Warning – do not read this if you are in the trenches of infertility or loss and are still waiting for a live take home baby.
I have been planning to have another baby since Isobel was born. I did everything I could to enjoy her precious and beautiful smallness, even as a clueless first time mother who did not grow up around babies, knowing that life is short and that there were no guarantees of another baby in my future. Even before I knew who she was, I pictured siblings. And once I met her and experienced her happy go lucky personality and her inner and outer beauty, I pictured her with a brother or a sister, so similar but also different to her. I saw them giggling together, playing side by side, arguing and fighting and snuggling and finding their own way and their own passions. I have seen my sister’s girls grow up side by side and that has always inspired me to want this for myself. When I was first pregnant with Isobel we freaked out when we found out we were having twins, which as everyone always says, is an instant family, but that fear and euphoria only lasted a week until the second embryo’s very slow heartbeat petered out.
We have had challenges from day one. Not even taking into account the years of waiting and wondering and treatment, and donor eggs and donor sperm that we went through to get to Isobel, it has been a bumpy ride. A hard and stress filled pregnancy, bleeding, a huge fibroid, pre eclampsia, post partum depression, unemployment, parents dying, dogs dying. But after I survived and mostly thrived through the first year of motherhood I was ready to start looking for a job that would pay the bills and then some and would provide insurance for us to do a frozen embryo cycle to make our sibling plans come alive.
Susan and I have both come late in life to facing our longings head on and going for it despite the odds and difficulties. NOT doing was too painful. Susan wanted desperately to complete an MDiv. and work in the ministry of a church that was liberal enough to embrace her queerness and allow her to serve in a full ministerial capacity despite the fact, or because of the fact she is a woman. This was something that had been in the works for over twenty years, and which had for many reasons, but mostly financial, been put on hold. I was equally set on fulfilling my desire to become a mother. The delay of that also had a lot to do with money ( sperm is expensive and so is insemination and it was all so unknown and I dealt with a sizeable amount of ambivalence). We were also busy with long distance family obligations and it wasn’t till 2007 that we finally thought we might be ready to have a baby. And that’s when we started in earnest.
Fast forward to the wonderful birth of Isobel and our circumstances were these: Susan was still finishing school and had been laid off from her job of 24 years when Isobel was 6 months old, so we were living off her 401k, student loads and money that my recently dead parents had left me. I had always wanted to stay home with my baby and this combination of resources made it possible. We had a wonderful time staying home together for the second six months of Isobel’s life. So there I was in the summer of 2011 looking to embark on the second part of our family planning. Baby number two. I was still breast-feeding and I did not have an exact time line but I knew that first I would find a job and we would take it from there. I landed a part time on call job doing psych evals in the ER and I actually liked many aspects of it ( apart from managed care and the horrific mental health system which I won’t get into). I got to connect with patients in their darkest hours and lend them my ears and my heart and give them a little hope sometimes. I was hoping it would lead to a full time gig that would support my little family and move us along to the next part of my goal, courtesy of insurance and five gorgeous frozen embryos from our one live cycle with the wonderful egg donor.
The job did not lead to anything apart from sleepless nights for all of us. Isobel missed me while I was gone in the nights and Susan’s physical health issues that made it really hard for her to coax Isobel into and to stay in her crib. They often were sleeping in the armchair together when I got home at 2 , 3, 4,5 or 6 in the morning and the lack of sleep and physical pain was making it unbearable for Susan. I wasn’t exactly myself either working these odd unpredictable hours. Great for someone with no obligations and hours to sleep in but not so much for a mostly attachment, avidly breastfeeding parent and her spouse. After three months training and three on call I had to reluctantly call it quits. A couple of months later I got a director of social services job in the not for profit field I had worked in previously. I knew in the interview that it was probably going to be a disaster, but I needed work, and I thought I could manage it. It was good pay and benefits ( as not for profits go), near my house, flexible, and I thought that I could return to that type of work, even though it had burnt me out the last time.
Fast forward 10 months – unbelievable – and I am not the person I was when Isobel was born. I am tired, crabby, even fatter than before I got pregnant the first time, lethargic, angry and just plain unhappy. I have a hard time handling Isobel’s new found independence and strong will. With weaning comes less endless snuggle time in the mornings and early risings. I get impatient. I am the one asking Susan what to do about various behavior issues, whereas before I thought I was in charge. But I am still determined, really determined to keep going, no matter what. My actual job is not exactly difficult, it is a managerial one that demands good clinical judgment, great supervisory skills and organization. I can manage all of that. But the environment is absolutely toxic. I had angst during my last job, before I got pregant, serious serious angst. Much of it was about my supervisors. Having worked at an agency for nine years previously that was rich with mostly sane and often down right inspirational supervisors I have never again had that experience. Right now I have a supervisor who does not show up for work much. And does not really lead. But more than that I have a co worker who is a toxic bully and whose whole department seems to work to make my department look bad. It eats away at me. Despite all this I have managed to wean Isobel, have all the tests I need to prepare for an FET, including a mammogram, and CHANGED MY ANTI-DEPRESSANT over a four week period to something my new psychiatrist was more comfortable with me taking while pregnant. Also we got our condo ready for a short sale, which involved a huge amount of paperwork, it went on the market a few weeks ago and we have a buyer. So all being well, we are moving in about two months. And our credit is probably going to be ruined. And we will be paying the same in rent that we paid in mortgage because rents are so high but we have no credit to buy a place and we are not sure where to go based on Susan’s job search. But because of our physical and mental and financial hardship ( including my depression which is really affected by the lack of light in our “garden” apartment), we are able to do a short sale and get out of this underwater, small and rather damp apartment. So yes a lot of shit is going on and I have ploughed on, being crabby and mean to Susan and trying hard to be nicer to Isobel but not always succeeding. Because that is what I do. I plough on. I am known for my determination and not giving up.
We have so many unknowns in doing this upcoming FET. Many of them are not anything to do with infertility issues or pregnancy. When we had Isobel we didn’t really know how we would manage, how we would survive financially, when I would have to go back to work, but somehow our leap of faith payed off. Susan was still working when Isobel was born, she was able to take off 3 months unpaid with FMLA. She went back to work for three horrendous months and then was laid off in a very uncool way. But she got severance and we survived ok. This time it feels like we are not leaping a few faithful feet, but that we are hurling ourselves down a cliff in the Grand Canyon and praying that we will survive the fall. Ironically enough I have all the tools I need to get pregnant ( knowing that there are no guarantees of course). Star embryos, a birth controlled uterus with a thin progesterone induced lining, insurance to cover everything except 10% of the hospital costs ( which is the worse part of it ) a history of being able to get pregnant. But we have no child care plan. I make too much money to afford any kind of financial assistance for childcare. Susan is not physically able to take care of two kids because of her health issues. I would like to stay home ( even though it would be a big challenge of course) but because I am 17 years into my “chosen” field I can make more money than Susan in her new career. And as someone who waited 24 years in the wilderness of an often meaningless career, she is dying to get out into the world of her new ministry / social justice, chaplaincy career. She feels her vocation so strongly and while she is a fantastic mother and care-giver to Isobel, she needs to be out in the world as well, fulfilling her vocation. At the age of 55 she feels her future slipping away and she is down about the prospect of not being able to fulfill her dreams. Our childcare solution that we had half-heartedly convinced ourselves we may be able to do was that I would work three or four days a week, Susan would work about two days and we would juggle the child-care and maybe pay for a day or two in daycare. We have no clue if Susan can get a job in the very competitive field she is moving into and she has many strikes against her: older, female, lesbian, to name a few. Her metabolic health issues that mean that she needs to take care of her diet, get a lot of exercise and get a lot of rest. Which as you all know, are difficult to achieve with one baby, let alone two.
When we had Isobel I had this fantasy that we would find our tribe and that all the people who were so thrilled that we had a baby would be part of our newly formed “family”. I know that was awfully naive. It did not happen like that at all. As she got older people lost interest after a couple of visits. I eventually realized that it’s more important to have a few people that are well known to her and that we can all rely on rather than an endless stream of visitors. We have some lovely lovely people who care about Isobel. But they are all busy busy busy. As are we. I expect people might think that it’s selfish of me to think that there would be people who would give up their schedules to help us, but I did. Our church family loves her and finds her to be cute and funny and smart, but they go home to their families after church. We have a very small family and a very small number of people we can rely on. Mostly we have to pay people to help us with child care. Even though there are grandmotherly types at church, they all have their own grandchildren. We long to see grandma Margaret, who is a wonderful grandma and sometimes grandpa too, but she is in Canada which is a long train ride or a short expensive plane ride away( we hate flying). So we and mostly I, feel bereft in this department. We have our baby mamas that we see on the weekdays and do stuff with. And I definitely cultivated that group and feel that we are to some extent like family. But on the weekends they go off and do their thing with their families. Isobel’s number one fan outside of our little trio is my sister. They absolutely adore each other. But she is busy too. And my nieces have lives of their own and don’t really have the inclination to just come and hang out with Isobel. My brother and his wife and their son, who also adore Isobel live 3,000 miles in England and we don’t see them very often. They have never visited here, and they don’t intend to. They are eco people who are fanatically against flying. They won’t even do it for family.
So the night before last, my sister told me that she was really worried about my physical and mental health should I get pregnant again. She had seen me a couple of weeks ago being tired and depressed and had wondered how I would put myself through a very risky pregnancy (sic) and put myself and my family through the trials and tribulations and unknowns of all this, when what we have is pretty damn good and we don’t know how things would turn out. We could end up with a disabled child, a preemie, etc etc.
As I got up on Friday morning, I told Susan what I had decided, and felt like a weight had been lifted from my proverbial shoulders. I went about my business getting ready for work and when I got there I wrote my sister a text explaining that we had decided not to do it:
“I am not sure what happened but something tipped the balance for me. The only reason apart from obvious selfish ones of nurturing and being close to a baby, was providing a sibling for Isobel and expanding our little family. Even though that is a huge reason and one we both want very much for her, we can’t do it. For many reasons that we wanted to overcome. Money could provide for some of the gaps, or a big support system but we don’t have either. We are going to focus on Isobel and on trying to fulfill all of our dreams and not being stuck in a miserable job just so I can stay employed and pregnant and help Susan to get her career going. Just when things are getting a bit easier with mobility and Isobel’s independence it would be really hard to have another baby and also for my health. I know many people who have struggled long and hard against many odds to have a first or second child but it seems the odds are too great for us to have a second one. You will have to make sure we don’t spoil her. I am mourning a dream. It is a huge loss. But even though you might see me as vulnerable I feel I have beaten the odds so many times and persevered when things were hard. But I realized the toll is too great on all of our lives. I think we can all be happier and healthier if we focus on what we have and listen to what our hearts and minds are telling us. Anyway, this is quite long enough. Thanks and see you soon. Xoxo. ”
I felt relieved. I started thinking about all the things Isobel could have if she was an only child. Our undivided attention. Music lessons. Soccer or some other sport. We would have to make sure she had friends who were close to her that she could hang out with. (And with our track record that was another reason to have a sibling – an instant playmate – albeit 3. 5 years older). We could get rid of all our baby stuff in storage that we had been hanging onto and it would help us to downsize our storage. I could sell my cloth diapers. I could get a more fulfilling, maybe lower paying or even part time job eventually because we would not have to pay for childcare for two kids for 5 or more years. Susan could find something extremely fulfilling. We would have time, if not money.
Then I started to cry. Thankfully I was in my small office with hardly any co-workers. I confided in one of my co workers and she was very sweet and gave me a big hug and we went and got coffee and talked. I cried on and off all day. I cried at the huge loss of my huge dream. I cried at all the face book posts about second or third siblings. I wanted so much to get on the baby bandwagon like so many of my FB and blog friends ( and my IRL baby mamas too) and get pregnant, have another baby and begin the rest of our lives with our perfect family. I wanted to post updates, and talk about my BCPs and the schedule and how we were excited etc etc. My clinic nurse had been so encouraging to me and had really boosted me up as I returned there again after so much time had elapsed, and I had really got the baby fever bad. I felt that all the misery at work would be worthwhile if I could just have that second baby. I even had fantasies about how wonderful pregnancy could be again ( not true, TGal, not in my experience ) and how it would all be roses, or maybe a few roses. (Again, not true, if I look at the list of symptoms I had that I put in my note sections on my I phone as I waited at the doctor’s office for my appointments last time. I will pull that out one of these days for the really curious. It’s bad. ) In thinking about being pregnant, I hadworried about my ever swelling feet and ankles, and the leaky urine issues, and the weird anxious feelings I had last time, but I convinced myself I would know better this time, and I always have Isobel. Except what if something happens to her. Then we won’t have any children and that would be unbearable. I was worried that I would have pre eclampsia again and be tied to the bed for two days till I had to fart so bad it was making me crazy, taking magnesium and not being allowed to be alone with my baby. I asked my sister a few weeks ago if she would take care of Isobel when the baby was born and she said of course she would. But I did have to ask her.
I took my BCPs on Friday night and I will be taking them tonight. I have not really decided. We have not decided or had chance to talk about it. I have been googling childcare and trying to figure out how we could make it work. I make too much money for state sponsored child care but once our rent is paid ( or our mortgage) I only have the same amount left to pay all the bills and eat. My clients have anywhere from 1 – 9 children and we provide them with housing and social services for basically no cost, because they have disabilities ( mental and physical). They don’t have to worry about childcare but they don’t have the resources or education or privilege that I have, so I can’t really begrudge them what I want. And they struggle so hard with their childrens’ issues.
Isobel has had the stomach flu last night, and while she was throwing up all over me and clinging to me, I was thinking how much harder it would be with two sick little ones in the house. When I was pregnant and before, I would wake up in the night and feel sick and wonder how I would do it when I had a baby, and it all just worked out. It’s not like I have a choice. And I want to comfort my baby.
So here I sit, with a girl who is on the mend and who wants more of my attention after I have taken the first time away from her since she got sick. A wonderful wonderful girl. A wonderful wife. And I really don’t know what to do.