Avoiding regret has always struck me as an odd thing. When people say, “I have no regrets!” I squint at them thinking, really? Not one? Not even an extra slice of cake or a shirt you later hated? If you’re making decisions, you will occasionally run into regrets. I have often made decisions, big and small, that resulted in regret. Occasionally, the regret burned at the back of my throat for days or weeks, but often it was just a momentary feeling. I view it as a somewhat unavoidable aspect of life. But this was one decision where the possibility of regret left a pit in my stomach.
We go around and around in circles for the umpteenth time. We are discussing—yet again—whether to have a third child. It is the perennial question.
“I just don’t know if we can do it.”
“I worry we’ll never have time for just us.”
“How will we afford another one?”
“What if we never sleep again?”
Sometimes we plan these discussions. I grab my Bic round stick and mark out time in my calendar to debate an unknown baby. Other times, the question rears its head when we’re considering buying plane tickets or whether I should prep to return to work. Will I be pregnant? Will we have a newborn? Will we have three kids or two? These questions skirt around my brain whenever we consider the future. They burden every decision and follow me around like the hangover from a migraine.
Sometimes I am pushing for the third child and sometimes my husband is. On multiple occasions, we nervously clink cocktails while declaring that next month we will start trying. When that next month comes, one or both of us is in tears from the strain of caring for our twins. From the weight of life and work and doctor’s appointments and cleaning up midnight vomit. I get mad when people ask about a third, wanting to yell, “Our 2-year-olds are still not sleeping though the night!! Isn’t that enough?!” The decision, or lack thereof, exhausts our reserves and creates tension neither of us is used to.
And yet, one little phrase always concludes our discussions: we won’t ever regret it if we do.
And so, with the elegant cheer of “Geronimo!” we decided to go forth. We were fortunate and quickly became pregnant but the pregnancy was difficult. I had contractions daily after 28 weeks. I was in the hospital briefly and at the doctor’s office constantly. Grandmothers came in on rotation to help. I made a near nightly decision whether to dial the on-call doctor and report on my contractions, which often hovered around one every 2-3 minutes.
Finally our baby arrived at 37-weeks and then spent his first 24-hours hooked to a ventilator. I cried on the operating table, my insides still open to the hospital air after my C-section, as a NICU team rushed our son away from us. We watched our son’s chest flutter like a butterfly at 200-plus breaths per minute, his precious face hidden by tubes and masks. We waited to hold and cuddle and kiss him. For 10 days we learned about ventilators and C-Pap machines and tube feedings and something called Respiratory Distress Syndrome. After all of our indecision, it seemed our child was unsure whether he would come home with us.
On day 11, he was released. My husband locked his tiny body into his car seat and drove him home while I picked up our daughters from preschool. His sisters oohed and ahhed and marveled at his tiny fingers and toes. They fought over who would find him a diaper and who would hold his fragile, skinny body first. We tucked him cozily into his Rock-n-Play and officially started our life as a family of five.
And suddenly, I was free. We had a newborn and twin 4-year-olds and a mortgage and everything else, but inside I felt unencumbered in a way I had not in years. The world opened up again in a very strange and very real way. We were all here. All of us, everyone who was meant to be in our family.
During my pregnancy I worried constantly about whether he would fit in. Would it feel unnatural having this extra being in our car, in our home, in our life? I feared he would feel like a poorly completed renovation, attached but always slightly off kilter. Instead, he righted our life and made us stand up straight. We could suddenly blaze a trail together that we could not before.
Before our son was born, there was a slight static to our life. Beyond loving my husband and my daughters, nothing was quite clear. I couldn’t picture a holiday or a graduation because I didn’t know who would be there. Planning more than six months out seemed simply impossible. I would feel jittery and slightly out of control trying to pin down dates or reservations. The tang of regret had sat at the back of my throat. I feared looking back and wishing for a fifth person at the dinner table or another son- or daughter-in-law to love. Now I could see and hear clearly again.
Overnight talking about the future was fun. I could picture our future in a way I could not before. Family beach vacation? Sure! Kindergarten for the girls? Bittersweet but doable! Possible move abroad? We can make that work! We talk about our “ideal” life and set financial goals and craft bucket lists. We daydream about retirement and where to live as empty-nesters.
Living a life void of regret still strikes me as impossible. Even right decisions for the moment can be regretted later and in nearly all situations there is more than one right answer. Continuing as a family of four would have been right and wonderful, too, and certainly easier in many ways. But in this instance I’m glad we listened to that little voice in our heads. That one that whispered, insistently and consistently, you won’t regret it if you do.