Timothy P. Munkeby is a member of The Reporters Inc.’s Advisory Committee. To learn more about him, click here.

The Munkeby clan (l-r): Eric, Alex, Adriann, Mary, Erin, Tim, and Emily

What if?

Fighting doubt about decision to have kids

December 2013

December 2013

BY TIMOTHY P. MUNKEBY

The night the twins were born I remember I couldn’t sleep. Don’t know if it was because of the recliner in the hospital room that really didn’t allow me to recline or the hangover of excitement from watching the doctor pull two–TWO–scrawny little angels out of that tiny space.  Regardless of the reason, as my wife slept a worn-out-from-the-most-important-job-in-the-world-sleep, I couldn’t.

Whenever I forced my eyes shut something nagged at me, a burr just beneath the blanket of sleep that kept me alert–almost an alarm, a danger warning.  Something was not right in the universe. It felt like I had done something I would regret. But what? When I considered counting sheep, instead I started counting children.  Our children.

We had gotten pregnant when Mary was still in high school, a senior, editor of the yearbook; it was a post she was, unfortunately, asked to abdicate at her private school.  I had just started college–the University of Minnesota–at the time planning on dentistry,  my mother’s choice.  Mary’s parents were older, had been through this dilemma with three of their seven children and so, no question: marriage.

I thought I had fallen in love one balmy summer evening riding bicycles, transistor radio hanging from my handlebars, Mary and I singing along to the ‘60s song  “Sweet Words of Love.”  Was this true love?  Did anyone know what true love was? What if this was, but I didn’t step up and marry her?  I decided that I didn’t know, maybe never would, but in case it was true love, we should get married.  Now, I had been an only child, apple of my parents’ eyes.  They didn’t feel exactly the same way about this circumstance as Mary’s parents did.  I had been a National Honor Society student at a private school.  They figured I had great things ahead of me, children not being one of the great things they had in mind for the immediate future. But education was.  Their initial response: “Had I heard of contraceptives? What about school?”

What was that burr?  That pin prick of subconscious irritation that wouldn’t let me close my eyes?

Christopher Jon had been born prematurely two months after our wedding and survived only ten hours.  Nobody dared say it, but we knew everyone but us was thinking: “You wouldn’t have had to get married.”  We didn’t regret our decision. I stayed in school; we lived in a trailer; at least we owned it so it was a home. Mary and I both were working 40 hours a week; no health insurance except Health Services at the U.  So the smart thing to do, of course: use birth control, graduate, and, then, do the great children thing.  But… no.  Seeing that baby, that miracle, was simply too much.  Fourteen months later Eric Jon was born.

What if we had made the smart decision?

I did finish college, shortened a bit by becoming a high school teacher, taking only four years rather than six or more for dentistry. Less money but summers off seemed like a decent tradeoff.

Finally: a real job, a real house, a new car. And debt. Probably smart to wait. Probably should use “the pill.” Then blonde-haired, blue-eyed Emily arrived: Eric and Emily now.  I can’t even imagine not having Emily.

My goodness, what if we had decided to “wait?”

Took a sabbatical from my school district and Mary and I taught at a school in Bogotá, Colombia.  Unfortunately, well actually fortunately for us, there are lots of unwanted pregnancies in third world cities (many of those folks had not heard of contraception)…

So: Alexandra.  Our best friend in Bogotá was a non-cloistered nun, Sister Antoinette, a remarkable woman.  She introduced us to her friend, Mother Denise, one day at her home for unwed mothers.  Mother Denise thought it was “providencia” that we had been introduced just as she was about to call and tell prospective parents in France that their baby was born and ready for adoption.  Mother asked us if we had ever thought of adopting.  Mary and I looked at each other: we were both teaching, which was fine with both Eric and Emily in school, but what would we do with a baby?  Not smart. “Well, sure,” we replied.  “Would it matter if black or white?”  “No.”  “Boy or girl?”  “No.”  She then said, “Follow me”… we wound our way down a corridor, up to a choir loft, of all places.  “Wait here”… and in no time out she walks with a beautiful black-haired, black-eyed baby girl three days old.  “Want to hold her?”  “Sure.”  “Want her?”  “Sure.”

What if we had made the smart decision?

My counting of babies, up to three by now in case you’re not paying attention, was not getting me any closer to sleep.  Much the opposite.  That sinister nag had not left.

So we returned to the States with Eric, then 10, Emily, then 6, and Alexandra Denise, 7 months.  By then Mary and I had heard of contraceptives, condoms being the current method of (Mary’s) choice.  Rationale: with a new house, a meager teacher’s salary, and Mary home with three kids, it’d be smart to wait to have any more of the little critters.

“But twins?  Nine months later?” you might ask.

Well, as I shifted in the recliner, having counted my children–currently to five–I started looking into the future.  I saw Eric winning the mile and half-mile all the way through college; I saw Emily beating everybody in the hundred yard dash; Alex growing into a talented, beautiful woman; I saw myself finally having the time to coach the twins, in soccer, becoming the best team in the state and winning national tournaments; I saw all of them all getting college scholarships.

I visualized grandchildren: Eric finding a Lisa–a wonderful woman, complementing my son perfectly–who would mother their five children. I pictured Emily finding an Erik–a marvelous man and father, of course–and, maybe three more grands.

And then  Alexandra and the twins eventually contributing  to the happy, loving family.  Maybe the youngest twin (we named her Erin), finding a remarkable man, maybe a Todd, and at least two more grands.  Adriann, the oldest twin, getting engaged to a great fella, maybe an Andy, who fits right in. Alex drawing out the anticipation…all of us waiting to see who she would bring into the fold.

Suddenly it hit me what that blasted burr was.  Here I am with two of the most beautiful things in the world sleeping next to me, and I recall the night they were conceived.  I remember that night well, because I was selfish that night.  I said to Mary, “Do we have to use a condom tonight?” She replied, “Yes. I’m ovulating.” I said: “No way. You can’t always be ovulating….”

The realization pierced my soul: What if I hadn’t insisted?  What if Mary had decided to persist?  It would naturally have been the smart thing to do with Alex less than a year old. But, my Lord, knowing what we know now, how we would have regretted that decision, attempting to manipulate fate.

What if she hadn’t now decided to have her tubes tied? It was definitely the smart thing to do, wasn’t it?

Tim Munkeby can be reached at tmunkeby@aol.com. Or check out his website, www.timmunkeby.com.

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