When Henry was about a year old, Greg and I started to talk about having another baby. We were out on a walk, pulling the kids in a wagon, and they were so darling together, with Eleanor singing and Henry giving hearty belly laughs. I imagined Thanksgiving and Christmas with three kids or get-togethers in 20 years with all of those adult children.
So Greg and I kept talking. And talking. Every conversation about the future returned to this same question. I worried a lot. Would I still be able to return to work if we had another baby? I knew a lot of women who had two kids and worked outside the home. Not many with three, though. I was already at a point where I wanted to go back to work, but I knew that having another baby would delay that by several years. (I should note that Greg consistently said, “We’re fine either way.” Translation: “Your choice.”)
How would we keep up with our gluten-free, egg-free diet? What if the next child had a dairy or nut allergy?
The biggest worry, of course, was whether another baby would survive. Would we spend a year trying only to have a miscarriage or worse? I had always thought of Henry as my happy ending. Leaving the maternity wing with a living baby had done a lot to soften the memory of leaving the hospital in a silent car. I wanted to keep it that way.
If you’re on the fence about having a third child (yes, our fourth, but you know), many people have advice. I read essays on the topic obsessively. Most of the essays ended with another baby, and they couldn’t imagine their lives without the new baby and so on. Now their family was complete! A few ended with the couples sticking with two and celebrating a small family. None of the essays talked about stillbirth and high-risk pregnancy and how you make this choice when the choice isn’t so much about adding another child but about potentially losing another child.
Around Genevieve’s birthday, I attended a support group meeting to hash out all of this. I hadn’t been since the previous year, also around her birthday. The meeting had four other couples, which was a lot for this group. We went around the table telling our stories. None of the other families had living children. Some were now too old to have biological children, while the younger couples would no doubt try again. In that room, I was the luckiest woman in the world.
No one there seemed to understand why I was torturing myself. One of the older women said, “If I had one living child or two or three, I would be so happy.”
The psychologist who leads the group commented about how decisions shouldn’t be made based on fear but how I had a pregnancy history that made fear rational. And then she said, “You know, you could survive another stillbirth.” She didn’t mean to scare me; she was trying to tell me that I am stronger than I think.
But that was it. I don’t want to survive that again. I want to soak up the kids I have, and I’m not willing to risk another miscarriage or stillbirth and falling off of an emotional cliff. I won’t sacrifice our current stability and happiness for some potential future gain.
I have given away the baby toys and Pack ‘n’ Play and stroller and mourned each step. I’m always going to be wistful because I don’t feel like I had a ton of choice in the matter, at least not like my friends who had normal pregnancies.
At certain moments, though, when it’s the middle of February and it’s 65 degrees and Eleanor and Henry are scrawling their chalky creations onto the driveway in the rosy beams of the sunset, I think: This was not a given. Their lives were not a given, and this is worth celebrating.