came back having delivered her baby. That is one tough woman. I'm glad I've never had to hike across the untamed wilds and have a baby in February in the middle of nowhere. Every time I get whiny while pregnant (which is quite often), I tell myself that story.
4. Understanding and trying to appreciate the different seasons of life. This is something that helped me profoundly during Cami's pregnancy. With ten weeks to go, I was done, done, done, with being pregnant. I was feeling resentful and trying to change that feeling. As I prayed daily for more patience, I found an answer. This is what I wrote to a friend in December about what I discovered:
As for me, I’ve been struggling for over a month with feelings of worn-out-hood (isn’t that a great word?). I’ve been tired of being pregnant and exhausted and feeling like I’m accomplishing so little beyond the basics. The thought of more pregnancies after this one has been absolutely overwhelming and I’ve found myself thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this again,” and “Haven’t I done enough already?” And while I know that I’m doing the will of God with this pregnancy and I’ve committed to bearing the others He is willing to send (I know there is at least one more), I’ve been deeply discouraged by my own weakness and resentment of late – “the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” is how I’d describe myself. I’ve been praying often for a better perspective, more patience, and that I won’t be so resentful.Now that Cami's here, I have felt the truth of what I wrote to my friend impress on me. For me, it's spring again. Sure, I'm tired and sleep-deprived. But otherwise? Life is wonderful. I'm not pregnant! I can move! I've been running! And I have a precious new addition to our family to enjoy. Life is good. (But still, I'm with Jenifer -- the thought of being pregnant again makes me want to puke. I'm trying not to think about it right now).
At the same time, I’ve been aware of my blessings. My family is at a good place right now. I don’t have huge discipline or school-related problems with any of my kids; the chores and routines we have keep the house in pretty good order; if I don’t feel up to cooking, Lillian, Joey, or DH can do it; my three preschoolers get along amazingly well; etc. I’ve even become aware (I’m sure it’s the Holy Ghost helping me as I’ve prayed over and over again for help) of how much “extra” time I have that doesn’t have to be used. In other words, how much time I’ve been blessed with that I use right now for rest and sitting around because I’m too tired for much else. It reminds me that though I feel exhausted a lot, my family really isn’t suffering because of it.
I’ve also felt those prayers answered in other ways. For example, this week I was thinking about Mary and how I’m sure pregnancy was a struggle for her – not to mention the delivery in poor conditions! – and I was thinking how much easier it would be for me if I could remember and know more about this child. Wouldn’t all the sacrifice be worth it if I knew who this child was to become and what her purpose was on earth? After all, I wouldn’t give a single one of my amazing children back now that I know who they are and a little bit of what they can become. The scripture that came to my mind strongly as I pondered on these things was, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.” It may sound simple, but for me that was profound, to remember and realize that no matter who this child becomes, my gift to her, freely given, is as if I were carrying the Savior himself. With that thought in my mind, I find my resentment starting to melt away and I’m feeling anew that this is a privilege.
Today as I was cleaning (doesn’t the best kind of revelation always come while cleaning?), I was thinking about this stage in my life and I realized that for me, this is simply winter, both physically and emotionally. The seasons of my life this year corresponded really well with what was happening in nature. In the spring, I reawakened with renewed energy and dedication to goals and I tackled them wholeheartedly, planting the seeds of better fitness and enjoying so many other abundant blessings after a hard winter. Summer was the time I worked hard in my garden of life, pushing through the morning sickness to continue to train for my marathon and keep up with my other responsibilities. It was difficult, sure, but I could see at the same time the fruits of my labors beginning to form. Fall was a time of harvest, as I ran a marathon and enjoyed renewed vigor as the morning sickness abated and I appreciated my life so much. But now, I’m in a time of winter. The harvest has largely ended and I’m hibernating some of my talents, withdrawing into myself and trying to conserve what little sunlight and energy I’m given every day. I’m not pushing hard towards goals, but that’s appropriate for the season of my life. And while it’s appropriate to mourn the passing of fall and the harvest, it’s important to realize that this time of rest and dormancy is good and right as well. Instead of berating myself for not doing all the things I was doing during the spring, summer or fall, I simply need to let this be and appreciate winter. One gardening book I read a long time ago described the seasons as “planting, growing, harvesting, and planning,” and pointed out that she’s learned to love winter because it’s her dreaming season. She gets to think and ponder over the seed catalogs and choose what she’ll grow and plant next while not really having to do much at all in her garden. I like that analogy as I apply it to my life. Spring will come again, and it might be a challenging one, with a new baby to enjoy and take care of (dare I hope this one sleeps?), and my body will need to be reawakened and invigorated with regular exercise. I’ll get more summers, with the constant chores and overwhelming tasks and busy-ness all around. I’ll also enjoy more falls, with their lovely colors and abundant harvests. But right now, it’s winter. I can decide I hate winter, with its cold and bluster and grayness. Or I can look for things to like about it – the time I have to not worry about my goals and simply let life unfold, for example, or the way I know I’ll appreciate the freedom to move and breath again after this pregnancy is over and I’m not carrying around this huge bump anymore. I always feel so full of energy during those first few post-partum weeks despite waking up with a newborn. It just feels so wonderful not just to enjoy the new baby, but to have the burden of pregnancy so suddenly and amazingly lifted. I think it’s the way spring always brings me such joy – I wouldn’t love spring so much without the gray, cold days of winter.
(me last week -- enjoying NOT being pregnant AND hoping to lose that extra weight around my middle)
* I should probably clarify that I've only done pregnancy eight times. But since a multiple pregnancy increases the discomfort and the morning sickness (I threw up twice a day instead of just once), can I count it twice?
* * I have since heard from several large family moms who are blessed with wonderful pregnancies and NO morning sickness. I'm seriously jealous.