i've been struggling for awhile with what to continue writing about here regarding my personal journey, mainly because i had no real conclusions. that's a problem; this blog has always been about life in process. at the same time, because it dealt with what i now think of as one of the more publicly asked-about intensely private decisions ("so when are you going to have another one?"), i wanted just a little more clarity about what constitutes a "complete family." and how that definition can either continue to be a carefully-constructed faux reality, or an acceptance of the actual story.
get to the point, i hear you saying. ok, well, even choosing the verb for how to say this is awkward: we've chosen? decided? accepted? come to an understanding? embraced?
fine, then. we have, in our own ways, and together, (fill in the verb from above list here) that L will most likely be our only living child.
looking back on the pendulum swing of a journey that got me here, i know that it started with the blueprint i always had for "family:" 2 bio parents, 2 bio children. this is what i lived; this is what my husband lived. i never questioned my personal idea of "family" -- while i am very familiar with all the permutations of other people's families, my family was four people. and thus, i think, i absorbed that this number is what would make our family complete.
i remember driving home from one of L's earliest post-birth checkups, his impossibly tiny, freshly-hatched infant body asleep in the back, and me with my body still healing from the birth and milk newly come in, saying to my husband, "so...i guess we're going to start trying again as soon as possible?". one of the nurses had made a passing comment about how ideally a new mother needs a solid year to heal/adjust to motherhood/go back to being an unpregnant body before another pregnancy, and my first reaction was mentally screaming "I DON'T HAVE THAT KIND OF TIME, LADY!" i was looking down the barrel of 40, coming out of three miscarriages and years of infertility, and i thought: we gotta get going on this next kid.
despite exclusively breastfeeding my ridiculously hungry baby, my cycle came back when he was just 4 months old. my OB/GYN, whom i love, called it "a particularly adventurous egg." then, 28 days later, i had another period. and then, another 28 days...another period. inwardly, i rejoiced. this obviously meant my reproductive bits were back online, and we were ready to have another baby!
only those 28 days kept coming and going, like clockwork. they didn't stop. at first, i was too sleep-deprived and overwhelmed by new mommyhood to really care too much; it was only after L's 1st birthday that i started to worry. no, actually, it wasn't worry. it was more like the slow decay of of a bouquet of cut flowers: my hope was wilting, being replaced by the "oh no, here we go again" dread.
secondary infertility is defined as when you can't conceive or carry to term in a given period of time following the birth of your biological child without assisted reproductive techniques or fertility meds. it is a very real and common thing, and it's talked about even less than the "silent corrosion" that is primary infertility. even medical professionals are known to downplay it, along with well-meaning friends and family ("just keep trying!" "relax!"). the problem is, the toxic emotional cocktail of sadness, anger, frustration, despair, self-blame, etc. that usually accompanies infertility now comes in a big tall highball glass of guilt and criticism. having an existing child (or children) means you have their welfare to consider, and other people (and maybe even your own internal voices) can be astonishingly vocal about the perceived selfishness of wanting to increase your family. the emotional duality of being grateful for your child while still mourning the ones you didn't have, i have found, extends not just to babies lost in pregnancy, but also babies not conceived. both situations mean facing and grieving the lost future that you hoped for that will not come to pass.
over time, the answer to the very common question, "so when will you/are you going to have another one?" has shifted. it's gone through a lot of permutations, listed here in all their wilting-flower chronology:
"we're 'leaving the gate unlatched' and hoping for the best."
"we're so grateful for this one, and we do hope there will be another."
"we're trying to be patient -- it was a long journey to have this one and we're grateful just for him."
"we didn't even think we could have him, so who knows?"
"we don't know if we can or will. we're just grateful to have him."
and now, the current one: "he IS our another one."
the pendulum has reached the other side, and i don't think it's going to swing back. it shouldn't -- because the resolution of saying goodbye to our previous imagined incarnation of family (2 parents, 2 children) and instead fully, mindfully accepting and rejoicing in our actual family (2 parents, 1 living child), means that we can also move forward in our story being the best family we can be.
after the first two miscarriages, our wise long-time family therapist told me: you must take your circumstances and choose a direction. either you can stay defined as the grieving mother with empty arms, or you can be Yourself, and that weeping childless mother is a component of Who You Are. he reminded me of this during our last visit, when my husband and I went to seek his counsel on this very difficult decision. we can mourn this piece of our family story, but it is not who we are. we are not a family with Not Enough Children. we must be a family with One Child, who is even more than we may have at one time hoped for. we are a family of three, and that is, for us, abundance.