By Steph (@crossing_everything)
I thought my days of crying in work toilets were over. But a few months ago, when an unsolicited scan picture with the cheery caption ‘baby no.2 on the way!’ appeared on my phone, I was right back there. Silently crying in a soulless toilet cubicle, jealous of the simplicity of a friend’s path to parenthood. A place that felt so familiar but had – for a while – felt so far behind.
Before I lived in a world where ‘TTC’, ‘TFMR’ and ‘rainbow baby’ were part of my vocabulary, I assumed I’d have a big family with children close in age. Laughably, I remember checking my workplace’s maternity policy and calculating how long I’d have to wait after our hypothetical first baby before ‘trying again’ to maximise maternity pay. Now, even that phrase – ‘trying again’ – fills me with panic.
The journey to our living daughter, Alana, was long in emotional trauma if not in years. A miscarriage and a TFMR in less than 12 months completely broke us; but after each we tried again immediately and unquestioningly. I longed for a baby in a way that bordered on obsession. I had complete tunnel vision and nothing else mattered. Every time we had a loss we’d start again, but it didn’t feel like ‘trying again’ – more like repeating parts of the same horribly painful cycle. Our eyes remained firmly fixed on the prize – a live birth was going to be the pot of gold that made all the hurt worthwhile. Thankfully, almost two years later, that is the case. But it certainly wasn’t to begin with.
Alana is the most headstrong person I know, and she has been since the day she was born. People laugh when I say this, but it’s true – I feel like she pathologically hated being a newborn. In those first few months she screamed in way so intense that even my mum, a mother to four, grandmother to five, couldn’t believe – it was horrific. Unsurprisingly, it took a very long time for us to bond. Add to that unresolved grief and trauma, lockdown, my extreme perfectionism and fear of failure (which, by the way, are the antithesis of skills required for parenting) and ours was not a very happy house for a long time. I swore we would never put ourselves through it again.
Thankfully – as everyone had promised – things did get better and whilst I was adamant they never would, thoughts of another child started to creep in. After what felt like about 5 minutes since giving birth (around a year in reality) my brain started asking me the same uninvited question over and over: ‘Am I ready to try again?’. The answer was always the same: ‘Hell no’. So why did the question keep popping up? After having Alana, the pressure to procreate felt like it was off, and it was a relief. I had no idea it would return so quickly.
The thing is, life is great right now. I’m the most content and confident I’ve been in years. Alana is settled at nursery, I’m back at work in a challenging and fulfilling new role and my husband is thriving as a working dad. We’re finding time for ourselves and each other; everything feels settled and snug. Whilst obviously our days are punctuated by tantrums, Alana makes my heart burst. She is fascinating and wonderful to be around; she really is pure joy.
So, if I’m totally content, why can’t I get these thoughts to quieten? When people ask, why can’t I own it and say, ‘we’re not ready – we will be one day’ and let it go rather than the sarcastic rebuttal I often find myself giving. Why do these thoughts circle round and round demanding attention?
It feels like my brain and body are disconnected. My brain wants one thing: safety. My body another: a child. It’s uncomfortably unfamiliar, for as long as I can remember they’ve had one common goal: baby at all costs. But I’m not naïve anymore – I know what those costs could be. If I want another child, it feels like I’m going to have to throw a grenade into my very lovely life to get there.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my brain finds the concept totally overwhelming and I’m starting to realise how much that is rooted in fear. Of course, there’s the fear of more loss and grief, fear of the process and the intensity that it might bring. Fear of the unknown and of being vulnerable again. Fear of opening myself up to the possibility and being met with more hurt.
But it’s more complex than that. Having a newborn is no longer the pot of gold it once was – instead (if we got that far) the prospect fills me with dread. The stakes are higher this time too; I have Alana to consider. I feel I missed the first few months of her life and I’m absolutely terrified of something disrupting the bond that we now have. I feel like I’m making up for lost time and she deserves all of me, and I her. The moment I admit I want another child and want to take action to get there, I fear she will lose a part of me, and I might lose a part of myself.
Alongside fear, there’s a good dose of anger. I’m angry I’m in this position at all. I want to be the person obliviously sending scan pictures with happy declarations of a second child, as if it is an assumed consequence of a first. I’m resentful that I’m not and jealous of those who are. I think part of me thought that if I managed to have one living child then everything would reset – I would go back into the pool of ‘normal’, happy pregnant people. And whilst the rest of the world also seems to assume that’s the case, it’s not.
I do know that this dilemma – however complicated and stressful – is to a certain extent a luxury. I am grateful that I have what appears to be a choice. We have got pregnant before, I do have a healthy child now and I do believe that I could at least be pregnant again. But, of course, this ‘choice’ is only a perception and may not be the reality. I also know, on a visceral level, that if the option to have another child were taken from us, I would be devastated.
So where does that leave me? What’s the term for a multiple loss mama who has a living child and is terrified to try again? Now I have Alana it seems there’s no neat category for me to fit in, but equally I know that I can’t be alone in this position.
The more I see Alana grow into a child, a person I can know, the more it feels that growing our family could bring us great joy. My glasses are a long way off being rose tinted, but the bigger picture is becoming clearer. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel completely ‘ready’, but perhaps that’s OK. Perhaps I need to let go of control and be ready ‘enough’. My main hope at this stage is that if/when the time comes to ‘try’, we do it differently and lean into the excitement, let go of some of the fear and stay well away from obsession.
For now, we’ve decided to really live. To do all the things that grief and loss and pregnancy and overwhelm and lockdown prevented. To love Alana and each other and create memories that will bring us joy whatever life has in store for us. To believe the neon print in our hallway (pictured, above). And to cross our fingers that somewhere quietly in the background, hope will outweigh fear.