My wife tells me that she might be pregnant again, and I get that sinking feeling in my stomach like I’m back in my college theater program moments before I go on stage, or back when I rode roller coasters and didn’t care about the sudden ups and downs. Didn’t care about that steep, first drop. Back when I enjoyed the feeling of speeding out of control.
Problem is, I can’t decide if this news is good or bad. My wife looks into my eyes and I know I’m showing my hand. The more I remain silent, the more I reveal.
This would be our fourth child together, and she wants me to be happy so that she can be happy. I want to be happy about this, too. I really do.
We (she) had been talking about having more kids recently, ever since I turned 40. I said that I was nervous about childbirth at our age and she said I was being ridiculous and that we were both perfectly healthy and capable. I was not convinced.
Twelve years ago, when my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child, I was watching a Yankees game. It was a good game. Close. Joe Torrey was managing.
“Are you sure?” I asked, eyes on the TV.
“Positive,” she said, holding up five pregnancy tests, fanning them out in one hand like playing cards. A full house.
Afterward, we’d hugged and laughed and talked about the timeline to delivery and wondered about when we would tell our parents and friends and who we would tell first and what the baby room would look like. We guessed at the sex of the baby and thought of names, and we sat and laughed and cried tears of joy and pondered the future. Our future. Our new, larger family. But not a lot larger.
Back to the present, and my wife and I sit on our bed. I’ve turned away from her. All three of our kids (ages four, nine, and 11) are asleep in the middle.
“Wow.” This tiny declaration is all I can manage. I know it’s not the response my wife is hoping for. I do not think to reach out and hug her.
“I don’t know for sure,” she says, her voice low. “I had some spotting and I’m late. I’m going to wait a few more days before I take a test.”
“Wow,” I repeat.
Comic Jim Gaffigan does a bit about the stigma associated with having a big family. He says that after three children, people stop congratulating you and start treating you like you’re Amish.“Four kids, huh?” he chides. “Well that’s one way to live your life! (pause) Can you make us one of those wood fireplaces?”
It’s a funny routine, but laughter is not one of the emotions rising inside me right now, sitting on the edge of our bed. Stupid bed, I think to myself. You’re the one who got us into this mess.
Is it a mess, though? Why do I feel this way? What’s wrong with having a large family? What’s wrong with having four children? Am I pressing my luck? Doubling down?
I mean, we already have three healthy children. Why would we need another? Why would we want another?
Am I being . . . greedy?
“Say something,” my wife commands.
But I cannot speak. I’m at the crest of the first, giant hill again, seated in the front car, hands choking the safety bar. If anything comes out of my mouth, it will be a scream.
Later, after I’ve brushed my teeth and washed my face, I find a small space on the edge of the bed and watch Gaffigan’s bit again on my laptop. “You wanna know what it’s like to have a fourth (child)? Imagine you are drowning . . . and then someone hands you a baby.”
Without warning, I laugh. Softly at first. I watch the bit again and laugh harder.
Soon, I have tears streaming down my face and my belly hurts and I can hardly breathe. I don’t want to wake anyone (especially my wife, who has found a skinny spot on the opposite side of the bed), but the harder I try to contain myself, the more everything wants to rise to the surface.
After a few moments, I look down at my family, a tangled mass of legs, arms and hair. It certainly has been a wild ride, these last 12 years. A scary, unpredictable ride, full of twists and turns, loop de loops, and corkscrews.
Wild, sure, but exhilarating.
What I do then is I wipe the happy tears from my cheeks and rub my belly where it is sore from laughing. Then I carefully reach across the mountain of breathing bodies and find my wife’s hand. I squeeze it gently and she squeezes back. A squeeze of assurance.
There is room yet in this bed. Space still on this speeding train. Whatever happens next week, I know we can handle it. We will continue the ride, wind in our faces, hurtling onward into the unknown, and loving every single second of it.