We had a very encouraging sign on Andrew’s second day in the NICU, which was his fourth day on intravenous antibiotics. On that day, he finally opened his eyes! Seeing his sweet brown eyes for the very first time moved me almost to tears. He was eight days old.
That first day at the new hospital was physically exhausting. The most walking I had done since giving birth six days earlier was to go from our car in the hospital parking lot to the NICU after Andrew was transferred, and even that had felt like a stretch. But that was only the beginning.
Because Andrew was so weak and lethargic, the hospital set me up with an electric pump and had me express milk to feed him from a bottle. Sometime during that first day or night, one of the monitors in the room started beeping loudly, and within seconds, a nurse appeared in the doorway and said that the baby’s blood oxygen level had dropped too low and told me to rouse him.
At some point the next day I finally reached full dilation and started having the urge to push. While the hospital did allow water births, I decided to try using the birthing stool. It was a lot higher than I expected, and it was uncomfortable. But other than mentioning that I wasn’t comfortable, I made no effort to change locations. At that point in labor, a mother is simultaneously too focused and too overwhelmed by the birthing process to advocate for herself, and no one connected my calm, quiet comment that the birthing stool was uncomfortable with a real desire to move to the bed, which is what I wanted.
It’s been over five years since the birth of my fifth child, the child I never thought we’d have. Before we married, my husband and I agreed that we would like to have at least four kids, and after that, we’d see if we wanted more or not. Once we started having kids, it seemed to make sense to have them as quickly as possible, since I was already 28 years old at the time. For us meant that we had 3 kids in 44 months.
My kids are growing up! My husband and I have actually reached the stage of starting to help our older children develop marketable skills and try to figure out what they want to do in life. These days, I find myself contemplating the nature and goals of parenting more than ever before.
I enjoyed Andrew more than I had enjoyed any previous baby, but it was a bittersweet enjoyment. I was constantly thinking in terms of lasts. This was the last time I would get to take a newborn home from the hospital, the last time I would get to nurse an infant, the last time I would snuggle a baby of my own, the last time I would applaud my child’s first steps and first words. It was difficult to say goodbye to this stage of my life. So I was delighted when I found out that we were expecting baby number six, even though we hadn’t been trying to get pregnant.
The infant stage with any baby has specific challenges, so my experience is that it usually takes about six months to adapt to having a new child in the family. However, the adjustment was much easier with James than it had been with Peter. The three older boys could all walk without help, I think they were all potty trained, and they probably even dressed themselves by that point. The 2-and-a-half-year-old probably still needed some help in the latter department, but I’ve always encouraged early independence among my kids, and I could enlist the older boys to help him. By the time that James was born, Samuel, our eldest, was already 5 years old and able to be really helpful. It was a completely different experience—and easier—than when I had only had three kids.
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.
During the COVID lockdown last spring, I had an epiphany. For the first year of pandemic restrictions, I saw things one way, and then another parent’s comment in the chat group for my 2nd grader’s class caused a shift in my focus, and suddenly, everything looks different.