image credit: Victoria Schneider
“Wow, are you pregnant again?”
When people see me out in public with my pregnant belly — AND a 3-year-old, 2-year-old and 1-year-old in tow — I tend to get a lot of funny looks and questions like this.
The answer is yes, I am pregnant again. Yes, I do have my hands full. Yes, I do know how this happens.
I actually never dreamed I would have four kids under four. In fact, if you had asked me 10 years ago, I probably would have said I don’t want that life. I, too, might have wondered about the sanity of a mother, clearly, 7 months pregnant, and already outnumbered by small ones.
But as I reflect on my (almost) four years as a parent, I have realized that there is so much more that I wish I had known. That I wish I could share with the strangers, the family members, and the OB-GYNs who have asked me these questions and given me those looks.
Here’s the thing about this time in our lives: it’s a pretty epic time that has been equal parts struggle and fun. It has been a crash course in parenting in which we have had to learn some hard lessons, quickly, in order to stay afloat.
But it’s also incredibly beautiful. And if you don’t believe it, here’s what I’ve learned:
01. Love doesn’t divide, it multiplies.
These are words of encouragement I heard from a friend at a time when I really needed to hear them.
At the time, I was pregnant with my second child, and my daughter was only 10 months old. I was worried about “sharing” my love with another baby, and feeling like I hadn’t had enough time with “just me and Sienna”.
But amazingly, with the birth of my son and each child thereafter, my heart has expanded to hold them all.
My love has multiplied, and it reminds me of a promise that God makes in Ezekiel 36:26:
“And I will give you a new heart, and I will place in you a new spirit. And I will take away the heart of stone from your body, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”
This new heart, this “heart of flesh,” has been one of the greatest gifts I have received in motherhood.
Because with the arrival of each child, as a mother, you change. And your heart changes. And with this new “heart of flesh” your heart is then able to expand and hold as many children as God decides to send you, whether biologically, adopted, or fostered.
Your love overflows the box to which you had mentally confined it, and it grows bigger, stronger and better than you could have ever dreamed. You experience a joyful fullness of life, a freedom to love, that can only be described as a supernatural blessing.
I call it this, because it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The rapid growth of a heart (and family) is incredibly painful, too. It requires a lot of sacrifice, and letting go of your own selfishness, in order to love your children and your spouse better.
But I can say with certainty that my heart has never been so full of joy and love.
02. You can do more than just survive: you can thrive.
Before children, I never put much intentional thought into what my priorities were. I just went about my day, tackling tasks as they came to me. Now, life is so busy and fast-paced, that I have to know my priorities in order to avoid being consumed by the madness of the day.
As a mother, my natural tendency is to tend to the needs of my family, and I often feel guilty if I do something for myself. But I know that I must fill my own cup in order to be able to pour out to others. This means making my spiritual, mental and physical health a priority each day.
I learned slowly, beginning after my second child was born. And now that I’ve built a self-care routine into my life for the first time, I have become a MUCH better wife, mom, sister and friend.
I make my relationship with God the most important relationship of each day. I do this by getting up before my kids to pray, as well as building in times for prayer and spiritual reading throughout the day.
Taking five minutes to quiet my mind and focus my heart on God is so much more life-giving than spending that five minutes on Pinterest or Instagram (though my first inclination is always to pick up my phone!).
And if I don’t have a full five minutes, but the noise and needs of the house are getting to be too much for me, I’ve recently started implementing just one quick minute: I close my eyes and murmur a quick prayer such as “Jesus I welcome you into this moment.”
I’ve also found that it is important for me to have a few hours alone each week to read, write and reflect, which has been a great source of personal growth for me.
And, our marriage has changed: we have placed an intentional focus on growth in our relationship and we go on dates as frequently as we can. We also prioritize each other’s needs, primarily by giving each other the gift of time to rest when we need to, to pursue those things that “fill us up”, and even to meet up for a quick coffee with a friend now and then.
Of course, parenting at this time in our lives still happens in survival mode, many days. But because I’ve taken this time to set my priorities and stick to them, I feel like I can (and do!) thrive, even in the chaos.
03. Life is a gift.
Our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
Not all of our subsequent pregnancies were expected, though I do believe that they were planned in the sense that as God has told us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5).
As a 20-something in Washington, D.C., I saw motherhood as a loss (definitely NOT a gift), a place where I would have to put my life on hold, “give up” my dreams, grit my teeth and power through for a time.
But as author Jennifer Fulwiler once said, “The home is not a graveyard for your mission.” What I thought would be a season of tears has turned out to be a season of dancing; what I thought would be an insignificant time in my life has turned out to be the most fulfilling, precious chapter.
It’s hard, yes (I am writing this after being up half the night with vomiting children…who are still vomiting), but I have experienced God in such a profound way as I’ve realized the only way forward is with Him right next to me.
I’ve found that I’m closer to God because of my children—that He has given me the gift of a strong, working faith—and I’m reminded that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
My children have given me the gift of living life more fully. They have spurred my spiritual and emotional growth beyond anything I could have done for myself. They have taught me how to love and be loved—what better gift is there than that!
But they have not only been a gift to me: they have also been a gift to each other.
When I struggle with how close in age my children are, my mentors always remind me that one of the best gifts you can give your child is the gift of a sibling.
Though my oldest is only three, I can already see this to be true: they teach each other valuable lessons every day about compassion, friendship, sacrificial love, patience, and putting others first.
Yes, at times they are forced to grow and mature faster than their peers, but in the long term I see that as a good: their personality weaknesses are being pruned away now, while their personality strengths are blossoming.
God has chosen me, from all eternity, to be the mother of these children. And while I wish that more people, including my past self, could know the beauty in this life — as two of my favorite Instagram moms have said (thank you Kendra and Adele), maybe that means my current apostolate is cheerfully venturing out in public with lots of small children.
And what a joy and a gift from God it is, to be able to witness to the world the beauty, the value and the dignity of each human life.