Athletes and the debate over whether they should retire or not is often a hot topic for sports fans like me. The question as to whether you bow out gracefully in your prime or stay until you are “used up,” so to speak is always one that we dwell on. Yes, there is power in saying, I know I could probably eke out a few more seasons, but they would not be my best and so I am bowing out and leaving it to the younger ones on the team and in the sport, but there is also power in staying in and being willing to give it your all completely and fully until you have nothing left to give. The hours I have spent with friends and family debating all angles of these debates are countless, but recently I have started thinking that a lot of the same nuances and details to these debates also play into the same decisions we make as loss parents regarding whether we try for another child or not.
Before the birth of Elliott, our losses left us with a pretty easy choice—we had not given it our all, we had not done everything we could, and we still had parenting to do, so trying again, staying in the game, was easy.
Yes, we went back to the proverbial gamebook and came up with new plays, new techniques, new ways to size up the opponent of loss, but it was pretty easy (at least for us) that we still had something left to give.
If you are lucky enough to bring home a rainbow, the choice as to whether to retire does not go away, it simply gets put into the off-season, saying I don’t have to make that decision now, but it is still there to be made. You pour your heart and energy into your rainbow, incorporating your angel baby into the world of parenting, all while the rumors swirl as to whether or not you’re retiring or going to start a new season of trying to conceive.
At some point after bringing home a rainbow, and for everyone this timing is different, the questions start creeping into your daily life.
Family and friends start asking, so are you done, are you going to try again; comments like, well, I think that he needs a little sister or brother and my personal favorite, you’re not getting any younger pop into regular conversation. And the thing is that usually by the time you start hearing these regularly, you have already been weighing pros and cons and may even be trying again. You are the free agent, examining your personal instincts, your various options, which team would have the best offer—your own (or partner’s) pregnancy, adoption, fostering, surrogacy, or retirement—and all the same questions that an athlete would ask become your own questions.
Am I ready for the potential losses and blows and pains? Am I ready to hang up the towel and bow out? What is best for my family? Will I regret not trying again? If this next season involves more loss, am I okay with that? Do I want to go out on a high note, on a win, or am I willing to try again, knowing that it could be a loss? How many times am I willing to risk pain and loss? How does my body, my heart, my age play into these decisions?
Just like star athletes do at a certain point in their career, loss parents also have to examine at a certain point in our parenting whether we stay in the conceiving game or “retire” to enjoy parenting without trying for another child.
Some athletes will want to go out knowing that they have broken a certain record or won a championship or something else that makes them feel like their career has been complete, but for loss parents, when we look at our families, there will forever be a missing piece, one that trying over and over again for will not be filled. And so it becomes even more treacherous of a journey to figure out that tough decision because trying again, win or loss, does not erase the loss, does not bring our child back, does not “complete” our family because our family is always incomplete.
So, for all of my fellow loss parents who are navigating these tough choices, I hear you and I see you.
Whatever decision you make is the best one for you. Please know that none of the options after having experienced loss are easy to make and none of them feel completely comfortable. Also know that making the decision now to stop can always be reversed. After all, this Chicago girl knows all about athletes who return (see Jordan, Michael and Sandberg, Ryne).
Oh, and to those who love loss parents, just don’t ask—they’ll make the decision when it’s time and all they need to know is you you support and love them whatever their choice is.