Mothers story: Roots, wings and joy of raising babies

Babies. Like the daffodils in our front yard, they seem to be popping up everywhere.

I recently turned 39 — yikes! — and I've been thinking about the subject for a while. If we are ever going to have a third child, it's now or never. This is my last chance. Tick. Tick. Tick.

I always wanted a large family. I am one of three; my husband is one of four. When I see large families, I think, wouldn't it be nice?

Then reality sets in. Do I really want a third C-section? Can we afford to educate another child? Where would we put the baby? And on and on, and on.

My husband says two is just fine with him. He says with two kids, everyone gets a window seat in the car!

"Come on, just one more," my brothers, the uncles, urge. We even get poems from my father suggesting the more the merrier. Only my mother and my husband's family keep quiet. (My mother because she knows it's not her decision, and my in-laws because they are in-laws.)

Despite their hopes, I'm not sure it's going to happen. The pains of childbearing may soon be forgotten. But the sleepless nights and hassles of bottles and diapers are an all too recent memory. You know the Yiddish expression that says one mother can raise seven children, but seven children can't take care of one mother? I've often wondered: How does that one mother raise that many children?

I know I couldn't do it. Motherhood is the toughest job there is. And unlike other "jobs," there is no pay and no one to praise you for doing a good job.

On the other hand, there is nothing more important. Nothing matters more than your children. Our selfish needs end up way down the list of priorities. Going shopping for a new outfit used to be so important. Now, when you finally get to a store, you find yourself only looking for the kids. My mother always tells me to take care of myself first. She should talk. She never did.

I think it's really hard for a woman to say that's it. No more babies. It's natural to feel you want to procreate. And it's sad knowing that most of my childbearing years are behind me.

I have a friend who made aliyah along with her husband and five children. "I believe in ZPG," she once told me. "How can that be?" I asked. "You have five kids!"

"Not Zero Population Growth," she replied, "Zionist Population Growth."

She has a point. Because Jewish women are only having an average of 1.5 children, the Jewish population is rapidly dwindling. At times, I feel responsible for not contributing to a soaring Jewish birth rate. And that rate is expected to continue to decline. Think of all the women we know struggling with infertility. I know plenty–all of them Jewish and not all over age 30.

In a sense, Jewish women are achieving more today than ever before. But this success has been paid for with increased stress. I can't help but believe that stress and the low birthrate are closely related.

Maybe it's time for us to relax. To worry a little less about achieving perfection in all that we do and instead remain confident that we did our best. But I'm one to talk.

My own mother still laughs when she recalls me as a new mother. When our daughter was newborn, someone gave me a textbook on baby care, complete with color photos on caring for a newborn. At the time, I was a typical obsessive Washingtonian professional, and so I read the book cover to cover–twice. The first chapter outlined how to change a diaper: "Instruction number one…remove old diaper." As I read this aloud to my mother, she became hysterical (and ran to the phone to share a laugh with her friends).

I've endured teasing about this for six years. When Rebecca lost her first tooth this winter, we were visiting my parents in Florida. Sure enough, my reaction was, "Wait–I haven't read up on what to do!" I didn't know–are you supposed to clean the mouth out? How do you stop the bleeding? Should she gargle and disinfect? Everyone had another good laugh.

Since then, I have become acutely aware of how time flies. Wasn't it just yesterday when she cut that very same tooth? (And I had to consult a book to see what to do about that.) If the first six years went by this quickly, I know the next six will go even quicker.

At night, when the kids are being tucked into bed, we often talk about how they will grow up, raise their own families, and perhaps live far away from home. They assure me they will never leave; they are staying right with us so we won't be lonely. Half of me (OK, most of me!) wishes that would be true. But the other part of me knows it wouldn't be good for them.

When I decided to accept a job far from home, I gave my parents a wallhanging with this message:

There are only two lasting things we can leave our children:

One is roots.

The other is wings.

I'll try to remember this message when their time comes. I just pray it doesn't come too soon.