How can a happily married couple — yearning for more — know when enough is enough?
The tiny woman stands in front of me beaming. She has sleek curls, white teeth and an open, friendly expression. Beside her stand two boys, clearly brothers, who look to be about the ages of my boys.
“How old are you?,” I ask the shorter one.
“Nine,” he tells me.
“I have a nine year son old at home.”
He smiles at me. What is he going to do with that information? I put those thoughts into words.
“Why do adults always do that? Tell you about kids who you will never meet and can never play with?”
He shrugs his shoulders kindly and I turn to his brother.
“How old are you?”
I can’t help myself, when he tells me he is just eleven I say, “I have a a ten-almost-11-year-old at home.”
All six eyes are on me. I look back at the mother.
“We have the same lineup.”
“Oh,” she replies brightly, “Do you have a younger daughter as well?” As if on cue a six year old girl shows up at her mother’s hip and slips her arm around her waist leaning in.
“No,” I answer, “Just the two boys.”
The family moves forward, continuing to sell raffle tickets benefiting childhood cancer, and I see that the mom’s hand that isn’t carrying her basket with tickets gently stroke that soft spot where her daughter’s hairline meets her neck. The ribbons on the girl’s pigtails are red and blue to match her shirt. I follow the striped ribbons with my eyes until they are lost in the crowd.
I turn to my husband. “Did you see, she had two boys our age and a younger daughter.”
“This has come up a lot lately,” he responds, looking mildly concerned.
It passes though, as he lays his hand on mine and goes back to inspecting his beer. He is a beer lover and has a bit of a ritual to conduct before he takes his first sip. I have a ritual too, so I return to it as he returns to his beer.
I look around the restaurant. Where would we be seated if we were a family of five? I locate a booth with a curved side where the three kids would sit. The girl would be between Oliver and Leo, keeping them from jostling, maybe getting them to play tic-tac-toe. I feel better now that I have put my imaginary family in its place.
After having two healthy sons who (surprise!) arrived seventeen months apart, Steve and I had a long conversation about whether or not to have a third child. We had already replaced ourselves on the planet, and figured out the rhythm of life with two toddlers. Yet as an only child I had wanted multiple kids, and Steve was one of three himself. Still, a newborn seemed difficult, but if we were ever going to do it, now was the time. It wasn’t a baby we were choosing, but a whole person, a part of our family and an individual.
The first pregnancy test came back positive very quickly. I showed Steve, and we showed the boys together. We counted the due date and their differences in age. They were interested, but not very, and we explained in a straightforward way that one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage. So there was a better than average chance we would have a baby, but no guarantee. Still, I placed the positive test in the special oak box that held our wedding vows and NFL playoff tickets.
It was only 5 weeks later that we lost this baby.
During those same five weeks another of my friends became pregnant with, and also lost, her third child. She and I both had miscarriages at the same time. It helped to talk about it. It is a personal choice whether to share news of a pregnancy and a pregnancy loss, but there is a societal norm to wait until 12 weeks to talk about it openly. I felt caring and reassurance from the people I told about this loss.
A few months later we were both pregnant again, and then another friend as well. We would meet for pastries and herbal tea, because… baby.
It was a bit further in this time that I stopped feeling sick. When I worried, my husband told me to be glad to escape the nausea, but I knew.
The ultrasound wand was cold with jelly as the MD calmly extended a finger to the screen and explained that I only had an empty sac. My husband said, “See, no baby at all.” The science of it helped him a lot. He found peace in the fact that the only life inside me had been an imagined one, helped along by some trickery to my body. To me, real or imagined, this was a loss of life — the life we would have had as a family of five.
Six months later I was spending less time with my friends and their rounded bellies. I reminded myself of my relative luck. I had two healthy boys, whereas I had many friends who had lost pregnancies further along, or before they had kids at all. I had friends who had lost infants and even toddlers. This was nothing, NOTHING, compared to that. All I had to do was kiss a little blond head or snuggle close to a sturdy, healthy boy body for comfort.
Despite this I found it difficult to be around pregnant people, which at our age was a tough proposition. I stayed home more with the boys, who in turn were getting a little rowdier. I took pregnancy tests even when I couldn’t have been pregnant.
A few months later I peered at the pregnancy stick, willing the second line into existence. I had the two boys in the bath in front of me and I called in Steve.
“Do you see it?” I asked, “Do you think it’s there?”
He looked at it through squinted eyes and told me it was possible. “Lets wait until morning when it will be stronger,” he advised reasonably.
I took just one more test that night, which sat evenly in line with the last test telling our future. When I woke up the double line on the tests from the night before showed with more strength and that morning’s test confirmed with even brighter lines what I was hoping for. Unbidden, I thought “Its a girl!” This was the first time I had ever had a strong feeling about the gender of a baby but it was as clear as the lines on the stick, I was pregnant with a daughter.
I began to wear maternity clothes. I felt confident, different from the last two pregnancies. I took all of this as a sign that things were safe this time. I told my kids about my super power — super sniffing — and we battled bad guys using their scent to track them.
One morning Steve took the boys skiing, and while they were away I had some light cramping. When my 5-year-old came back with a broken femur I pushed worries about my pregnancy aside. This child on the outside needed me.
Two days later I was home with my hobbled son. Except he wasn’t hobbled. He tore around the house on crutches, alternatively swinging like a monkey or swinging his crutches like a weapon. The attending had told me they don’t normally give 5-year-olds crutches but my son, feigning poise, had argued his case, and we left the hospital with armaments.
I began to bleed and took to the bed. I didn’t rush into the hospital, though it was bad. On Monday I had the ultra sound that told me what I already knew. They took blood to measure the levels of pregnancy hormone to make sure they went down and as I was too far along to have the miscarriage at home, they scheduled a D & C.
Afterwards I used the pregnancy sticks again. The sound of the foil wrapper offering none of the exciting possibility of the last. Instead I was hoping for lighter lines. They didn’t come. I was scheduled for a second procedure. Then it was done.
So were we.
Steve was ready to be all-in with our boys. I didn’t want to go through the emotional and physical highs and lows of the last two years. From the conception of our first child to the day we made the decision to get a vasectomy I had been pregnant or nursing (or both) 46 of the last 60 months.
Enough was enough.
And, enough WAS enough.
Four years later I still look at families of five and hear myself saying “they got it right” inside my head before I consciously and slowly let that thought go.
I reach towards my boys, now old enough to cook and clean and care for themselves, and I think how lucky we are. In the years between my pregnancy losses and today, I have helped friends through devastation much greater. Still, I remind myself that it is not a relative thing. Our loss was real, and it deserves the grief I gave it.
My husband grieved too, but has filed that sorrow away as a different time of our life. He can remember it, but not feel it.
When I come back to right now, I see his beer is almost all the way gone. I let the haze of loss drain away too. I picture it as his beer, cloudy to the point of being opaque. I concentrate on his glass as he drains away the very last of the sludgy bottom bits and leaves the glass clean. I lean in to my husband, who wonders aloud what the boys are doing right now. I realize that right now I am letting go.
As I pick up that third positive pregnancy test from our family keepsake box and set it gently in the bathroom trash, I think that today, finally, enough IS enough.
Photo credit: Flickr/rFjEn6