When I look into the mirror, the 40-year old mother looking back at me is not the woman I had planned on seeing when I was younger. Her hair is a lot greyer, wrinkles much deeper, arms much stronger. There is a confidence about her that I never imagined could exist. One could speculate this is the result of 10+ years of strong parenting founded on strategy and intent. But that assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. Contrarily, my self-assurance is based on one very specific fact of life as a parent: That none of us can design our families ahead of time.
I wish I’d known that plans have no bearing when planning a family.
As far back as I can remember I’d always wanted to be a mother to four children: two boys and two girls. It was important to me that each child had a sibling of the same sex. I came from a brood of six and enjoyed the excitement that came with having a big family – but was certain I could achieve this with two less mouths to feed than my parents had. Luckily, my husband was on board with this plan. We bought a house in the suburbs with four bedrooms on a street we could picture ourselves pushing a stroller down.
Our lives began to play out accordingly as we welcomed our first son in 2004 and our second 19 months later. Everything was perfect. Preschool, play dates, mommy groups… I couldn’t have scripted life any better. Sure there were tantrums, sleepless nights and lots of poopy diapers mixed in between – but I was a professional. Nothing could rattle me, especially since I was achieving the family I had always wanted. The family I had planned for.
The third time around my fingers were crossed that my first of two girls would arrive. She did, only not as I had planned. Following a difficult pregnancy laced with problems, our baby was born ten weeks premature with a mountain of complications winding throughout her entire body. Attached to a respirator, she wasn’t the daughter I had planned on. Handing her 3-lb body over to a surgeon within her first 24-hours of life wasn’t something I had pictured. Watching her struggle to live and breath for four months straight in the NICU wasn’t the dream I had dreamt. But she was my baby and I loved her as tremendously as I did her brothers. Inconceivable beyond measure- this was our family.
It still strikes me as funny that prior to her birth, I thought I knew what was important to me. I thought I was in control.
Our daughter survived, and somewhere along the way - as my heart tripled in size - I learned the ropes. Our family transformed throughout the 7 surgeries she endured before the age of 3. Priorities shifted, dreams changed. Plans took a back seat. Even our sons were granted the wisdom from an early age that life wasn’t a script to be acted out. Eventually it became clear that the only plan we could devise for our family - was to surround ourselves with as much support, strength and love as it would take to face the next challenge. These were the plans I should have made when we were planning our family. These were the things I wish I’d known.
Maybe my wrinkles are deeper from all the laughing I’ve had to do at myself. I’m sure my arms are stronger from the hope they’ve been holding for the past 11 years. And perhaps my grey hair represents all the silver linings to a motherhood I never planned on having. Six silver linings, to be exact. In 2010 my husband and I bought a seven-passenger minivan and decided to try for our fourth child. We were instead blessed with spontaneous triplet daughters, instantly transforming us into a family of eight. Yes, I am more confident then I ever imagined I’d be. Mostly in knowing I have no idea what’s going to happen next, and that the family I had designed couldn’t hold a candle to the one I got.