Giving up the teenage dream

At 17, I planned out my entire life until age 30: a college degree and marriage by 22 followed by two children (girl then boy), a master’s degree and a fulfilling professional career by 30. My plans didn’t go beyond that, so apparently I was going to drop dead or go insane after that crazy journey.

This plan made perfect sense in my naïve mind. I was already engaged (feel free to roll your eyes, I always do when I think of it) and had begun freshman year of college. Fortunately, it didn’t pan out. Instead college opened my small-town girl eyes. I broke off my engagement, moved in with another boy who held no future for me, suffered a heartbreaking breakup and dated a lot. At the still tender age of 22, I met the man I would marry.

I was only slightly behind schedule; I could easily still fulfill my visions of baking cookies with my adorable blonde daughter and son! Except that my future mate wasn’t interested in children. Many discussions and four years later, we entered marriage on the same page, agreeing to one child. I was OK with the compromise, but I won’t lie, I felt confident he would eventually want a second.

Seven years and many adventures later, we finally plunged into parenthood. She was more than my 17-year-old self could have dreamed of: more beautiful, more loving, more energetic and more work. One felt good, most days.

Yet every year after my daughter’s birth, my biological clock would clang with wild abandon as our autumn birthdays approached. For two months, I would question our young decision to stick to a family of three. Even though my beautiful brown-haired girl nearly consumed me, looming birthdays made me yearn for the little blond boy I would never meet. A birth control malfunction sounded like an inconvenient yet ultimately happy miracle.

My personal reproduction deadline inched from age 35 to 36 to 38 and then to a vague “we could still change our minds if we want.” Then last summer, my husband and I had a random conversation about the increasing risks of giving birth at my age. I know plenty of women who have had healthy children after 40, but given our daughter’s rough start, the thought of any increased risks terrified us.

This conversation was soon followed by one in which I explained to my daughter yet again the cons of having a sister and the pros of being an only child. For the first time, I believed wholeheartedly what I was saying. More importantly, I realized that if I got pregnant that night, I would have a five-year-old and a newborn as I approached 40. That scenario didn’t sound like fulfillment of my teenage dream; it sounded like a nightmare.

So last week we permanently committed to a family of three. I thought I might feel sadness, but I don’t. My teenage plans once seemed big and bold, but the life that has unfolded for me since is so much richer than the one I concocted in my head. It’s also brought me far more happiness than my adolescent imagination could have ever dreamed.

That little boy seemed real in my young dreams, but now he seems as fantastical as finding a rainbow-colored unicorn. Both have become outgrown childhood fantasies. Yet, some childhood things stick. I realized yesterday that, ironically, three has always been my favorite number and I suspect it always will be.

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