We all grow up with some ideas about what we want our lives to look like, don’t we? While I wasn’t one of those kids who was planning my wedding or how I’d allot my earnings when I was a settled and successful adult (What is that, anyway?), I have always been a daydreamer, and I’ve certainly held tightly to a few core principles concerning what I’d do with my adulthood. One of them surpassed all the rest: I’d have children. Plural.
I knew this deep within my bones — perhaps because I felt it, but maybe even more so because I’d declared it over and over, as though doing such a thing would make it so. Three was the magic number. I’d grown up as the eldest of three children myself, and I loved the freedom that came with that variety — and being able to gravitate toward one sibling when the other was being a complete prat.
Never mind the fact that I had no idea what birthing, raising, and providing for three children entailed — I just knew that my parents had done it, thereby I could safely assume that such a thing was attainable and accessible to me. Never mind, also, that I’d been raised in a Christian home and in a church environment that drilled into me that sex led to pregnancy, that pregnancy led to parenthood, and that getting tangled up in any combination of these things before marriage would bestow upon me a one-way ticket straight to hell. (Don’t get me started on that.)
I relished the idea of building a family — of navigating a chaotic household dotted with yelling, hair-pulling and tattling — and truthfully, I didn’t think it’d be that hard. What never occurred to me throughout that naïve planning process, however, was that perhaps the decision to have children would never be mine to make at all — that such a thing wasn’t even remotely in my sphere of control — that sex does not always lead to pregnancy, that pregnancy does not always lead to parenthood, and that perhaps hell, or some variation on it, was easy to fall into right here on Earth.
I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked about whether or when we'll have another baby.
Bouncing around my house as I write this, refining her parkour skills and turning my kitchen’s entire bread supply into peanut butter toast, is my wild and wondrous 4-year-old daughter. She is, in one 3-foot-4-inch body, the singular source of all my most blinding frustration and boundless joy. She is a wellspring of love, and my proof that magic and miracles are real. She is also, as it happens, my only living child.
Motherhood began for me in the same way that it does for so many — I was overrun by dirty diapers, a leaking and ravaged body, and a case of postpartum depression that threatened for a year to pull me deep beneath the surface. But elation overtook me all the same. I had tumbled so deeply in love with my daughter. I wanted more. But nine weeks into my second pregnancy, when my daughter was 18 months old, I had a miscarriage. For reasons I’ll never know, or no reason at all, that little heart I’d seen beating on a grainy ultrasound screen stopped beating; and not a week later, I found myself lying on a sterile hospital bed while my uterus was hollowed out with all the gentle reverence of a bulldozer barreling through a construction site.
I also hadn't anticipated things could get worse, nor that they would almost immediately: In the harrowing aftermath of that loss, just as I was learning to balance delicately between grief and hope, I was diagnosed with secondary infertility. At 32 years old, my egg reserve was nearly nil, and my baby-having days were over. I was blindsided. It was as if the floor was pulled out from under my feet, and I’ve been careening wildly through space unknown ever since.
My body had failed me. I begged and I pleaded with whichever cosmic presence would listen, and I set up camp in grief’s denial phase, as though a years-long stay might earn me the power to defy my own biological makeup.
I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked about whether or when we'll have another baby, or of the number of times I’ve been inundated with those old familiar placations: "Don't worry, you'll have another," they say. "Everything happens for a reason." ("OH, DOES IT?" I want to scream.)
I didn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable for having asked something so upsetting unknowingly — so I'd lie.
"You need to have more kids to fill up that house of yours," said my next-door neighbor on one occasion. His timing couldn't have been worse — I'd only just found out that, for certain, our house would never be any fuller than it was in that very moment. He had no idea, of course, but his passing comment was a punch in the gut. "If only I could," I wanted to cry.
But instead, I said nothing of the sort; I never did, not to him or anyone else. I didn't want to burden anyone with my pain. I didn't want to feel that heartache myself, nor did I want to make anyone feel uncomfortable for having asked something so upsetting unknowingly — so I'd lie. I'd say yes; that we'd love to; that someday, fingers crossed, we'll have another. It was the cleanest and most polished way I could think of to uphold someone else's dignity. But what took me some time to understand was that every time I did that, I was doing a great disservice to myself — to my loss, my reality and my pain — and to the other people experiencing something like this, with whom these well-meaning folks would go on to repeat the same conversational faux pas.
So I stopped lying, and I started speaking out. I write about it. It somehow feels like both the most and the least I can do in my effort to hold space for my loss and to tether my heart to everyone else’s during a season in which I need it most.
Raising an only child has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I contend daily with the feelings of inadequacy that compete with the exhaustion of motherhood, and two halves of me travel down the roads of grief and joy simultaneously. But then what?
I can curse the ground I walk on, and I can scream into the wind over the unjust nature of it all (I have, actually), but nothing will pluck me up and set me down exactly where I want to be. So instead, I do what I can with what I’ve been given: I pour every ounce of myself into what I do have, and I work to stave off any contempt I feel by basking in that singular miracle of mine: she who throws artful public tantrums, who prefers DIY haircuts, and who floods my life with brilliant sound and light.
So, no: I won’t be having a second baby, but it’s not for lack of desire, of effort, or of endless and fruitless bartering with fate. I wanted it desperately, but the choice wasn’t mine to make. What’s your next question — or would you rather think a little longer before asking?
Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about kids right now or not, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.