I stared at the display as the progress bar appeared and slowly began its march toward completion.
One full square.
When downloading an attachment or installing a new app, I rarely watch the progress bar. I move on to other tasks, satisfied that things are happening in the background. Not this time.
Two full squares.
This progress bar had deeper meaning. This progress bar really mattered.
Three full squares. Halfway there.
Like clicking on an unknown link that immediately downloads a file, I wasn’t expecting this progress bar. But here I was watching it.
Four full squares. Then immediately five! Just one square left to fill.
This progress bar could change everything. This progress bar could—
One confounding word made up of eight little letters suddenly meant three kids in five years of marriage.
I literally leaped out of the bathroom at the sight of the word. I wish I could say that I was leaping for joy. I know that’s how the story is supposed to read. But for the historical record, brutal honesty will prove more beautiful than whitewashed fairy tale.
I leaped in disbelief. I leaped in fear. I leaped in an array of feelings that I barely want to put down for posterity, even though they were authentic and raw and in desperate need of processing.
In this moment of shock, I felt profoundly human and profoundly selfish. Are those technically the same feelings?
We had been so arrogant. Our human plans were suddenly placed on hiatus. We had an unwritten-but-no-less-agreed-upon schedule for how we wanted to space our children that had just been torn up before our eyes.
We would not be remodeling the kitchen with the plans we had spent the last two months arranging.
We would not be taking that “just us” vacation we had spent so much time daydreaming about now that our kids were getting older and less reliant on our constant presence.
We would not be passing GO and collecting $200. We would be passing GO and collecting another baby.
We were instantly reverting back to pregnancy and morning sickness. Then back to the newborn life and the reality of having three children under the age of four—some of them VERY under the age of four.
Why was this suddenly the plan?!
Now let’s pause here before you hate me too much.
My wife and I understand the blessing of fertility better than many couples. Before I underwent chemotherapy for Hodgkins Lymphoma four months after we were married, my oncologist told us that it was highly likely the treatment would render me sterile.
We wept at the prospect of not being able to one day start a family the way we had planned. We met with our parish priest to embolden our resolve to respect Church teachings and defy society’s logic by not banking my sperm. Finding ourselves helpless, we surrendered ourselves to God’s plan and made peace with whatever might come from my treatment and its aftermath.
FIve months after my treatment was over, we found ourselves joyfully staring at our first positive pregnancy test. This was the old school kind with the faint blue line, not the PREGNANT announcement. We were jubilant and grateful for the gift of life and the blessing of this opportunity to bring our child into the world against medical odds.
After that, I guess we started getting cocky. Our daughter gestated and delivered perfectly. We got pregnant with our son about a year after she was born, and he, too, had no complications.
But tending to our young was becoming an exhausting pastime, so we decided to take a break and let the birth order breathe a little bit. Besides, there were important things to accomplish. We would expand our house to fit our growing family and ensure that it could be our forever home. We would prioritize quality time as a couple to maintain the relationship we had worked so hard to build. We would continue saving money for Catholic education and college funds.
In short, we were going to do everything according to our own plans and our own calculated timeline. It was going to be perfect. We were in control.
This is what motivated our extreme feelings when we were totally caught off guard by that third positive PREGNANT-cy test. Caught up in what we assumed was a responsible, thoughtful plan for the future that was suddenly flying out the window of our un-remodeled house, we were blinded by selfishness and stress to the true beauty of what had just happened: God was gracing us with another son. Another human being who wouldn’t exist without our loving union. Another little person who would add to the fabric of our family and expand our hearts even further.
What a gift. What a joy.
The greatest lesson of the last decade of my life—and particularly parenthood—has been the necessity of flexibility, adaptation and surrender. You can’t control everything. In fact, you can control very little. All you can do is enjoy the beauty of the moment and bring your best self to that moment, knowing that God won’t give you more than you can handle and everything is unfolding according to His plan.
Here’s a prayer (from Saint Francis de Sales, no less than the patron saint of writers!) that a friend recently posted on social media. I think I need to start praying this daily:
Be at Peace
Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms.
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day.
He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
Although I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, I’m happy to report that Theresa and I both separately and quite quickly came to the realization of how blessed we truly are to be adding to our brood, even if it requires putting plans on hold and expecting to be a lot busier than we had planned. While we are still freaking out a little bit about being outnumbered by our children so soon, we are also filled with anticipation and wonder at who this kid will be. We’re also still wondering what he will be called. It seems names are harder to agree on when it’s the third time around…
Parenthood has been a transformational gift in my life, and the blessing of adding a new recruit outweighs any anxiety I might have had. I’m most looking forward to seeing my older kids’ reactions to the newest kid on the block. Watching Maddie and Charlie begin to meaningfully interact with each other has been one of the great joys of this stage of life. Adding another fella into the mix will no doubt introduce a host of new surprises and comedy.
And so we find ourselves less than one month from the due date—with a newly finished basement that increases the livable area of our house just in the nick of time—and newly remodeled hearts that increase the lovable area of our hearts.
The 36-week ultrasound showed us that the baby is a healthy boy who has spent the last month kicking and contracting enough to make it clear he can’t wait to meet us.
So bring on the late-night feedings, the additional stress and the three-on-two game plans. We’ve got a new baby to cherish who has already taught us so much before he even entered the world.