Before he was even born, my third child, James, baffled me. Throughout my entire pregnancy, all I could think was: who is this person and what are we going to do with him? See, we weren’t trying to have another baby – we didn’t even think it was possible.
My first two children required a lot of effort to join us. (Miscarriages preceded both.) Their conceptions involved charting my cycles and releasing my chi at weekly acupuncture appointments. I knew about them from the earliest moment I was able to take a pregnancy test and saw those promising pink lines. James, on the other hand, went undetected for nine weeks.
He tried to announce his presence through a four-day siege of nausea on a Caribbean vacation. I wrote off the wooziness as a reaction to our ocean view and self-medicated with weak resort margaritas, but the feeling stuck with me when we returned home and I finally took a test.
After the initial shock, the nausea actually comforted me; this unexpected child would not allow to me forget him. I was already busy with two toddlers and I was worried about how I would manage a third child. But it was obvious that this unknown soul would demand my attention. He would never get left behind.
Beyond this potential assertiveness, I could not think who he would be. I felt like I already had both the kinds of children there were to have: the one who was so like me he seemed like an extension of myself, and the one who was so different she seemed to fall from the sky. Johnny, my four year-old, has my narrow face and green eyes, and I get him. He has a long memory, particularly for facts about the natural world and the merest of social slights. He is cautious, but his love for dinosaurs and chicken fingers trumps any anxiety he may experience.
As much as Johnny makes sense to me, Maeve, 2, is a wonder. She has a round face and blue eyes and an enthusiasm for all things. Her passions are extravagant and fickle. Every gift is the most precious in the world. She squeezes dolls to her chins so tightly it looks painful, but then discards them within the minute. And no one laughs alone when Maeve is around. With these two opposite ends of the spectrum, the shy and the social, the serious and the silly, what was left for a new child?
A department store salesman had a suggestion. When I told him I was due November 6, he said, “Oh a Scorpio, you’re lucky. Very smart babies and adults.” I was clearly dealing with a Scorpio, I thought, and then wondered if there was a sign of the zodiac known for a lack of intelligence. “I don’t need any more smart children,” I said and then tried to laugh as if I had not said something horrible. I love that my children have ideas of their own, but it would be delightful to have one child who accepted what I said without questions.
In my quest to figure out who this baby could possibly turn out to be, I looked up Scorpios. The first thing I read: “Scorpios are fiercely independent.” Ugh, I thought, I am all for fantasizing about my son, the fiercely independent Senator, or filmmaker, or even shoe salesman, but “my son, the fiercely independent toddler”? I’ll pass.
I read unfazed through the section that began, “Relationships with Scorpios are always complicated.” In that sentence, “Scorpios” could be replaced with the phrase, “one’s children.” I read right up until, “Scorpio is the most sexually charged of all zodiac signs,” and then I decided to look up ways to induce labor in early October before I risked giving birth to a complicated, fiercely independent, sexually-charged Scorpio. He sounded exhausting especially compared to my sign, Taurus, which is cursed with laziness (an intelligent laziness, of course).
Despite said laziness, I did consider having a third child when I was in the hospital exhilarated by my first labor and besotted with my first baby, but that was before I had my daughter. After Maeve, we had one of each, a perfect family. We fit into our car and three-bedroom home, could sit one adult, one kid on planes. Even then, we sometimes overflowed – two kids who do not add up to 80 pounds are still enough to push me out of a king-sized bed.
Because of this fullness of heart and home (and over-fullness of bed), as well as my fear of ever having another miscarriage, I thought we were done having children. The news of my pregnancy was such a shock that I would wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to get the details right – was I pregnant? Still? For the first few weeks, I lived under a double-edged sword of doubt: doubt that anyone would survive this disruption to our family and doubt that the pregnancy would even last.
When the first trimester passed, I was free to agonize over what we were going to do with this child, whoever he or she was. As usual, my subconscious was way ahead of me: from 12 weeks, I began waking up in the middle of the night panicked that I had a baby to feed. During the day, I began to panic about the adjustments I would have to make to my vision of our family’s future. (Note: I am not great with changes in plan.) I made demands of my husband with the drama of deathbed wishes. “Promise me you will take Johnny skiing this February like we planned,” I choked. I clutched Maeve to my chest and swore to her that I would not forget about her.
Granted some of my worries were more silly than serious, but the practical details were easy to deal with. We made room in our house and surrendered to the minivan, but getting over what I was sure everyone would lose – fun we had planned, my full attention and love, sleep – was a little sad. I was worried about the extra work of a third baby, but I was more worried that I would shortchange the family that was already here.
Then, somewhere around the unpacking of the baby clothes at the beginning of my third trimester, an image of my third child began to appear in my daydreams. Even though at this point I knew it was a he, I still did not know who he was, but I could see what a family with him would look like – and I liked what I saw. I imagined my kids in high school being one of those big, tight-knit clans that everyone knows. “Oh, you’re one of the Donoghues,” people would say. I fantasized that my kids would one day share an apartment, form a singing group (the Donoghue trio?), and stage shows. I fell in love with these visions as much as I had my old vision of my children and our future – at times I even got carried away (was three enough for a singing group?).
Before I had these children to fantasize about, there were dark moments on my road to fertility when I saw what life without a child would look like. So, I knew from the time I took that pregnancy test when we got back from our vacation that, despite my anxiety, this was a much better moment. Nothing about starting a family or my children themselves has quite been as I expected. Having a child just like me and then having one so unlike me were both surprises. That the unexpected will happen characterizes my family more than anything else, so it makes sense that my third child would exhibit that trait before any others. Having accepted that I could not see the future, when I finally met him, it was easy to say, “I don’t know who you are, but I love you.”