For as long as I can remember, I envisioned myself as of mother of two children. I am one of two, my mom is one of two, my sister has two children…you get the picture. I liked the idea of my children having a built-in companion to grow up with, a buddy, a partner for rides at the amusement park. And thanks to the plots of most movies and TV shows, I thought achieving that life would be easy, right? You meet the guy, fall in love, get married, and in a few years, you will have this amazing life with your husband and kids running around. If only I knew how complex it could be to grow a family.
I am the one in four women who have suffered pregnancy loss. I am part of the one in eight couples who have struggled to conceive. And despite how widespread the pain and grief are, this side of life is rarely depicted in film as an ongoing narrative for a character’s story. Most of the time, that character will have a child and then everything is magically right in the world. They fail to show the ongoing effort families make to honor their angel(s) while balancing the complex emotions of pregnancy and parenting after loss on top of the responsibilities of daily life.
After Madison was born, I left things open to the possibility of going through another pregnancy in hopes of bringing home another baby.
I was (and still am) in no rush, but as I continued to think on the idea of another pregnancy, I became angry. Angry that Austin had died. Angry that life isn’t fair, even when you do everything “right”. Angry that I needed to think about going through another anxiety-filled pregnancy at the chance of having a second living child to create the life I had envisioned for myself for so long.
My husband has expressed his overwhelming joy and satisfaction with our current family. He loves our children so much and knows how hard Madison’s pregnancy was for me, so he doesn’t want to put any extra pressure on me for another child. In doing so, the decision to pursue another pregnancy is essentially up to me. Though it wasn’t his intent, this actually increased the pressure I was putting on myself. Weighing the decision of if or when would we start trying to get pregnant again. When I would feel brave enough to try again. Would the timing be right? What if we experienced another loss, or we weren’t able to conceive again? How long would we leave things up to chance before pursuing more permanent birth control options? The future of our family felt like another intense weight on my shoulders and I hated it. Expanding a family should spark happy thoughts, not anxiety.
It wasn’t until I really sat down to think about it that I realized all of this anger and anxiety I was feeling was my grief from losing Austin manifesting in a new way.
I was experiencing secondary grief, grieving the life I had envisioned for myself for so long. So many loss parents have described their life being split in two: the before and after. I have always mourned the loss of my innocence to child loss, but this was my first time I felt a deep sense of mourning for “the before”. If Austin had lived, we would be a family of four, with two under the age of two as of Madison’s birth. If he had lived, we would likely be done growing our family. I wouldn’t be thinking about how to create the family I envisioned in “the before” times.
As I continued to process my secondary grief, I thought of all the moments that I have missed and will continue to miss because Austin had died. Austin meeting his little sister for the first time. Watching him learn his new role as an older brother. The love and chaos of having two young children at home. All of the family vacations, holidays, and milestones that will now be laced with sadness because someone will always be missing from the event. The grief of losing Austin will be woven into the rest of our lives, with some days being more painful than others.
When my husband and I moved into our current home, we had visions of two living children in our future. We enjoyed walks around our neighborhood, talking about what we wanted our life to look like and what we needed to do to achieve that life. Those walks have often been the beginning of life-changing decisions. We still continue those walks today, with Madison either strapped to my chest or in the stroller. One sunny afternoon, I allowed myself to ask a question.
“What if we are done?”
What if Madison is our only living child? What if I allowed myself to truly consider the option to be a mother of only one living child? What would our life look like? We started talking about the various options we could have. What our daily life of work, school, and extra curriculars might look like. The vacations we could take and the milestones we would celebrate. The possibility of moving into a smaller house because we would no longer need all the rooms we once planned to use. Madison loving her angelic brother, but being viewed as an only child to those who don’t know our full story.
As we talked through the options of our future, I felt a little guilty, but mostly free. Guilty that Madison would miss out on the experiences of having a living sibling. But free from my own (and societies) pressure to have another living child. Free from feeling obligated to continue following our current path. Free to give myself permission to change course. Free to feel like our family is perfect, no modifications required.
It has taken us three years to get to this point of our parenting journey, and I’m tired.
From deciding to expand our family to growing and losing Austin at full term. From deep grieving while trying to conceive again, to growing and birthing Madison. And now, we do our best to keep up with our energetic seven-month-old while keeping the memory of Austin alive. Our lives have transformed over the last three years, and I’m ready for a period of time where I don’t have to think about what’s next.
I can honestly say that I have pictured myself with another living child and without. And no matter which way my life plays out, I know that I will be happy when I am old and gray with the family we have created. Knowing this has freed me from following just one path and allowed me to feel at peace with wherever life takes me. Maybe one day we will decide to try expanding our family again. Or maybe we will decide to pursue other dreams. Either way, our family will always be filled with love, for all our babies.