Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Ambiguity and Ambivalence, Part 3? The End? The Beginning?
All right so my attempt to break-up the big, weighty posts with a bit of humor fell flat. Boy, nothing half so dreadful as delivering a punchline to dead silence. ;)
So I'll get off the stand-up stage and leave the comedy to the comics.
Back to the business at hand: having children.
In Part 1, I told you about our initial decison to have one child, and how that was thwarted by infertility until the Patron Saint of Follistim blessed us.
In Part 2, I told you about our decision to have a second child, and how that process was also overshadowed by our archnemesis Antigravida, and how the PTSD of infertility affected so much of our childbearing and child rearing.
Now, time for the next bit: today and the future.
My second pregnancy was more difficult, as were our life circumstances at the time. We moved, mid-way through my pregnany, to a new state halfway across the country. Our new house, which my husband bought on his own while I was stuck in MA, was a challenge.
Even more challenging was how the movers lost or ruined a large portion of our belongings.
Here I sat, pregnant, tired, stressed, finally moving into the house I bought sight unseen. We'd camped with the in-laws until closing date. It had all seemed like such a good idea, until we actually pulled away from our house in MA for the last time. A friend drove us to the airport and we chatted all the way there. It was...odd...to say goodbye, realizing that in all likelihood we'd never see this friend again. And sad to think that this chapter of our lives was closing. For the first time, my daring and intrepid approach to New Adventure failed me. I didn't feel excited about our new prospects. I just felt tired.
That tired feeling hasn't left me since I moved to this state. The last almost three years have been me in a sort of ongoing torpitude.
The excitement I expected to feel when buying our house was instead anxiety.
The confidence I expected to feel when doing my job remotely, 2000 miles from my office, was instead anxiety.
The joy I expected to feel during my pregnancy was instead anxiety.
The happy anticipation of new friends, new place, new adventure I expected to feel was instead fatigue.
For the first time in my life this echoed in my head: "I can't do this."
Everything was going so wrong, and seemed so wrong...therefore it must be all wrong. The house problems, the moving troubles, the pregnancy complications all felt like ill omens.
But I had no idea what to do.
Eventually, as is wont to happen, the universe began making decisions on my behalf.
I lost my job in my eighth month of pregnancy. I had worked so hard, so many hours, bent over backwards trying to prove that It Could Work! that I had made myself really, really ill. I compromised my health, and that of my unborn baby trying to keep the income we so desperately needed.
I did this not just because we needed that income, but also because it was a way of holding on to a life I don't think I was really ready to let go of, plus it seemed like it was the only way I could work since (a) the new location wasn't exactly the publishing mecca of the US, (b) I had no contacts here, and (c) most jobs would either not pay enough for childcare or would ask for more hours than I could give.
I was 1000s of miles away from anyone who knew me professionally. I had no favors I could pull in, no contacts I could draw on, and no opportunities in my chosen profession. I knew this move would probably be the death of my publishing career, but it had seemed the right thing to do for my family.
And that was the first of a series of choices that slowly but surely erased away me.
Cross out Julie, kindergartner Ramona would say.
In an unfamiliar town, in a place I said I'd never live, with no job, a baby due any minute, financial troubles staring us down, and a child who suddenly adopted the motto of, "Holy Shit, I'm 2, I'd Better Act Like Demon-Spawn," the heat of the weather and my own emotional turmoil weighted my body so it felt like I could hardly move, a feeling not helped by the whale-like proportions my body had taken on in my late pregnancy.
I only vaguely recalled the happy energy I'd had the first time. I thought I remembered happily nesting and renesting, energetically shopping, installing a car seat and taking a walk the same day I went into labor the first time.
This time, I could barely motivate myself to wash the crib sheets.
Which made me feel horribly guilty. So I'd try to fake it until I could make it, but that would only make me feel more tired in the end.
Looking at the pictures of me holding Persistence shortly after we brought her home make me sad. I think that's why I haven't ever gotten around to printing out any of them, or making her a photo album (which adds to the guilt). I look dreadful. My face is puffy and red, my eyes half mast with fatigue. My smile looks forced.
The "it" that is missing is my life force. I wonder if it was physical, and if they noticed it when they threw out the placenta.
I quit cutting my hair, worrying about makeup, and stopped thinking about how I was dressed. Who cared how I looked.
My husband was focused on his new job. After being cut in layoffs twice in a row, he was determined to become indispensable. He put in more effort and time than usual.
Work for him was stressful, but home was more so. Finances got tighter and tighter, I was first sick with pneumonia and unable to do much and then was hassled and harried trying to figure out how to make a new life with a new baby.
I don't think either of us realized how really, really difficult a move of this magnitude would be during pregnancy. New house, new place, new town, new routines, new job, new good and bad stressors, and new baby. I don't think either of us understood how profoundly the move would affect Patience, who was between 2 and 3. Every day that we went out and said, "Okay, time to go home," then drove up to our new house, Patience burst into tears, and cried for her home, not this home, her HOME. This went on for the better part of six months. I'm sure our difficulty adjusting didn't help.
I rarely have regrets about decisions I make, even if things don't go as I expect, plan or hope.
This, though, I think I regret. I don't know if I'd do differently, but I do feel regret.
We made some more changes. I tried a job that didn't work, mainly because my boss kept forgetting to pay me, and ultimately just quit paying me. I got moving with my art, and my writing and editing and publishing. We sold that first house (I know, two moves in less than two years) and moved to a new one. That was our biggest change in a series of lifestyle changes that only required one income. We're now settling in---getting the hang on---our life as it is now.
It's been a long uphill climb, these last three years, to get to the place we are today. I've just about got the hang of having two kids, two years later. I've got good friends, and am finding good places and routines, things to do and places to go. I'm feeling a little bit of life spark back up. I find myself a little in love with where we are, even if I'll always hate the weather.
So now that we are this close to good again, after all we've been through with the move, and our infertility, is it any wonder that we feel a bit ambivalent and ambiguous about whether we want a third child?
The things that made deciding to have a second child so obvious and natural to us are no longer in play as we decide whether we are finished, or should try again.
The keystone here is that initially, we wanted more than one child. We did it. We were blessed. We have two amazing children. My children...they are sisters.
Points to ponder:
1. The lingering IF mentality. I don’t really believe I got pregnant on my own. I believe that the infertility protocol set me up to be able to get pregnant. I still don’t believe conception is a choice or decision I get to make. “Deciding to try” is a phrase I can relate to. “Trying to conceive” is also a phrase I can relate to. “We’re going for a third!” and “We want another baby so here we go!” and phrases of that ilk? Not so much.
2. Not so sure I want pregnancy again. As I've mentioned before, my first pregnancy was a dream. It was easy and wonderful. I never felt so good in my entire life. My second pregnancy began that way, but by the time we moved, I had never felt so awful in my entire life, and I spent the last half of my pregnancy sick and miserable. It probably won't surprise you to learn that I suffered horrible post-partum depression. In fact, I got hit with pre-partum depression. My OB was concerned, enough to want to start the drugs while I was still pregnant. We compromised and began them shortly after Persistence was born. Imagine, post-partum depression combined with the pneumonia I contracted at the hospital while recuperating from labor and delivery. That knocked me out for major sick (one month) and recovery (at least two months), all with a newborn and a three year old.
3. End on a high note. First labor and delivery, sucked. Second labor and delivery, a breeze. Okay not a breeze but seemed like it comparatively. There was joy, and an overall feeling of “good experience” which was in stark contrast to the first time which was, “Thank God we lived through that.”
4. Money. We manage, usually, barely. Could we sustain the expense of another person?
5. We hit the People Stage. Our kids are now old enough to sleep (sometimes) and Do Things (often). The difference in life between porting a toddler and preschooler versus a toddler and a baby is huge. And the fun level! We have two kids who get it, enjoy it, like it, and participate in it---whatever it is. Take Christmas. We’re baking and decorating cookies, wreaths, snowflake and snowman decorations, cruising to view lights, and both know Christmas is coming and are excited! They are both now at a close enough and old enough age that we can do combo-together activities. It’s nice. It’s nice living mostly one life, instead of (a) grown-up life + (b) toddler life + (c) baby life. Everyone can communicate. Everyone can do for themselves to some degree.
6. Full hands. Our kids live life out loud. No doubt about it. As my mother says, “Most people get one spirited child. You got two.” But it’s not just them, it’s us. We live life out loud too. It’s a challenge, a bunch of high-maintenance people living and growing together.
I feel like I’ve had the gamut of experiences through the infertility and then the unexpected fertility, the pleasant pregnancy and the physically taxing pregnancy, the hard L&D, and the easy L&D, the two different babies, and so forth.
How could I possibly want, or ask for, more?
Okay so our hands are full, but are our hearts?
When we found out we were having a second girl, we went through a range of emotions. Personally, I like mothering girls. And I was ecstatic that Patience would have a sister. Sisters are something special. And hey, on the practical side, it was efficient: reuse all the clothes, blankets, toys, everything.
But, we had dreamed equally of a boy or girl baby, and there’s a little grief letting go of the dream. It also would have been cool if we’d had one of each. I know my husband would have fun with a boy, although he’s never expressed any preference (unlike me who hoped and hoped for a girl, at least one, every time I prayed for a baby). And I’d love a boy. In truth, though, I’m pretty pleased with two girls, from the abstract, and feeling lucky as a duck (most days) to have the Amazing Patience and her little sister the Incredible Persistence.
Then, there’s the family.
When we announced that Persistence was a girl, we got, “Oh. Well. Better luck next time.”
My husband is the last male of his family, the last one for the name. This is apparently important. I have felt a sort of implied disappointment---and perhaps failure?---that I haven't produced a boy. I wonder if mothers of sons are similarly treated.
By having two girls, I came to understand exactly how patriarchal our society still is, how unequal, how focused on gender.
People don’t ask if we want a third child, they ask us if we are going to try for a boy.
Oh. The agony. Oh. The arrogance.
I realize it is just “one of those things.” I know it’s not poorly meant, designed to hurt, or intended to depict my girls as something lesser, or as a disappointment.
But it does, nonetheless.
See, I grew up understanding my sex was a failure. My parents happily anticipated a boy. First child = boy. Father = wants a boy. They had no girl name. So my arrival was somewhat of a surprise (to put it nicely) and anti-climatic (what I suspect).
As far as my mother was concerned, this was grand. I think. I always felt she was pretty happy with girls. However, I suspected it wasn’t so for my dad.
My father spent most of my childhood, and that of my sister (who came along, another girl, adding insult to injury) trying to make us tomboys, which I supposed would be some sort of consolation.
My sister and I were not tomboys. We were girly girls. We had no interest in sports; we liked ballet. We had no interest in toy racetracks or train sets; we liked Barbie dolls. We liked flowers and ribbons and lace and matching outfits and sweet things. We played along to please him, although my sister was much better at pleasing than I.
He never said it exactly, he never said it at all. But I felt it. It was in the way who I was, and what I liked just wasn’t okay. It was in how he was always pushing me to go do “boy stuff.” It was in the way he needed me to be someone other than who I was. And oh how it hurt. I spent my life bent over backwards trying to be perfect, trying so hard to please my parents. Trying so hard to earn the love. Trying to control the things I could to make up for the major shortcoming I knew I couldn’t: my sex.
When my father, in his second marriage, had the magical miracle child doctors told him and my stepmother they’d never have, there was a second miracle: it was a boy. It’s hard to say who in this world was happier, but I’m going to give it to my dad by a mere centimeter.
My father has been in love with my brother since the moment of his birth. He hasn’t been spoiled per se, but the love and pride I so craved has always been so evident in everything and every move my father makes towards my brother. Do I know my dad loves me, yes, I do, as best he can, in his own way, considering who he is, and who I am. But when it comes to my brother, he can’t crow enough. I’m so much older than my brother that in honesty, I view it all from a parental perspective, and for my brother’s sake, I’m glad. He has parents who love him as parents should.
Still, when my father sends email after email with each and every one of my brother’s successes, small, and large, noteworthy and inconsequential alike, sometimes, I wonder, “And me?”
My dad has mentioned me. He does say he is proud. He says he loves me. And I believe it. Nevertheless...
Outside of history, it's things like parenthetical notes in emails my father sends to all of the kids. One time, he wrote, “Sister, you have contributed in a big way, and that's good; Julie, you've done your share.” I’m not sure what this means.
I’m too afraid to ask. I think it means he thinks I haven’t accomplished as much as my siblings. I’m worried it means in some way, I don’t measure up to my siblings, or the expectations of me. I think, actually, it might have been meant as a joke, you know, about kids. My sister---highlighting the way the infertility gods are full of mischief and avarice, my sister thinks “pregnant” and magically and spontaneously becomes so (you know I’m joking, Sis)---has twice as many children as I do. So, at best, it means my sister has better served her purpose by producing twice as many children as me (including a boy). At worst it means that everything else I have done in my life is meaningless outside of produce two children, both of whom are girls but at least that’s something and not nothing.
In the end, though, it’s a joke, probably. Not poorly meant, designed to hurt, or intended to depict my girls as something lesser, or as a disappointment, but because of me, how I feel, it does.
And now we’re back to the, “So, are you going to try for a boy?”
I like boys. I’d welcome one into my family joyfully.
But, there’s no guarantee I can even get pregnant, and there are absolutely no guarantees past that. No guarantees of anything, least of all sex of the baby.
And now we’re back to the, “Hey lady, beggars can’t be choosers.”
I wonder if my husband and I really want more children. I wonder if the desire---if in fact there is any desire---for a third really, truthfully and honestly carries a slight connotation of “trying for a boy this time.”
And that makes me feel ill, a little bit. It might be more, but I don’t, can’t, let my brain go there. And what if we did have a boy, what then? Would people make a big deal, in front of my girls who will comprehend it, about “finally getting a boy?”
I can say with total sincerity that we are the kind of people who just don’t care. I don’t know if that’s us, or us after infertility, but in the end, it doesn’t matter.
We’re happy to have our kids, and we love love love our girls. Life with two girls is great. I love that they are both girls, and guess what? They are both sassy independent-minded smarty-pants girly girls. Just like their mom. I love that. Oh we butt heads, but I love that. They’ll do okay in the world. Not an ounce of doormat in them.
Everybody in our family adores our girls. They love them. Our girls will never know which grandparent said the careless “better luck” comment and hopefully will never know it was ever said, or seconded. Hopefully they’ll never feel, as I did, that something about their double X setup is lacking. I will fiercely protect them from that.
But it’s out there. Loud and clear. Some day, they’ll run into it, and they’ll wonder, were Mom and Dad happy with just girls? Someday, maybe when they themselves possibly are on the brink of motherhood, they might get the Gender Bias question, like I did.
“What do you want?” People asked me each time I was pregnant.
“A live and healthy baby,” I answered.
“No, really, what do you WANT?” They pestered.
I was being deliberately obtuse. I knew they wanted to know my sex preference.
And for that, I had no answer, and never will, beyond, “I want a live and healthy baby.”
I won the lottery, people. I got two live and healthy babies who have grown into live out loud healthy girls.
Quit while I am ahead?
So many elements fuel my indecision: My age; our finances; our time; our stress level; our joy in parenthood; our marvel at our children and certainty that another would only add joy; whether we can handle the trying and then whether we could handle the possibility of getting another baby; how we and the girls would adjust; how it would affect the plans for the future we have now; whether it would be for a third, or trying for a boy, and on and on.
I alluded to not even knowing whether either of us truly desire a third child. I think, maybe, the horrible truth is...not really. Except, maybe, a boy. The “desire” might really just be a vague, unspecific longing...a wish that we could do more, have more, in an abstract “just really not the best decision for *us*” kind of way. We’re happy with our two girls, but how would we feel with a third girl?
I don’t even know how I would feel about a third child. The person is more key to me; I know that’s one more person to parent.
And of course, I understand limitations, very well.
Deal? Or no deal?
I don’t know.
By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.
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