‘I liked your Christmas blog, it was funny’
‘I can’t just keep writing about losing babies’
This was my mum and me last month. Since then I have lost another pregnancy so do you know what? There isn’t anything else I want to talk about.
If you haven’t read my previous posts you won’t know that this is my third pregnancy that hasn’t resulted in a child. You won’t know that two of these were terminations to save the child from a life-long genetic condition that would see me and their father outlive them, and their lives be a constant trip to hospital. You won’t know that I spent most of 2016 pregnant with a hope so deep it was all consuming. My other posts about these losses felt like campaigns, raising awareness about Cystic Fibrosis and lifting the curtain on an unnecessary taboo in parents’ lives. I don’t feel like campaigning now, I am purely writing this as much-needed catharsis.
This time I was pregnant during a time when right wing politics across the pond saw a man, who would have women like me punished, take office; a law passed that would make my life choices illegal in Ohio; and in my own country a man who thinks I am the same as a serial killer has taken the leadership of one of our main political parties. These men and lawmakers don’t know me, they don’t care about my context (they care even less that my male partner had an equal share in this decision making process), but it is hard not to take these things personally when they are emblazoned on the front page of newspapers and litter my Facebook wall.
Going through this at Christmas time made it even harder still – festive cheer is expected at all times, friends have travelled to their various families so they aren’t around for support, strangers are asking me if I enjoyed the holidays and I want to scream in their face that I had the worst week of my life.
I am not going to talk about the process, I have done that before. I won’t talk about the 11-week wait from positive pregnancy test to devastating phone call. I won’t talk about how I tried to tempt fate by spending money on clothes I hoped would not fit me in a month’s time, or that the day I got the news I went out and bought myself the exact same lunch I had three years previously because on that day I received the wonderful news I was carrying a healthy baby girl. I won’t tell you about the grief of carrying these two losses on my shoulders because even if I wanted to I don’t have the words.
What I do want to talk about what happens next because I don’t know, and I wish I did.
My miscarriage does not burden my mind. I have a memory tattooed on my arm and at the time it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me but it doesn’t come with any regret or guilt. It was a horrible thing that was completely out of my control but that implantation was never going to be a child. The other two – a girl and a boy – could have been. And while I stand by my decision, that does not mean I feel good about it. Had my parents had this choice I might not exist today. Who am I to make these decisions?
In the West we have the luxury of choice. You want to be a woman who doesn’t want kids, there will be unfair societal pressure but ultimately it’s fine. You want just one, again pressure but also fine. Thanks to medical advancements we can have children older, if we suffer illness, if we don’t produce enough eggs even. At this moment in time, while I still wipe post-procedural blood from myself at every toilet trip and while the pain is still so raw that I can’t face being asked how I am, I feel my choice has been stripped from me. I want two children (if I am honest I always wanted three but I gave up on that after my diagnosis). I have one. I have a spectacular one. In some countries my options would be have an ill child or simply stop trying because termination is illegal. In another time I wouldn’t have even known that we carried the genes until a baby was born malnourished and drowning in a thick mucous that its broken genes was causing. Maybe it is this idea of choice that is making this so much harder.
We, as a couple, now have to weigh up whether we are going to try for a second child a fourth time. IVF will cost us thousands of pounds that we do not have and I was dismayed to see its surprisingly low success rate, plus that procedure comes with its own risks. Would we simply be setting ourselves up for a different type of disappointment? Fertility is currently not against us so do we set about doing this naturally again and hope that one couple surely wouldn’t be unlucky four times in a row? That isn’t helpful because of course one couple can, and many are. There is a 50% chance of a healthy baby each time we conceive so the odds are as likely to go in our favour. This is why it isn’t so easy to give up that hope that one day we might have a second.
Some might say that we should stop, that it isn’t fair on us, on our daughter, on the potential lives lost again and again. Having an only child is not the end of the world – of course it isn’t, I know that but it also sort of is right at this moment in time, for us – but now we have started trying when do we stop? There will always be an element of ‘if we had just decided one was enough from the start we could have saved ourselves so much heartache’ directly clashing against ‘if we stop now what if the next baby was healthy?’
We need to decide how much of our lives are going to be taken up with attempting for a second child. Will letting go of the idea of a sibling be liberating for us as a couple, or so tinged with regret that it’s worse than what we are going through now? Will it make us better parents if we just focus on the child we do have? Is the attic full of saved sleepsuits, Moses basket, and comforters a brave physical embodiment of hope? When does it become hopeless?
All I know is that I cannot imagine having to go through this childless. Every time we receive bad news my daughter’s very existence becomes more miraculous to me. After only two months of trying the right combination of genes merged, implanted successfully and lived. The worry of impacting her childhood with my sadness is reason enough to stop trying. However she is also the driving force to keep trying. She would be a great big sister. There don’t seem to be any answers for us. Not right now. Maybe not ever.