I have six kids—to be precise, I have six boys, ages 3 to 14. Other moms often express amazement over how I’m able to manage with so many kids when they feel overwhelmed with just one (or two, or three). I always affirm their feelings of difficulty or overwhelm and then share the secret I’ve learned from having lots of kids: it’s hard at first, but it gets easier the more kids you have, and there are great blessings that more than make up for the challenges.
I remember the weeks and months after Peter, our third child, was born. Despite the fact that he was our easiest baby by far, those days were hard. There were only twenty-two months between our first two children, and then, twenty-two months after child number two was born, child number three came along. So for the first two months after Peter was born, I had a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old, and an infant to care for. It must have looked unbelievable to an outside observer, and it certainly felt insane to me, but the timing had been very deliberate on our part. Before marriage, my soon-to-be husband and I had agreed that we wanted to have at least four children, and once they started coming, it seemed like a good idea to have them as quickly as possible, since I was already 28 years old. What we didn’t take into consideration was the exponentially increasing difficulty of caring for more than one small child at a time.
Our first two babies followed a textbook feeding schedule, waking up every two hours around the clock to nurse for the first few months of their lives. I remember being tired when our eldest was in this stage, but I got through by taking my mother-in-law’s advice to sleep anytime the baby was sleeping. I didn’t lie down literally every time he slept during the day, but I did make it a point to nap with him when I felt the need. Once I had two children, this turned out to be nearly impossible, since the toddler required constant supervision, and when he was napping, I usually needed to catch up on housework. I remember being so sleep deprived after our second one was born that I would nearly break down crying from sheer exhaustion when he would wake me for his middle-of-the-night feedings. God knew what I could and could not handle, and so He gave me a contented thumb-sucker for my third baby. Peter was so contented that he started sleeping through the night on his second night of life! He actually started to develop jaundice from inadequate nourishment, and I had to set an alarm to wake us for his nighttime feedings! Even then, he refused to be roused every two hours, so we settled into a routine of feeding once every four hours at night. The result was that I was more rested with him, but even so, the demands of caring for three small children were almost more than I could handle.
Just thinking about leaving our apartment made me tired. I recall it taking about thirty minutes to get out the door—and that’s not counting the time it took to get everyone dressed to begin with. It was especially brutal in the winter. First I had to make sure that everyone had on a clean diaper or had recently emptied his bladder, then I had to put coats, hats, scarves, mittens, and boots on the two older boys (and sometimes snow pants as well). Next I had to put on my own boots, tie the baby on my body with my baby wrap, and finally struggle into the coat that went over both of us—all while making sure the older boys stayed near the door so that I wouldn’t have to chase them down when we were ready to leave. I would finish the process by putting a hat on the baby and donning my own scarf, hat, and gloves. If I was lucky, we would then leave the apartment, but often the oldest boy would choose this moment to announce that he had to go potty. This was almost certain to happen if he was wearing snow pants. By the time I got him undressed, pottied, and redressed—all while working in a bulky coat with a baby tied to me, mind you—I was sometimes so tired that I would just give up and undress everyone and stay home! When we did make it out the door, we still had to trek down three flights of stairs from our fourth-floor apartment, and that was tricky with two children who needed help on the stairs and a baby on my chest who obscured my view of my own feet! To top it all off, there were times when I made it outside only to realize that my upper extremities were unprotected from the cold because I had been too distracted to remember to put on my own scarf, hat, and gloves!
Like I said, it was hard, and before long I began to feel like three children was plenty. I had no desire for more kids. However, I knew that my husband still wanted at least one more, and since I myself had originally agreed to that number, I never considered simply stopping at three. I did, however, ask if we could wait until Peter was at least 2-and-a-half before the next baby came along. And that’s almost exactly what we did. James was born just eleven days before Peter reached that milestone.
Read part 2.
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Photo credit: Vadim Kulychenko