The choice of whether or not to try and have a second child has been exceptionally confounding for reasons I don’t understand. Maybe it’s because we never planned out how many kids we wanted, or because I had actually wanted zero kids before I met my husband, but for one reason or another, I change my mind daily with no strong pull in either direction.
For the last four years, we’ve yo-yoed back and forth and back again, worrying that we’ll regret it if we don’t, but still not willing to take the next step. And now that our little dude is older and about to enter kindergarten, it honestly feels pretty daunting to go back to the baby stage. But I still wonder: should we or shan’t we — and why is this such a curiously hard decision?
Before our son, I had another pregnancy. It turned out to be a molar pregnancy and if you know what a molar pregnancy is, I’m sorry; if you don’t know, it’s a rare (1 in 1,000) gestational disease that does not result in a fetus but might result in a malignant placental tumor. I needed to end the pregnancy with a dilation and curettage.
That’s the short story, anyway.
After I got the D&C and all the fun stuff that comes with it — like Xanax and diarrhea — I had to have a lung scan. This particular type of cancer, if it does form, makes a beeline straight for the ol’ windbags. After that, I had a year of blood tests. Once a week until my hormone levels returned to normal, then once a month to make sure they stayed there. I wasn’t allowed to get pregnant again for at least a year, nor was I allowed to take hormonal birth control. We made a modest investment in condoms, though sex was kind of the last thing on our minds. My veins collapsed into my arms from all the pricking and I was on the horn to the goddamn insurance company every other week.
During that time, we threw ourselves into work, producing an entire 12-episode travel video series. We adopted a runty puppy and nurtured him into a 60-pound werebeast. We worried over cancer cells and fretted over medical bills and celebrated with whisky every time I got a good test result. We never talked about the lost child.
The year passed, and at the end of it, I was out of the cancer woods. I was lucky. Green means go; we got lucky again, and ten months later I gave birth to the most achingly marvelous baby boy, and the story of my molar pregnancy and that whole hazy year became just another box to check on health history forms.
But things come back to haunt us in interesting ways.
People might assume my hesitation to have another kid stems from fear of another molar pregnancy, but I’m not afraid of that. I understand that it was a fluke, very unlikely to happen again. So why can’t I make a decision about the second baby? On the one hand, it seems so unnatural to willingly stop at one. Like, what kind of monster doesn’t want to give her child a sibling, a forever best friend?! At the same time, I couldn’t convince myself that I didn’t want to. But honestly, what kind of idiot doesn’t even know how many kids she wants?! Finally, I met with a new therapist and in glossing over my life story, I suddenly realized how much pain I still carry in my heart, not only over the lost baby but also the lost time.
I’m mad, mad, mad. I’m angry at fate and I’m angry at the world. I feel like I got ripped off by the universe. I feel like I should already have two kids by now. I’m owed that. (By whom, I don’t know.)
I said it. I acknowledge it. I honor it for the first time.
With that single, poignant insight — as irrational as it may seem — I began to embrace the long-standing effects that traumatic year had on me. More surprisingly, until laying the story all out again on the psychiatrist’s coffee table, I hadn’t even considered that loss a trauma in the first place. Not a real trauma, anyway not traumatic enough to talk about or think about. Why do we shortchange ourselves and our feelings? Wanting a baby and not getting a baby is a bruising, pitiful ordeal.
Finally, my see-sawing makes sense to me. I realized that in my heart of hearts, I already did have two babies, even if I only ever met one of them. And by finally recognizing the resentment I feel about that stolen year, I’ve been able to set myself free of the notion that I owe my son a sibling, but I can also see that yes, I do want two babies. I finally have certainty. Never before have I understood so clearly the meaning of “If you can name it, you can tame it.”
Maybe we’ll have another baby. I’ll be 40 in not too long so I’m not holding my breath, but I’m not trying to stop it happening anymore either. If we have another one, great. The baby will be loved beyond measure. If it doesn’t work out, at least I can stop condemning myself over it.