The toughest decision I’ve made

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.

4 thoughts on “The toughest decision I’ve made

  1. Oh my – with this part:
    “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.”

    YOU ARE READING MY MIND.

    You’re ahead of me in the process.. I have kept every single boy and girl onesie. And I dream all the time about adding to our family. But I just cannot see it happening right now. And I worry if it doesn’t happen now then Josephine will suddenly be 4, I’ll be close to 40, and the decision will be made for me. There’s all the things I worried about before Lydie: the cost of daycare, the busy-ness of our lives, wanting to have a guest room. But now there’s also like that therapist said: I could survive having another stillborn child. But I really, really don’t want to. Sometimes I think that I’ve blocked how difficult Josephine’s pregnancy was for me… like I forget how terrified I was. My mother mentioned that the other day and I was instantly in tears. I was able to do that then, but I just really, really don’t want to again. I don’t. And like you also wrote, I am beginning to feel some semblance of happy (while always missing) in my life and I think I need to just focus on being grateful for that, and these two beautiful children I have in my arms and the one I am forced to carry in my heart instead.

  2. I am right there with you. Our stories are so similar and I always appreciate your feelings put into words because I tend to wrestle too with these big questions. I am moving forward, in gratitude and immense love for my two living children but will always mourn the loss of my middle child. I am trying to convince myself that it is enough. It is enough.

  3. Thank you for this. I commented recently about how I’m still wrestling with this decision. I have a 7 year old and an almost 2 year old and we lost twin boys in between. Right after the 2 year old was born I was obsessed with having another. I didn’t want to admit it to myself that I might not get to. I thought about it constantly. I still do. But my pregnancies have all been rough, and I barely feel human for the first year after giving birth. I have started to realize that part of my longing for another baby is longing for that easy, blissful pregnancy experience that I’m never going to have. Some part of me thinks that if we try again, I’ll “get it right”, have a full term baby, avoid the NICU, spend blissful hours staring into my baby’s eyes and peacefully kiss the baby years goodbye. But the reality is that I would be putting my mental health up for sale, wagering it against the possibility of another baby (which, we all know, is not a guaranteed result). I think I also struggle with a serious lack of self-love (blaming myself deep down for the loss I couldn’t have prevented, but wish desperately that I could have), so maybe having another baby who I know I could love unconditionally (and be loved back unconditionally, at least until that baby gets a little older) would help hold me up. Really, what I’ve realized is that I have so much more work to do on myself, and having a baby won’t fix any of it. It’s hard to let go of the mental picture of three (living) kids, and I get pangs every time I see the families that look like the perfect picture in my head. But I want to believe that if I cultivate some more gratitude for the great family that I do have, it can grow to counter-balance the “what ifs” of the family that I don’t have.

  4. It’s so interesting to think about the “luxury” (although obviously I hesitate to call it that) of getting to make a decision at all. I think of infertile couples years ago who were simply obligated to be childless or to adopt, end of story–as opposed to the infertile couples I know who struggle with whether to try treatments and how many times and how much to spend. I know no one, myself included, would argue that it was better to have that decision made for you, but I can’t help but wonder if we all just endlesslessly torture ourselves because we have so many options–even bad ones–to consider. As someone who is inclined to rehash every decision to death, personally I sometimes do long for fewer options.

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