As a mom, there are a few questions I hate answering: When are you due? Um, never, that bump is left over from the baby who’s now in preschool. When are you going back to work? I don’t know! I’m not ready! Are you planning to have another one? Lady, unless you’ve got Kleenex in your purse and 20 minutes to spare, let’s not go there.
The moment my daughter was born, my bonkers first thought was, I want to do that again. I wanted to make another baby, like, immediately. The miracle was so huge, and the joy/love rush so potent, I was hooked and knew I’d need another hit.
Unfortunately, we’d gotten a late start on our family and I was already 40, so as soon as it was physically possible, we started trying for baby number two. When it didn’t happen right away, I panicked (because panic and conception mix oh-so-well) and ran to a fertility doctor. There were tests, drugs, shots, an unsuccessful insemination, three failed in vitro fertilizations, and along the way, several early miscarriages. I tried vitamins, supplements, herbs and acupuncture. I lost weight, did yoga, ate pineapple cores and prayed. I gave up caffeine and booze for a year, and all I learned is that I’m a real bitch without my coffee.
We’re still trying — the free, old fashioned way — and I’m struggling.
They call it secondary infertility. You have the first baby, and you think, Wow, my body’s so good at this; I could have like 10 more kids. Should we have 10 more kids? And while you’re negotiating whether to have one more or 10 more (with a partner who thinks you’re nuts, but humors you), your body just up and quits. In my case, the glitch is declining egg quality, but I know other, younger mamas who can’t seem to make a second baby either. It’s wildly frustrating. And it hurts not to be able to create the family you envisioned.
As a mother, you want to give your child everything. I want my daughter to have a sibling. She may not consider that the same caliber gift as a doll house or tricycle, but I’m taking the long view. I grew up with a younger brother, and even though we fought like criminals for the first 10 years, we’re BFF’s now, and I treasure him. I realize I can’t guarantee a close sibling relationship, but I want to provide my daughter with that person who will know her always–the one who understands what it was like to grow up in her house. The one who’s still there when I’m gone.
This is a morbid obsession of mine. Any discussion with my partner of our fertility woes generally ends with me sobbing, “I don’t want to leave her alone!” He is certain she will not be alone—that she will have good friends and someone to love. We love her so much, surely others will as well. But I’m a mom and I want insurance.
Call me crazy (or laugh in my face), but I’d also like to experience raising siblings. I imagine it’s hard—much harder than what I’m doing now. But that’s my Everest. I want to take on the challenge of the schedules and the sharing and “it’s not fair.” I want my chance to threaten, “I will turn this car around!” though I’m not sure back seat squabbles exist anymore, what with bucket seats and iPads. I want to see how different or similar my two kids would be. I want the messy and the dirty. I want it all. Are you listening, ovaries?
One of the unique struggles of secondary infertility is that everyone you know is pregnant. I’m not exaggerating. I have a preschooler, and when you socialize with preschool families, most moms are either knocked up or toting a brand new bundle of joy. Conversations at the playground focus on the ideal age spread between siblings and whether to go for a third. These perfectly legitimate questions start to grate on me like humble brags. You know, Should we get the Ferrari or the Porsche? But I don’t want my friends to feel stifled around me, so I imagine that I am someone who has these same choices, and try to consider them thoughtfully. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s possible to be genuinely happy for others while still being insanely jealous. At least there are always cute babies available to hold.
Then there’s the problem of the gear. Each time my kid outgrows something, I struggle with next steps. Do I save toys, books and clothes for another child who might never come? What about the nursing bras and breast pump rusting in my closet? So much stuff. I wound up sending most of the outfits to our new niece and the bulky swings and bouncers to a neighbor baby, but I don’t think I can bring myself to ditch the crib. We’re going to be vacuuming around that sucker ‘til I hit menopause.
Emotional triggers are everywhere, and I’m nothing if not emotional, but it’s not always easy to find comfort. Some friends shy away from the topic, as though infertility might be contagious. If I do share our difficulties, the well-meaning response tends to be, “At least you have one child,” which of course makes me feel horribly guilty. I know there are tons of infertile couples who would give anything to have just one child. And I have several single, childless girlfriends who would love to be mothers but didn’t quite make their biological clock deadlines. In their company, I am a glutton yearning for extra helpings.
I know that in time I will, if I must, learn to accept the status quo. It helps that the one kid I have is pretty incredible. Sure, she has tantrums and her favorite word is “why” and she exhausts me, but she is the yummiest, funniest, most amazing human I could have ever hoped to bring into the world. I am lucky. I am grateful.
Yet when I see her playing baby, feeding her “little brother” (a stuffed owl) his pretend bottle and rocking him to sleep, it’s impossible not to want a real baby. I want to experience the miracle again, but in a new way: more assured, less afraid, and with my daughter by my side.