I have a large family by many people’s standards. Nine children, and we are now growing in the love with the in-laws and grandchildren departments. Honestly, most days it doesn’t seem like that big a family – it is simply just mine or I should say, ours. After all, I did have a little help. 😉 Usually David and I don’t give a second thought to the size of our family. Typically, a family picture with all of our children in a row or everyone gathered around the kitchen table laughing, annoying each other, laughing, teasing and laughing some more makes us stand back and truly take inventory of our large brood of blessings. We usually look at each other and simultaneously exclaim, “Wow, they all belong to us!”
Over the years, we have had just about every amusing and yes, sometimes invasive question or statement hurled at us. Don’t you know what causes that? Don’t you own a TV (some years we didn’t)? Again? How will you love them all? I have exactly two knees and that is all the more children a person needs. You know we believe in zero population control. Are you trying to keep up with the Duggars? What about college? You won’t be able to give them all they need. You know you are crazy, right? Over the years, I have gotten the sincere questions. How do you know when you are done? How many is too many?
In October of 2005, our fifth child, Lilly, ten years old at the time, became gravely ill. Physicians shared serious concerns of her imminent death on numerous occasions. She spent two weeks in the hospital and over two years on the road back to recovery. Lilly was released from the hospital one week before I delivered Caleb, our eighth child, a month early.
With Lilly’s hospitalizations, her follow-up care and Caleb’s birth, we began to know our pediatricians very well. At the end of one of Caleb’s well-baby check- ups, David and I realized his outfit needed changing. We rummaged through the diaper bag discussing back and forth about the weather and what would be the appropriate clothing to pull over his tufted-blonde head with the piercing blue eyes and onto the rest of his soft, pale, wiggly body. When the decision was made, we looked up and realized that Dr. Joanne was thoughtfully staring at us.
Dr. Joanne was leaning on the wall, clipboard snuggled between crossed arms, with her high heels crossed at the ankles as she smiled. My girls loved Dr. Joanne, not just for her bedside manner, but because the woman could wear her heels and dispense medicine in style.
“Oh, yeah,” I said as we realized she had been watching the entire let’s-dress-the-baby-decision-making process, “We know. You would think we have never had a baby before.”
David chimed in, slightly embarrassed, “We are total dorks, we know it, especially when it comes to our babies.”
“No, not at all,” Dr Joanne quietly responded. “I told my husband last week – he’s an internal medicine doctor – anyway, that there was this family that just had their eighth baby and they treat that baby just like it was their first.”
I will never forget the words she told us her husband had replied: “Well, good for them and I suppose when they no longer can love and treat a baby like it is their first, then it is time to stop having them.”
For me, his answer was golden. It really spoke to me and resonated deeply. It wasn’t the bank account, or the amount of knees we had between us, or even how old, God willing, I would be when the last graduated from high school.
Children and babies may come into our lives as the years pass for different reason. But I knew. I had one more “in me” no matter who thought I was crazy. Lydia, our ninth, would be the last to come from my womb. One more where I was confident we would fuss over her, cherish her, breathe in her newborn scent and have our hearts so full of love for her that she would never feel like “just one more.”. If she was one more, then she was the one more where life slowed and time stopped, because counting her toes, hearing her giggle and watching her smile was precious, so precious it felt like the first time I had seen a baby smile. And it was a first: it was Lydia’s first, to be noticed, remembered and cherished.
So, in my book, since I have been asked, how many is too many? When you know in your heart the last would not be loved with all the devotion, dedication and overwhelming awestruck love just like the first.