Note: October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. This post discusses an early pregnancy loss.
I’ve been reflecting in some very personal pieces on my early parenting experience, including my pregnancy and my daughter’s infanct. Along this parenting journey, I’ve learned some things I didn’t expect: like that I wish I would have gotten an epidural sooner while in labor, and that I would have used formula from the start instead of my painful and ultimately failed breastfeeding events. These lessons are somewhat controversial, but I wholeheartedly believe that in parenting, every journey is different, and parents need to make the decisions that are right for their own particular situations.
I would say that I would implement these lessons when I have a second child, but another of those big, “controversial” decisions we’ve made through this parenting journey is that S, who is 4.5, will be our only child (unless life majority intervenes).
Pre-pregnancy, I had always pictured my husband and I with two children. I have one sister, and so does my husband. We both love our sisters dearly and are blessed to have them. So having two children ourselves just seemed like the obvious thing to do. But then my pregnancy happened, and we decided early on we weren’t going through that again. S was a wonderful baby, and I was content with her being our only for about 90% of the time, but longing for a second child feelings still happened until fairly recently (in me: my husband remained confident in our choice to have one child).
There was almost a reality in which we had two children. I had a copper IUD put in shortly after I gave birth. I was doing ok on it, other than some cyst issues. I have a history of doing very badly on most forms of birth control (I thankfully now have found one that works very well for me), and the copper IUD was doing better than other forms had in the past. But one day two summers ago, I started experiencing some intense pain and cramping when my period was about a week late (but they tended to be sporadic at that point anyway, so I didn’t think about it). At first, I thought the pain was period cramps, but it got a lot worse. Then, I thought the pain was a burst ovarian cyst, which I’ve had many times in the past, but then the bleeding started.
I started heavy bleeding, way more than my normal period, along with several large clots. One of these clots, the largest, forced out my IUD, which caused me to go to the ER. I was concerned that the IUD could have done damage when it came out: I didn’t even think miscarriage until I read “spontaneous abortion” on the discharge paperwork (I didn’t really understand it all when they explained it; I was too out of it). I recognized the wording from the time I almost lost S during my first pregnancy.
I don’t talk much about my loss: in fact, it took over a year to acknowledge it out loud, even to my husband. I guess amongst all my chronic illnesses and everything else that was going on that summer (which is the sickest I’ve ever been for an extended period of time), I knew I couldn’t handle it, so I emotionally compartmentalized it.
I’ve acknowledged my loss, quietly, for about six months now. There wasn’t a big cataclysmic event that got me to talk: I just wasn’t ready before, and then I was, first with my husband, then with a few other close family and friends. I’m finally to a point where I’m more open about my loss, though this is the first time I’m writing about it publicly.
I am sad when I think about my loss, and probably always will be. I mourn not only the loss of that particular child, but the loss of a potential future in which I had two children. I get especially wistful when I see S playing with a baby or a younger child: she would be such a good big sister.
Even though I grieve the lost potential of that two-child future, dealing with and reflecting on my pregnancy loss has cemented our decision to only have one child.
I have a lot to be incredibly thankful for. Despite my illnesses, I am able to work in a career field I love. We have a healthy, thriving little girl and a happy, mutually supportive marriage. We have reached a point where we are establishing a good rhythm on our lives, a rhythm in which my health conditions are fairly well-managed (even though new ones seem to keep coming up.) We are in a place where we are beginning to be better able to reach personal and professional goals.
As I wrote previously, my pregnancy with S was extremely painful and difficult. At that time I was only working part-time at the most, attending grad school one day a week, and had no child to care for. Now, both my husband and I are working full-time, and I spend most of my off-work time caring for a very active almost-five-year-old.
After my pregnancy with S, my health continued to decline rapidly, and I continue to get diagnosed with new illnesses (postural tachycardia this summer; psoriasis yesterday). I fear what would happen if I tried to carry a child–requiring going off many of the medicines that are helping me to thrive. My doctors worry as well, with my combined history of early labor and my particular health concerns. I could potentially have a relatively healthy pregnancy; it is more likely I would have a dangerous one. And now that I have S to care for, that kind of pregnancy really isn’t a risk I feel comfortable taking.
Even if I and a potential second child did alright through pregnancy, I would then have the newborn period to contend with, and my newborn period with S was very difficult. However, since she was my only child, I was able to focus almost exclusively on her. If I were to have a second child, I would have S vying for my attention as well, and a full time job to get back to.
Additionally, being chronically ill is very expensive. There’s copays for appointments, prescriptions, expensive tests like MRIs, specialists, and a lot more; personal medical equipment like my wheelchair and supportive braces; special diets; and plenty more. Children are also obviously very expensive, and a second would be a definite strain on our budget
All of these challenges could potentially be overcome if we didn’t feel like our family was complete with one child. But we do. Life with S is very full and beautiful. I know that if I did not have a child at all, I would long for one, but I do not have that same longing for a second child. I am now 100% confident in our one child choice.
I still have pangs sometimes, like when I see a 2nd child announcement, but they are more sadness that my life has taken this trajectory because of my illness, than actually wanting a 2nd child. I know that everyone has specific life circumstances, and ours make having one child the right choice.
Having one child can be oddly controversial. Many people with only one child get told that they are doing something wrong and that their child needs a sibling. But S is growing up very happy. She is social, shares, and makes friends easily. She will be raised around a large extended family and many other children. Having one child isn’t the right decision for every family, but it is the right choice for ours.