It seems a bit mad that my – * checks notes * – third proper post since Edward was born is about the question of having another child, but I think the single most surprising thing for me about having a baby has been how quickly people ask when you’re going to do it all over again. It’s a loaded question in any circumstances, but especially so when you have a history of pregnancy loss.
‘See you next time!’ The midwives joked, as I hobbled towards the maternity wing exit, with 72-hour-old Edward, curled and tiny, in his carseat. The following day, during our home visit, I was asked about our ‘family plans’. In my memory of it, the midwife quizzes me about what contraception I plan to use as she checks my stitches. In my head, she warns me that you can still get pregnant despite not having had your period yet, even as my knees are splayed before her. (In reality, I suspect there were a few beats in between).
It was a similar story with the health visitor. And at my six-week check. I understand why the health professionals have to ask, I really do. But that doesn’t make the question any less confronting. Every time, it smacked into me, like a ball lobbed at the back of my head.
I was still reeling from labour; from a mentally exhausting pregnancy; from four-plus years of trying for a baby. My body had finally done the thing I’d wanted it to do for so long (and had started to fear it couldn’t). All I wanted was to sleep and eat and breathe into the space that had been freed up now that Edward was here, safe, at last.
This is still true, nearly ten months on, if I’m honest. I just want to take a breath.
But the world has other ideas.
Before I started writing about our miscarriages, Dan and I would get the usual ‘so-when-are-you-going-to-have-kids?’ questions a lot of people mistake for benign small talk. Then, the more I wrote and the more wedding anniversaries came and went, the questions dwindled. Now though, we’ve lost that veneer of protection. We’re fair game again, now that we’re out in the world pushing a pram. ‘Are they your first?’ and ‘will you have another?’ are common subjects, even from strangers.
It’s not only a question prompted by other people, either. Babies grow out of their clothes alarmingly (expensively) fast. This feels so obvious it barely needs stating, but throughout my pregnancy I struggled to contemplate a future that came in anything but newborn sizes. While the image of a future me numbly putting away un-used clothes for a baby who never came home was one I often had to force from my mind, I never contemplated the happy alternative; that I’d be lovingly folding and boxing up those first – worn – items so soon. Or that putting them away would bring with it the inevitable question: Are we going to need these again?
The same is true of the cardboard box with ‘Jen maternity clothes’ scrawled in Sharpie on one side. Just thinking about the existence of this box makes me feel proud and profoundly calm in a way I can’t fully explain. But it is also another big, fat question-mark squatting at the bottom of my wardrobe.
The whole truth – which you cannot easily convey to a well-meaning stranger in a park – is that I don’t know if I can do it again
The short answer is yes. Yes, I would love another. Yes, I would love to give Edward a sibling. Long ago, before Dan and I were married, we’d discussed how – ideally – we’d like three children. We talked about it as though it were a matter of straightforward preference; as easy as selecting a number from a drop-down menu. Add to cart. Click. Collect.
But the whole truth – which you cannot easily convey to a well-meaning stranger in a park – is that I don’t know if I can do it again.
I mean this first in the literal sense, that I don’t know if my body will obligingly repeat this magic trick. I don’t take for granted that it would or could conceive and carry to term again. I also mean it in the sense of not knowing if I can put myself (and Dan) through it again. Currently, my brain is stuck on the formula that it takes four miscarriages per one living baby. Another four losses? Another four years of my life?
I know it doesn’t necessarily work like that, but to me it feels like emotionally high-risk behaviour – running with scissors – to embark on trying again without at least considering that this could be what it takes for us to have a second child.
I’m also aware that to experience miscarriage as a parent would not necessarily be familiar territory. After I wrote my last post (about the uncomfortable identity shift that comes with having a baby after recurrent pregnancy loss, when you finally cross the divide between the nominally ‘infertile’ and fertile) I got quite a lot of a messages about secondary infertility and how it feels to lose a baby after you already have a child. Many echoed what I’d tried to express in that post, about being aware that a hefty part of your pain has been lifted. It feels different because you no longer live with the weight of uncertainty as to whether you will ever be a mother; whether your body can carry a pregnancy to term.
But they also pointed out that this kind of infertility and loss comes with its own unique loneliness and particular flavour of disenfranchised grief. Many wrote to me to say how guilty they felt for yearning for another child, when they knew how lucky they were to have one in the first place.
Then there are the more practical, logistical considerations. Miscarriages – and pregnancy after loss – have pushed me to the brink of my sanity, at times. Days when I didn’t cope and couldn’t get out of bed. Knowing this, while also knowing that I have Edward’s wellbeing to defend now, is no small matter in the see-sawing internal debate over whether a second baby is possible, sensible.
Before I had Edward, I could never have imagined feeling anything remotely like sadness at not having another. When the subject came up, I couldn’t quite get inside the grief of not being able to give a child a sibling. As far as I was concerned back then, anything after one baby would be a bonus.
But the view from across the fertility Rubicon is different. I can see more clearly now how it would hurt to have yet another decision about your body and family taken away from you. And while I don’t yet feel it for myself, I can appreciate how that pain could exist alongside the joy of your existing child.
From here, I can see a kind of family that was previously obscure to me, caught up as I was in my own desperate longing to join them on the other side. They’re zooming into focus now, though: the ones who never get to draw a solid line in the sand as to the size of their family, but instead find their reproductive lives go out on a slow-fade, eventually giving up the ghost after one loss or one negative test too many.
Or, perhaps – as I sometimes wonder may prove the case for us – the prevailing wind of nerve and hope that it takes to try again never returns. You expect it to; you wait to feel it whipping up the leaves around you, stirring you to action. But it never comes. Until one day you wake up knowing solidly that it never will. It belongs to another time; another land.
And you know that it was you, your own inaction, waiting for the weather to change, that might have made it so, but also that it wasn’t exactly your choice either.
Other posts you may be interested in…
This guest post on how it feels to have miscarriages when you already have a child
Some thoughts from me here on the mixed emotions of taking a break from trying to conceive
This guest post here on the strength it takes to keep trying
Having had my rainbow baby in January after 6 losses, I haven’t had words to describe how it feels to have made it to the other side & then even broach the subject of a second. This piece resonates so loudly in my ears & I think the notion of waiting for the wind of change to stir up the courage to try again or our inaction to protect our current joy is so cathartic. Maybe the dust won’t ever settle? Thank you Jenny, a truly beautiful piece.
So beautifully written! We in the secondary camp, I waited 3 yrs to try for #2 after an easy #1. This didn’t seem like a long time at all, for me the exhausted mom of a toddler. However, the fertility gods laughed at my late 30s self and after 2 horrible losses we are now trying very hard to embrace our triangle life. The sibling guilt is the hardest part for me. Like … I should have got back on the horse sooner.
You write so beautifully Jennie. We tried for our second much earlier than we would have had we had a straightforward first pregnancy as we expect it to take longer than it would for others. Our first try for a sibling ended in miscarriage, so I suppose things are kind of going to plan? It’s horrible having to do this kind of planning. And I felt a whole different kind of guilt for the few weeks that I was pregnant, feeling that I was cutting my time with my first short.
As always, thank you for your eloquence and openness. As someone who has experienced both primary and secondary infertility, I have been in those sad, uncertain places and faced so many questions that should never be asked. After starting the painful process of reconciling myself to a family smaller than my choosing, I found myself surprisingly and miraculously pregnant. Now, we hold our breath, cross our fingers, and hope.