A few weeks ago one of the mothers in my online birth club posted looking for some advice. She and her husband were thinking about trying for a second baby, but she was afraid of experiencing more loss (her first pregnancy ended in a missed miscarriage). Everyone responded with thoughtful, caring words. Many of the other women had also experienced miscarriages.
One woman ended her post with these words: “Sometimes you can’t always get your ideal, but you do get a baby!!!!”
And there it was again.
I really love being part of this birth club. I love that all the other women have toddlers born within a month of E. I love that whenever E. does something crazy, I can count on at least a couple of the other toddlers doing the same thing. I love that whenever I start to get stressed about my parenting or feel pressured or judged to do things in a certain way, I can go on the birth club and there will always be at least one other mama who feels the same way I do.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been able to mostly be a mama when I’m on there. Not a recovering infertile, but a mama. They know my history and they know that E. is an IVF/ICSI baby, but it doesn’t define who I am on there.
Lately, though, I’ve felt the infertile side of my motherhood growing in strength. As the summer speeds along, as we get closer to going back to the clinic, as more and more of the mamas on my birth club announce subsequent pregnancies, or give birth (most to second children, but not all the mamas were first-timers on the May 2011 board), as belly pics and newborn shots trickle over the newsfeed, it becomes harder and harder to feel like I’m just one of the mums.
That comment really hit home for me. The woman who made it is a lovely person, and she meant it in the best possible way- that it was silly to worry too much about age gaps, and that whatever form one’s family ended up taking, it would be the right result. But the unquestioned assumption, that if this other woman (who is now a friend IRL) wanted to have a second baby, she would get her baby, was an attitude that seemed so unbelievably alien to me, it made me feel for a time like an outsider all over again.
It’s not true, you see. I know that. Sometimes you don’t get your ideal AND you don’t get your baby.
It’s hard to write about secondary infertility. I wrestle with putting my thoughts out in public, just as other bloggers have. It’s hard to give voice to the longing for that second child, that extra smile in the backseat, that extra chair at the kitchen table, when you know that there are others who are experiencing that longing, just as deeply, just as painfully, without having the mitigating effect of already having a child who fills their house with love and laughter (and, let’s keep it real here, occasional screaming and crying and shouts of “No!”).
I was one of those bloggers, once. I filled two and half years on this blog waiting and longing and hoping and grieving and yearning, beaten down month after month, feeling smaller with every failed cycle.
And then we got a positive result. And I struggled with how to blog about my pregnancy, but decided to press onwards.
And then E. was born. And I struggled with how to blog about parenting, especially the not-so-picture-perfect moments. It’s hard to admit sometimes you really don’t like your new life when you know that you have readers who would give their everything to trade places with you.
But I pressed onwards. Partly this was because my blog is my outlet- it acts as the diary I always think I should keep yet never quite manage to do so. Partly this was because in my long months and years of waiting for that BFP, I found it helpful, not hurtful, to read about women – women who became friends – who were successful, and who did become mothers. It gave me hope to see that some people got to have a happy ending. But mostly I kept blogging because I struggled, REALLY struggled with the transition to motherhood, and my readers helped me to pick up the pieces and put them all back together again. My readers never stopped telling me that I was a good mother, that I would adjust, that I would find myself again, that it would all get easier in time. I didn’t believe them at first- I couldn’t believe them- but they were right.
This blog’s focus is shifting again, as we march closer to the fall and our plans for a FET. I’m going to need to start taking bcps early next month to get my ridiculous cycle into some sort of recognizeable state. I feel more infertile than I have at any other point in the last three years. It’s not as though I stopped thinking about my infertility while pregnant, or when I first became a mum. But I had something else to focus on. And after E. was born I could indulge in the daydream that maybe, just maybe, I would be one of the lucky ones whose second child could be conceived in love and not with the help of a team of crack medical specialists (although I am, of course, forever grateful that I live in a time when such a team exists and that Q. and I could afford to engage their services).
That hasn’t happened. I had to give up that daydream. I had to look squarely in the mirror and recognize that my infertile self was staring right back at me.
I’m afraid to go back to the clinic.
I want this time around to be different. I want the presence of E. in our lives to make things easier.
He’s a double-edged sword, in a way. He makes it easier, because we are not childless, because our house is not empty. But he is also a reminder of all that we long for, a reminder of what we are missing with our family still incomplete.
A good friend asked me recently the question that was put to her: What are you afraid of?
I’m afraid of making the wrong decision.
It isn’t as simple as the best result is we go back to the clinic and we get pregnant and have a second baby, and the worst result is we go back to the clinic and we don’t get pregnant, and we expend all that energy and emotion and spend thousands of dollars, and take time and love and focus away from E. and end up with nothing to show for it.
There’s a third option.
We don’t go back to the clinic. We don’t try to expand our family. We call ourselves lucky, happy, complete as a family of three.
‘Tis better to have gone to the fertility clinic and tried and lost, than never to have gone to the clinic at all?
I’m not sure about that.
It seems to me that the best possible outcome is still going to the clinic, getting pregnant, and having a second baby. But the next best option is to play it safe- to turn away from the risks- to refuse to gamble heartache for happiness- to take E. as our miracle baby and be grateful.
And there’s the rub. I’m not much a gambler. And I scared myself (and my family, and my friends) with the toll that our years of trying for E. took on me.
Right now Q. and I have a fairly sensible outlook on the whole thing. Try both FETs in the fall of 2013. If they fail, fall back, lick our wounds, decide whether we want to attempt one more (only one more) fresh IVF cycle in August 2014. If that fails, and any associated FETs fail as well, admit defeat, acknowledge that E. is our only miracle, and get on with life as a family of three.
It looks so easy on paper. Deceptively so.
But I can say categorically that if someone could tell me today that we are not ever going to have a second child, no way, no how, no chance, then I would gladly, gladly turn my back on those FETs, that fresh IVF, the drugs, the ultrasounds, the emotional roller coaster that is ART which never seems to get any easier, no matter how long you’ve been on it. I would gladly wash my hands of the whole affair and choose to spend my time in the next year being entirely present for E., as his Mummy.
It’s the risk I’m frightened of. The gamble that really, truly, might not pay off for us, no matter what the other mothers on my birth club think.
I know now, even more than I did before I had E., that there are no guarantees. I have friends who struggled to have their first child but then managed to have their second without any medical intervention (some even ending up pregnant unexpectedly). I have friends who struggled to have their first child and still needed ART to have their second, but conceived their second much more easily than their first (which gives me hope). On the other side, I have friends who didn’t struggle to have their first child (and whose pregnancies I withdrew from rather than embracing because I was too sad for myself to be happy for them) only to then struggle to have their second. One had three miscarriages before finally carrying her second daughter to term. Another dear friend lost her second pregnancy this summer at 24 weeks gestation. She knew the baby was not going to survive outside the womb, but had expected to be able to continue the pregnancy to full term.
And I have friends, dear friends, in blogs as well as IRL, who fought the good fight (you see, I always think of it as a battle) to expand their families but had, in the end, to admit defeat, to lick their wounds, to refocus on life as a family of three.
I saw the heartache that decision caused these women, strong women, women I respect and admire. I saw that secondary infertility was not any easier. I saw how difficult it was to come to grips with the realization that their only child, their much-loved, much-wanted, hard-fought-for child, was indeed an anomaly. That even though they carried a baby to term once, they weren’t going to be allowed to do that again.
I saw this, and my heart broke for these women. But at the same time, self-indulgent though it might be, I felt a stab of fear for myself.
You see, despite what some mothers are able to believe, I know that there are no guarantees in this world.
I know that just because I successfully got pregnant from IVF, carried a baby to term, and birthed him safely into the world, that does not mean I will be able to do this again.
I also know that Q. and I don’t have endless resources. Trying and failing to have a baby takes its toll on anyone, on any marriage, but we can’t try again with the start of every new month- we have to go to the clinic. We don’t have the mental, physical and emotional strength to repeat what we went through to get E. And we don’t have the money, either. It’s harder to rationalize paying out of pocket for treatments when I know that every dollar we spend on that hunt for a 2.0 (money we basically flush down the toilet if we fail) is money we’re taking away from our here-and-now son. Money that could go to his university fund. Money that could buy us a holiday as a family. Money that could buy us a car. I remember a friend once asking how much we’d spent on fertility treatments to get E., and when I told her, she looked at E. and said, “Well, I’d rather have E. than a car”. She was right, but would I have felt that way about that money if we’d ended up childless? Would it have been money well spent if we’d tried but ultimately failed to become parents?
In the grand scheme of things money doesn’t matter, but there’s a limit to how much of my actual child’s present I’m willing to sacrifice in the hope of some elusive future.
Part of this anxiety is related, I’m sure, to my fears about becoming a mother again. Let’s face it, I wasn’t exactly a poster child for maternal bliss. I’d like a do-over, now that I’m a bit older and wiser and I’ve learned that babies really do eventually start sleeping and you can’t ruin them in the first twelve weeks no matter what the books say, but I’m not looking forward to the newborn stage. I’m not looking forward to sleepless nights and unexplainable, possibly inconsolable, crying. I worry about the impact on E., suddenly becoming a big brother. I worry that any next baby won’t have a personality that meshes so well with Q. and I as E. does. I worry about how hard Q. works, and about my own career, and how we will balance everything with another child.
And yet, when I am able to step back and quiet the nagging internal voices, and take the long view, I have no doubts at all. Five years down the road, ten years down the road, twenty years down the road- I see us as a family of four. I see two heads in the backseat on road trips, a fourth chair at the kitchen table, a child each for Q. and I to hold and soothe on dark nights when the thunder roils into their dreams.
I know that E. will never have the same relationship with any sibling that I have with my sisters. But I also know that he will spend his entire life an ocean away from half of his family- fifty percent of his cousins and aunties and uncles and other relatives he will grow up seeing only every couple of years. I also know that of my two sisters, one is nowhere near considering becoming a mother, and the other is thinking about it, but vascillates. I know he would be fine as an only child, and we wouldn’t ruin him for life by not giving him a sibling, but it’s entirely possible that he won’t be able to use his cousins as sibling substitutes.
I don’t want E. to be alone in his generation.
And so, even though I am terrified that we are making the wrong decision, that we will look back at this in two or three years time and wish we’d chosen otherwise, we are going to risk the heartache for the happiness, and we will try for a 2.0.
And selfishly, selfishly, I hope that I am one of the lucky ones on whom fickle Fortuna smiles.