“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”
– Elizabeth Stone
Parenting after infertility isn’t the raw, serrated pain that never goes away. It’s a dull ache that flares up occasionally, like old bones before a thunderstorm.
Sometimes that ache is two-pronged: the initial gut-punch upon hearing a new birth or pregnancy announcement, followed by waves of guilt. I have my baby. I shouldn’t feel this way. Am I not thankful enough? A chorus of infertility voices murmur, At least you HAVE a baby!
The gut-punch may be Pavlovian, but the residual grief is rational. The guilt is like an itchy scarf that irritates your neck even after you’ve taken it off. It’s a hard spell to break.
Of course I am thankful. Even in my moments of sleep-deprived and/or hungry frustration I — not usually a patient person — find it easy(ish) to take a deep breath and remind myself, Hey, I get to do this! Because ‘this’ is way more rewarding than dozens of injections and invasive procedures.
That little piece of my heart is upstairs, sleeping. She brings so much joy into my life that I miss her when I’m not with her.
But the flip side of joy is wondering when it’ll all come crashing down. The few recent pregnancy announcements tie into this new fear.
I’ll back up.
Despite all our little embryos, we might not have a second child. It makes me sad to think I might not experience pregnancy again. I’ve stalled a bit on baby-led weaning because it signals the beginning of the end of breastfeeding, the one thing my body has got right. (Yes, I carried V to term, but it wasn’t a straightforward pregnancy.)
I am terrified at the thought of having a stillborn baby or dying myself. I don’t relish the thought of a hysterectomy, but I know I’ll be okay as long as they don’t touch my ovaries or cervix. A second pregnancy would likely mean a lot of fear and worry for the whole nine months. (Surrogacy is not an option due to the hideous expense. And, fuckingdamnit, I’ve already spent enough money.)
So, assuming V is the only child we’ll have… even if I were to die before her and at a ripe old age, the fact that we will one day no longer be together makes me very sad. So my new fear is that my sweet girl will be taken from me. Just like that.
I’m a pretty relaxed mom, actually. I’m happy for other people to hold her. I don’t mind strangers touching her as long as it’s not her hands or face. If something falls on the floor, I don’t sterilise it unless it’s fallen onto a public floor. Maybe if she were a sickly child I would be disinfecting her toys, but my girl is robust. Besides, she’s going to put all sorts of dreadful things in her mouth. I can’t control everything, so better she build up her immune system. See? I acknowledge there is so much I can’t control. But the thought that she might die of something so random or, worse, so mundane, is sometimes all I can think about. I say Sometimes, because these thoughts do not consume me all day long, or even every day. They’re not paralysing, but I am stricken in horrible anti-fantasies. The horrible what ifs.
What if I am incapable of raising a daughter to have a healthy body image? What if she is bullied? What if she is a bully? What if our plane crashes when we go to San Francisco in a couple of weeks? What if she drowns during our upcoming swimming lessons? What if she drowns because even though she was in my arms I wasn’t paying close enough attention? Is that possible, a quick and silent drowning? Is this postpartum depression manifesting as anxiety? Or is this simply being a parent and having a little piece of your heart walking around outside your body?