“Mama, are you growing a baby in your tummy?”
“Mama, why are there two seats in this cart?”
“If I had a baby brother, I would be the big sister.”
“Mama, look, I’m pregnick!”
“How come she has a baby sister but not me?”
“Mama, when I go to bed, you and Daddy can make a baby.”
“Daddy, did you plant your seed in Mama’s belly button and then she grew grew grew me?”
“When I’m a grown-up lady, I’m going to have forty-ninety-eleven kids.”I am inundated on a near-daily basis by my adorable 3-year-old’s requests for a sibling. And if it’s not her, then it’s my husband, reminding me with rose-colored glasses and puppy-dog eyes what a wonderful big sister she would make to some lucky baby. Then there is the societal pressure—deliberately choosing to have an only child is a form of child abuse more loathsome than arsenic poisoning. There’s my anxiety about disappointing others—my daughter, husband, and every single extended family member, including those Italian second-cousins-once-removed. And then there’s my fear of being perceived a feminine failure, proving my inability to uphold the expectations of the Good Mother who can, will, and wants to do it all.
This is all predicated on the assumption that I can, in fact, get pregnant. Based on the efforts of more than one and a half years and some inconclusive medical tests, that remains a question mark.
A year ago at this time I, too, was desperate for a second child. The Target credit card was regularly swiped to pay for ovulation predictors and pregnancy tests. I saw pregnant women and newborn babies and physically felt a warm ache and sense of longing in my abdomen. When I thought about the future, I always considered a fourth member of our family. Each moment of fatigue and every time my breasts ached, I became hopeful that I was indeed pregnant again. I started to lose just a little bit of faith after several months of unprotected sex. We upped the ante and “tried” harder, tracking fertility signs closely, regularly peeing on sticks, consulting with the fertility clinic. I started weekly acupuncture, modified my diet, and we got all our respective lady and gentleman parts tested. There was nothing to explain our difficulty conceiving. My disappointment turned to frustration, turned to fatigue, turned to apathy.
Fast-forward to today, and the scene at home is quite different. I insist on condoms. I am palpably relieved each month when I get my period. And my husband and I recently started couples counseling to address our conflict related to family planning. He desperately wants another child, to give our daughter a sibling, to relive the joy we experienced with our first baby, obsessed with the symmetry of replacing each one of us.
But me? Another kid sounds like a drag. I recall that first trimester fatigue, half-sleeping on the couch almost every night, the circus-freak size my chest ballooned into, only 20 weeks pregnant (“Your boobs go all the way around to your back!” a friend told me), the maternity clothes, the trauma of labor and delivery, being fat again, the insane sleep deprivation, the returning to work and the pumping, managing the expenses, juggling the schedules, balancing increased responsibilities.
My husband tells me I’m being shortsighted. That, sure, yes of course it will definitely be hard, but only for a few years. That he’ll be here for me. We’re in this together. And just think, the long game is a happy, loving, tight-knit family of four. It’s hard enough for me to understand and accept my change of heart, let alone explain it to someone else.
I had such a seamless pregnancy the first time with our daughter and a (mostly) natural and healthy labor and delivery (although entirely traumatic in its own right). Following our daughter’s birth, I experienced what I’ve come to call “postpartum elation,” a near-chronic sense of joy, peace, and sense that my previously chaotic world had finally restored itself to equilibrium.
My husband had an equally positive experience. He took care of 80 percent of the home-related work while I was pregnant, with a smile no less. He was a wonderful birth partner, cheering me to the finish line and was the dearest doting daddy. He spent an entire summer caring for our daughter when I returned to work after my leave ended. We truly share parenting responsibilities and feel like we won the lottery with the kiddo who chose us to be her parents.
But still. I no longer feel that yearning. I no longer imagine my future including another child. I’m pretty damn happy with the family that I have. And also, there’s a sense that I can “see the light,” so to speak. Our child is at an age where we can actually do things again. We are getting back to hiking and biking and road trips and camping. She is more than happy to go on adventures with her grandparents, giving my husband and I opportunities to be just us again. I am living life off the couch. I own my own body again. And it all feels pretty good.
Some of my girlfriends carefully and politely inquire whether or not my change of heart is a reaction to the infertility issues. I can’t say for certain it’s not. I just no longer want to become pregnant, give birth, devote myself to caring for an infant all over again.
There is a profound sense of isolation being indifferently infertile. Most of my closest friends have already had their second kid, and some of them are already embarking on a third. Their general sentiment is, “it’s hard, but we all do what we have to do!” There are three groups that I could be associated with, and yet I feel I don’t really have a place:
One and Done
I have one friend/colleague who is decidedly having only one child. She fits squarely in the “one and done” crowd. In my experience, these are women who often did not intend to get pregnant in the first place, had difficult pregnancies, postpartum depression, marital strife, or have been disillusioned with the realities of parenthood. They seem to declare, with bravado, that they love their only child, but have no intention to ever conceive again, with such confidence that their husbands already scheduled vasectomies.
I can’t insert myself in the very active and supportive “trying to conceive” (TTC) community. I’m not interested in intrauterine insemination (IUI), let alone pursuing in vitro fertilization (IVF). I’m not obsessed with my fertility, or experiencing desperate sadness, monthly heartbreak, or complications from medical conditions causing infertility.
I relate to some of the sentiments of the women who actively choose to remain childless. But I do have a daughter, and I happen to identify very, very strongly with my role as a mother. I would, indeed, feel incomplete and unfulfilled without her presence in my life.
I can’t imagine I’m the only person experiencing either ambivalence or anxiety about having a second child, in the context of also experiencing issues with fertility. I should start a support group called “Infertile and Indifferent.” Its members would, like me, have had healthy and positive first pregnancies, transitioned well into motherhood, developed textbook-perfect attachment bonds with their first children, and fall somewhere between the free rangers and the helicopters on the parenting-style spectrum.
I tell myself that because I am an avid supporter of any and all variations of a family unit—gay parents of biological children, white parents of adopted biracial children, single parent families, children raised in multigenerational homes—that I, too, should readily embrace my own conflicted desires for a less traditional (but statistically increasing) family composition. But I’m distrusting of my change of heart—if I wanted one thing before, and something different now, who’s to say I’m not going to change my mind yet again? My husband, too, isn’t confident in my proclamations and prevention of having a second child. I imagine he thinks this is all some kind of phase, and he’s just waiting for my pendulum to swing back to Team Second Baby.
There is a host of issues intersecting at the significant and emotional decision about growing our family or not—if we even have the power to make the decision, given the fertility issues. It feels like there is a lot at stake. This is not something that can be compromised. There is no middle ground. We either try to have another child or we don’t. It’s permanent. There’s no turning back. It’s also time-bound; we don’t have forever. There is room for regret, whatever the outcome: to have or not to have, to try or not to try.