As some of you know, I have one child – not by choice. I wrote about my struggles to have a second child and my experience of recurrent miscarriage and secondary infertility in this article, which was published in a New Zealand magazine last year. I wanted to share my journey for selfish reasons – cathartic release, a desperate wish for people to understand the pain of infertility and not to dismiss me with unhelpful statements such as “Oh, but you’re OK now, aren’t you?”, or “But just look at your lovely daughter!” – as well as to (hopefully) help other women.
I am now 44 and quite frankly I have as much chance of getting pregnant as Labour has of winning the next election (New Zealand politics. It’s riveting – NOT. Especially if you’re a Labour supporter.) We have explored egg donation, fostering and adoption but nothing has seemed to “fit.” My daughter is now six and we are resigned to having a one-child family.
Resigned, but not at peace.
The other day I was pottering about at work, sorting through personal emails, joking with colleagues, filing my nails and generally getting my Tuesday off to a productive start, when I clicked on an email from a friend. Great, I thought, as I started reading, I haven’t heard from her for ages. I like this person a lot, you see. We were in the same antenatal group and our daughters were born one day apart. She is bright and funny and sassy and I enjoy her company very much.
We also share a special bond: we both struggled to have a second child. The only thing is, she succeeded and I didn’t. “A” for her, “D” for me. Luckily, although things were rocky for a while, we managed to retain and even build on our friendship. Not long ago, in fact, I was at her place having lunch, observing her with her two children and actually feeling relieved that I didn’t have to deal with the sleep deprivation and nappies and infant illnesses all over again. Whew, I thought. We’re over that hurdle. This can’t hurt me anymore.
Wrong. Back to the Tuesday morning email. In the first few sentences she chatted generally about our daughters, asked me about my writing, mentioned her recent holiday overseas. Easy. Normal. I sipped my Diet Coke and settled into my chair, wondering how long I could drag out this pleasant interlude before getting down to work.
And then the familiar sickening heart thump, and my palms went cold. Slap. She was pregnant again, with her third. She was (kindly) telling me by email so I wouldn’t hear about it via social media, or from a passing acquaintance.
The screen blurred and for the next few minutes I found myself desperately mopping at the base of my lashes, trying to stem the inky flow of mascara. God forbid my colleagues should see me crying. Aren’t we strange creatures, fighting desperately to deny our vulnerability in moments when we could just embrace it and let others see us for who we really are.
Here’s the email I fired off to a good friend a few minutes later:
I just opened an email from a friend who struggled to have her second child (my “infertility buddy”) to find she is pregnant again, naturally and to her great surprise. Sorry, but I am just SO FED UP with this sort of news STILL blindsiding me sometimes and making me want to burst into tears. It is SO FUCKING UNFAIR and I am so OVER feeling shit about it. I’ve only just gotten over her having a second and leaving me in the dust – I couldn’t speak to her for a few months I was so upset – and now this. And yes, yet again I’m going to have to say “congratulations” and “oh, what a surprise” and then AGAIN feel like the biggest failure for having one measly child and a massive house that we don’t fill and the awful feeling that NEVER goes away of regret and sadness. The feelings don’t go away; they just change and adjust and come and go like waves. I am so OVER it.
Thank you, I needed to rant.
(I thought I had better add that last sentence to soften the blow a smidgen. Bet she wasn’t expecting that with her morning cuppa and cursory email check.)
You see, I am not, and may never be, ready to make peace with having an only child. Sometimes this discontent is perfectly bearable; it just exists in the background, like a silent attendant. But sometimes it’s not. And you know one of the worst things? That feeling of being rudely pulled up short with no warning. One moment you’re happily wasting your employer’s time and wondering whether to cook fish or chicken for dinner, the next you are having a minor panic attack and shakily trying to wipe the tears from your keyboard. You can never predict it nor prepare for it. And it’s alarming because it reminds you that all those old feelings of regret and sadness and pain and that oh-so-desperate longing to have one more, just one more chance to make another precious little human, are lurking right under the surface, waiting to leap out and twist the knife when you least expect it.
So now I am in the difficult position of not knowing how the hell to respond to my friend. On the one hand I want to congratulate her (and I know that in time, I will manage to come to terms with the news and we will pick up our friendship again); on the other I want to run as fast as I can in the other direction to avoid feeling the pain of acknowledging her joy and excitement. Maybe she will read this post, and it will be enough.
While we’re on the subject, here’s a poem I discovered when I was deep in that ghastly wilderness that is the aftermath of miscarriage. OK, it’s not a literary masterpiece. But as I read it now it reminds me how lucky I am, after all, to have gone through what I went through. I am glad and proud that I tried again. And again. And again. Because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have the most glorious daughter in the world.
A Different Child
by Pandora Diane Waldron
A different child,
There’s a special glow around you.
Surrounded by love,
Never doubting you are wanted;
Only look at the pride and joy
In your mother and father’s eyes.
And if sometimes
Between the smiles
There’s a trace of tears,
There was once another child
A different child
Who was in their hopes and dreams.
That child will never outgrow the baby clothes
That child will never keep them up at night
In fact, that child will never be any trouble at all.
Except sometimes, in a silent moment,
When mother and father miss so much
That different child.
May hope and love wrap you warmly
And may you learn the lesson forever
How infinitely precious
How infinitely fragile
Is this life on earth.
One day, as a young man or woman
You may see another mother’s tears
Another father’s silent grief
Then you, and you alone
And offer the greatest comfort.
When all hope seems lost,
You will tell them
With great compassion,
“I know how you feel.
I’m only here
Because my mother tried again.”