Prior to having children, I really never gave much thought to what to do when children came. I had a positively wonderful pre-child life with my husband. Not only was I madly in love with him, but I really liked who he was. He was quiet, intelligent, and down to earth (and geeky too, as any good mechanical engineer would be). He never boasted about himself, and never pushed his way around, or railroaded any of my decisions. He would offer up a sound perspective, but at the same time respected my choices. He was supportive of me when I struggled with issues with my mother (I was still struggling with independence even though I had lived on my own for 18 months before getting married), but never stood in the way of my relationship with my family. The mutual respect we’ve had for each other has been one of the greatest joys of our marriage. We’ve been able to overcome the bumps in the road because we have respect for each other.
Prior to having children, we had really full lives. We both had jobs and we were making a decent salary. I made almost the same amount of money as he, but every time I got a raise, he did to, and so he was always about a grand or three ahead of me (it was kind of like a personal goal of mine to make even just a smidge more than him). I can’t complain though, I was making decent money, even though I only had an undergraduate degree. Thankfully the clinical laboratory setting paid a lot more than most research positions would with only a bachelor’s degree. I didn’t have to worry about my lab losing funding as can happen in the world of research. I had a lot of job security.
My husband, J, and I enjoyed going having the freedom to go wherever we wanted. I had taken full advantage of working in the city and frequently went out to lunch – one of my favorite things to do was dine al fresco, and frequently joined my colleagues for dinner and drinks and plenty of dialog after work just because I could. I absolutely loved the city. It was so alive with excitement and there was so much to take in. It was a marvelous time of personal growth.
J and I also loved having the freedom to take weekend getaways. Nowhere fancy – we could care less about going to flashy places like Las Vegas. We just loved the opportunity to drive somewhere and spend time together. We spent a nice weekend in St. Louis once, taking in the sights of a relatively big city without the big expense. Lots of times we didn’t even go anywhere, and spent long restful weekends just lovin’ each other up. I bet you can figure out how we ended up with 3 children in 3.5 years.
I fully believe that if children hadn’t happened to me, we would have postponed having children until it was too late because it wasn’t a driving need for either of us. The conversation about when to have children got brought up from time to time, but essentially it was vague, and we both agreed we’d have children when we were more financially stable. Financial stability wasn’t likely to happen for a long time based on our lack of savings.
Needless to say, we were very unprepared for kids when I did get pregnant. We were living in an apartment, spending more money than saving, and were quite shocked when we did get pregnant. You’d think at age 30, I’d have given some serious thought to children, right? Umm, nope. Furthest thought from my mind. At that age, I was too busy adjusting to my new job at a small clinical genetics laboratory – learning the procedures, figuring out my responsibilities, especially since my laboratory director was going to be gone for a month to go visit her family in India.
My last day as a forensic scientist was on October 6th of 2000 and I started the new job on October 9th. I was pregnant by November, and my boss left for India in December. To say that I was overwhelmed was an understatement. I was so NOT prepared for the prospect of motherhood. Bad timing. Very bad. As it turned out, the first week of January, on the way back from a Wolves hockey game dh and I went to (with former co-workers from the crime lab where I worked), our car spun off the road on the tollway and hit the median cement barrier on my side of the car. The following week, I had a miscarriage. At only 10 weeks, the doctor said it was improbable that the car accident caused the miscarriage, but I’m not sure I believe that. I don’t think it caused physical trauma, but I think it caused enough emotional trauma to stir things up. That night as I sat in the emergency room, I had a strong feeling that if I sat still, I might pass out and never wake up. Physically I had no reason to feel like I was dying, but I certainly felt like that was a distinct possibility. Maybe I was almost scared to death? At any rate, I can’t imagine that being good for the baby. Some say there is a definite mind-body connection. And to this day, I still link the two events together as more than just coincidental.
As I was recuperating from the loss of the baby, dh and I conceded it was time to get our ducks in a row, should we get pregnant again. Our apartment lease was just about up, and we made an offer on house. In April, we put an offer on a house, celebrated J’s birthday, and two weeks later found out not only did we get the offer, but we were pregnant again (apparently a new video game wasn’t the only present J got for his birthday). This pregnancy was only 3.5 months after the miscarriage. We were not expecting to become pregnant so soon after our loss.
This time, the baby was a keeper. But it wasn’t long before another major unexpected blip occurred. I was just 6 months pregnant, and we were adjusting to our new home and J got laid off from work. This was not supposed to happen to an engineer. I thought only the line workers at his job were at risk, but apparently, since he was the lowest ranking engineer, despite working for them for 5 years, they still gave him to boot, ignoring the fact we had a baby on the way. I remember the day he called me on the phone at work to tell me the news. Not exactly what I wanted to hear by phone, and I was shaking afterwards. It was a bit of a shock when you realize that you are not only pregnant, you just bought a new house – in and of themselves wonderful news – but you come to find out you are now the major breadwinner for your family. Thankfully we chose a starter home, a modest house built in the 70s, and so the price tag was modest too. Even so, it was pretty stressful to think about. Only I didn’t have long to stress about it. There were other things on the horizon that completely eclipsed the worries I had about being the breadwinner.
Less than one month after J got laid off work, 9/11 happened. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how life altering that event was. I didn’t even know what was going on, as I was already at work. But J called me from home, fearing for my safety and that of our baby’s. Because I was in Chicago at the time, it was thought that maybe there would be an attack in other major cities, and the Sears Tower was really not all that far away, and so J was really worried about us. For me, I was unexpectedly calm about the whole situation that day. I don’t know what it was about being pregnant, but I was feeling grateful that should my life end, at least I knew what is was like to be pregnant, and I had been able to feel the life inside me. I was truly not alone, even if my life should end that day. It was a really strange feeling.
For months afterward, I realized that no problems were that serious that we couldn’t work them out, even though it was a full year before J was gainfully employed again. His job loss actually turned out to be beneficial, as I was able to have him watch our daughter for 5 months while I worked. Ironically, I was keenly aware that I finally achieved my goal of making more money than him, but that wasn’t quite the way I imagined it would go.
It turns out that this crazy turn of events was only the first of many, as I had this habit of getting pregnant just before the time the previous child turned 1. You’d think two educated adults would quickly figure out how to prevent pregnancy, but I guess we got lazy. After you have one child, the fear of getting pregnant sort of dissolves because you know what you get at the end.
And in fact, we did decide to only have two children, but as our luck would have it, J’s doctor was on vacation the week his vasectomy was scheduled. Apparently there was a mix-up in scheduling. So instead of a vasectomy that day, we conceived baby girl number 3. I really kid you not. J already took the day off work and we managed to have some fun while the two older kids were busy watching Sesame Street.
Two weeks later, when we saw the big fat positive, J called the urologist to reschedule the appointment at the earliest possible time. He quipped with the doctor that he was going to send her a bill for the cost of raising a child to adulthood, as it was their office that created the mix up that resulted in our being pregnant.
So, in our case, I really understand the quote that life is what happens when you are busy doing something else. In retrospect, we should probably have had more serious discussions about children. But then again, re-telling our story has always made for interesting conversation. It wouldn’t nearly be as funny if I actually carefully planned out our situation.