This story is part of our End of the Childbearing Years series, exploring the experiences, decisions, and feelings of Mormon women around this pivotal transition. Each story is a generous and vulnerable offering. We ask that comments be sensitive and nonjudgmental toward any woman’s choices or beliefs.

By Melissa Petrini

Since I was little, I wanted to have a larger family like the one I grew up with. Brothers and sisters to play and fight with, and eventually become amazing friends with.

While my husband was in a dental residency with the U.S. Navy in Maryland, I found juggling three children to be my almost breaking point. Since our oldest had been diagnosed with Asperger’s (high-function Autism) and ADHD, his behavior and need for my constant attention made it difficult to manage the others. Soon after being stationed in Okinawa, Japan, we did have another baby, but the stress of not being able to give all my time and attention equally drove me to realize that perhaps I wasn’t meant to have more.

However, many times while having family prayer or just playing with the kids, I had that feeling like someone was missing…even amongst the chaos. My kids would often make random comments too, but I knew that I couldn’t handle more.

By the time we returned to the states, my exhaustion with my oldest son drove me to try to solve my needs and wants as a mother, and the needs that my son had to just make friends and be accepted the way he was. It drove me to put all my time and creative effort into a non-profit I called The Friend Tree Autism Center in San Ramon, CA. Between music, dance, and autism therapy classes, puppet shows educating typical children about Autism, and holding resource fairs and family-fun events, I convinced myself that this center would be my 5th child.

But the feelings kept coming back and soon I began to have dreams about a little girl sitting on my lap while our family gathered for prayer. My heart hurt because I didn’t feel I had the courage or patience to add to our family, especially running my center full-time. So I prayed that God would forgive me and I began to give all my baby things away. However, unbeknownst to me, I was actually pregnant at that time.

I was angry at first, then stressed over how I could do it all. We had just started a 6-month home remodel and expansion project and so to say that I was crazy-busy would be an understatement. But somehow God sustained me through it all and we realized that it was a good time to be expanding our home to fit our little girl who was to join our family.

Claire Rose just turned one, and as I reflect on the major changes that rocked our family this past year, I don’t think I could have survived it all without her. Shortly after she was born, my husband who had been in private practice for the past 5 years, said he couldn’t endure any longer with the toxic partnership he was in and desperately felt it was time to move. We put our newly refinished home that we loved on the market, and I closed my Autism Center down which was the hardest thing for me to do.

However, over the past year of operation, my son—instead of being “the Project”—had become a buddy mentor to other children on the spectrum and served in our programs. He became the most amazing young man. I look back and feel the center served its purpose to help me to better understand and love him, and also empowered him to feel accepted, needed and confident.

Many times, I fell into depression with all the changes happening in such a short period, but Claire’s smile, laughter, and innate sense that I needed a hug would just bring me back and I would realize that she was God’s gift to me at a time only He knew that I would need her. All my children have become better helpers around the house—more calm and nurturing as Claire has them all entranced with her infectious smile.

Now as our family gathers for nightly prayer and sweet Claire is sitting on my lap, my heart is finally full and overflowing with love and appreciation to a Heavenly Father who knows best, and I can be at peace being at the end of my childbearing years.

Stephanie Dyane Photography