Expecting the Unexpected
How I coped with back-to-back pregnancies, and what I’ve learned along the way.
By Lauren Lisle
It’s safe to say I am not where I thought I would be when the 22-year-old me envisioned my early thirties, specifically surrounding motherhood.
When I started dating my now husband, we both agreed that we were open to possibly raising a family together one day, but that bridge wasn’t to be crossed in our near future … so we thought.
I got pregnant with our first baby about a year and a half after we were married, and like most new parents adjusting to life with a newborn, our whole world shifted in an instant. We grew up quickly and stumbled into parenthood looking like deer caught in headlights, but we felt confident we could continue to figure it out.
Amidst “figuring it out,” I was deeply shocked to learn I was expecting another baby. My daughter was only 5 months old at the time. She was smiley and fun and full of energy; she was blossoming every day, and I (felt I had) dropped a big bomb of disappointment on our foundation. I didn’t feel comfortable being a mom to one baby, and I felt utterly intimidated by the idea of caring for another child.
However, once my son was born, we adapted again and found a rhythm through the chaos and the crying; the peaks and valleys of early parenthood. And then we coasted for a bit—I thought we were good! We had our little family, and we were “definitely done having babies.”
Fast forward to the disastrous 2020, and I got pregnant again with my third child. (As you can imagine, pandemics and pregnancies do not mix. It was a wild ride from start to finish.) We had been so sure we were done adding to our family that we gave away a ton of expensive baby gear, plus all of my maternity and baby clothing. So, imagine my surprise when my mic-drop baby made a home out of my womb in early 2021, and I found out I was expecting for the fourth time—all unplanned, which I realize sounds a bit crazy. (You should have seen my parents’ reaction to the fourth announcement while visiting their grandkids, ages 4, 3, and 3 months at the time. They didn’t know whether to congratulate us or offer condolences.)
Really, I am the poster parent for common pregnancy misconceptions, so listen up if you’re not interested in having back-to-back pregnancies:
- You can absolutely get pregnant while breastfeeding. (Shoutout to my second and fourth kids.)
- You can absolutely get pregnant right after your period. (Looking at you, No.3!)
- You can absolutely mess up the rhythm method (also referred to as the calendar method) as a form of birth control if you skip steps, so follow the rules to a T—and good luck to you. May the odds be ever in your favor.
- It only takes once, and if you’re extremely fertile like both me and my husband, it can result in a pregnancy every time. (This one goes out to all my precious kiddos!)
To ease your anxiety: Yes, the multiple-conceptions story ends there, and it was properly punctuated by my husband’s vasectomy that occurred before the arrival of our fourth and final babe, just to be safe.
I had two back-to-back pregnancies resulting in two sets of siblings about a year apart each, meaning I had two first birthdays to plan for newly walking toddlers while also double-checking the hospital bag and awaiting signs of labor. As I reflect on the past six years, my main thought is: My life is nuts. In a close second, I think about how much I have had to grow as a woman, wife, and mother.
I don’t know how many people find themselves in my situation of having four unplanned pregnancies, but about 45% of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and it’s important to find support where you can when faced with the task of bringing new life into the world, especially soon after you recently gave birth.
Having experienced the subsequent pregnancy/birth cycle many times over again, there are a few lessons on acceptance I can share with anyone anticipating another (surprise!) baby and in need of a little solidarity. Here’s what I have learned to accept—and where I’ve ultimately landed—after four unexpected pregnancies.
I Learned to Be Patient With My Body.
Of all the amazing changes that happen inside the body during pregnancy, the exterior shows clear evidence of transformation, which can be both beautiful and challenging at the same time.
We’re told to witness and praise our bodies for doing the amazing task of growing babies (and I do!), but to be honest, so many years of pregnancy and recovery felt a bit like a physical prison.
I never fully healed after birth before conceiving again, which took a massive toll on my body. According to the Mayo Clinic, women are encouraged to wait at least 18 months after childbirth before getting pregnant again to reduce the chance of high-risk pregnancy complications, including premature birth and low birthweight. Thankfully, I had four healthy pregnancies, deliveries, and newborns, but I still felt the effects of little-to-no recovery time in between, including excess weight gain, extreme fatigue and low energy, pain in my joints, and poor core strength that led to pelvic and lower back discomfort.
Another thing I struggled with was feeling like I looked pregnant earlier with every pregnancy. My uterus wasted no time getting back into position for birth, and that affected my perception of my appearance because I never felt like “me.” I didn’t know whether to attribute my persistent bump to recent childbirth or a new pregnancy—it was always there, and I carried that weight physically and emotionally for many years.
After four pregnancies, I now have a stubborn case of postpartum diastasis recti I need to remedy, and while I know it’s important for my core strength to return, I’m also trying to remind myself it will take time to heal in all ways.
I remember looking in the mirror one day and having a change of heart and mind from, “My body isn’t as good as it once was,” to, “This isn’t perfect, but I am OK with where my body is. It’s gone through a lot.” That moment has thankfully reappeared each morning while taking (literally) 5 minutes to throw myself together.
I still have days where I say unkind things to my body and wish it were different, but I have accepted that it has changed and appreciate that it is in good health despite its new curves and stripes. I know there will be seasons where I can focus more on my physical strength and appearance, but now is not that time (and honestly, I am way too busy to dwell on it for very long these days). My body has done what it’s supposed to do, and I am making strides most days to be at peace with the in-between while caring for my family.
I Started Paying Attention to My Mental Health.
With my firstborn, I had undiagnosed postpartum depression that heavily altered my quality of life. Unfortunately, I was too dismissive of my needs and continued on like it would eventually work itself out. Once I got pregnant again, I focused on having a physically “healthy pregnancy” and ignored my mental health, which came back to bite me when I was a mom of two and totally burnt out.
I had to learn there is space for all my emotions, and I am allowed to ask for help when I need it, both professionally and in personal relationships. I had to give myself permission to find an outlet to channel the heavy tension, stress, and pressure that bubbles up inside of me every day. (For me, it’s a gritty workout that may suck in the moment, but the feeling of excelling at something is priceless in my current season of life.) I had to admit that by not caring for my mental health, I was negatively affecting the wellness of my home, usually through outbursts and unregulated emotional responses that were hard for everyone to navigate.
The biggest lesson, though, is that I don’t ignore my mental health, and I don’t expect myself to be a superhuman that can get through it all alone. The process of finding and applying better coping mechanisms for life isn’t always pretty, but you deserve the peace that it can bring.
If you already have healthy outlets, make sure you have a plan in place to protect those important parts of your life after baby arrives. And if you know you’re in need of help finding a better strategy, please don’t wait. Make a move in that direction today.
I Anticipated Changes in My Marriage.
One of the tougher challenges of back-to-back babies was finding our footing as a couple in constant transition. The juggle of caring for an infant, work schedules, and home responsibilities was an adjustment with one child, much less four.
Initially, I was worried about getting back to date nights as soon as possible, or I would stress if our conversations were only about being Mom and Dad. I analyzed our relationship and compared it to what it was before a child (or before one baby), and it left me feeling insecure.
Eventually, I came to trust that while aspects of my relationship would change, the commitment we made to each other would remain the same. I also became more comfortable with the transition of adding another baby to the mix, knowing that the evenings alone together would return, and the date nights would eventually come around (even overnight dates!), and the conversations would include our personal hopes, dreams, desires, dumb jokes, and rants about politics.
In the meantime, we embrace each other in our exhausted, often under-showered states, and we try to practice good communication (re: making a safe space for the other person to vent). Sometimes we simply listen, and sometimes we try to offer practical solutions. Other times we’re there to remind each other that this season—while so special—is not forever, and that there is more waiting for us as a couple in the future.
If you’re worried about the effects of another child on your relationship, have a conversation with your partner about feelings and expectations. Additionally, I try to remind myself that until my partner tells me there’s an issue, I can’t react as if something is wrong. This prevents me from being reactive about future worries that are not rooted in reality, and it creates space for him to communicate his actual feelings when needed.
I Accepted a New Baby Would Affect My Mothering.
Similarly to my relationship with my spouse, I learned that adding another baby always changes the dynamics of our family and my personal relationships with my other children.
This is the part that can hurt the most, because while I believe giving them siblings is a blessing, I also realize they’re receiving less individualized time and attention from their mother. I worry that conflicting wants and needs (like my infant’s need to eat versus my firstborn’s want for another story at bedtime) makes my older kids feel less important.
My temptation is to dwell on this, but the productive solution has been carving out one-on-one dates with my older children once a month. This allows me to focus on them without distraction and create room for their thoughts, questions, and feelings. Whether we’re playing silly video games at an arcade or sitting side-by-side at our local pizza restaurant, it’s an important opportunity for them to see me as their mom, not just a mom to all the children living in our home.
Aside from that, I recognize that I am a work in progress, and I do my best to evaluate my feelings and behaviors each day while learning new coping mechanisms to be a good mom to my four wonderful children. It was not easy getting to this point, and this point is far from where I hope to be one day, but we’re still making progress one minute at a time.
I Realized How Much There is to Gain From Our Situation.
As the time passes and hindsight sets in, I can pinpoint the benefits of having multiple kiddos so closely together.
First and foremost, we gave them one another. They have a crew, a little group of comrades wherever they go (and they’ll tell you it’s nearly impossible to be alone, so they’re used to it). It brings me immense joy to know they will never be alone and that they will always have their siblings throughout life. In all the ways I’ve worried about how things played out, I have true peace of mind knowing they’re surrounded by a loving family.
Another benefit worth mentioning is I am never out of practice meeting the demands of my kids’ current stage of life. I am used to getting crappy sleep. I am used to changing diapers and making four breakfasts before I have coffee in the morning. I am used to cleaning food off the floor, giving instructions on how to brush teeth, and finding matching socks (maybe) in a heaping pile of laundry. I am accustomed to frequent pediatric appointments, looking out for important milestones, and generally multitasking like a maniac, just to name a few things.
I am thankful that I haven’t had to repeat some of the adjustment periods of having small children because it was quite an adjustment the first time. And as my oldest pioneers new territory for our family, I know the other three are following in her footsteps, and I usually feel more comfortable and prepared by the time they enter the same stage.
And lastly, having back-to-back pregnancies made me feel strong. While my abdominal strength and my ability to chill is up for debate, I believe in my heart that I endured something very difficult (for me) and that I am doing a good job with the tasks at-hand. (And hopefully the kids turn out alright, too. Only time will tell!)