At a routine eight-week ultrasound two months ago, my doctor told me I would miscarry. He saw an egg sac, but no fetal pole and no heartbeat. In an instant, the next seven months were irrevocably changed. That evening, after our three-year old son, Henry, went to bed, my husband, Tom, handed me a stiff margarita. As I drank it down, I felt a little sad, a little shocked, a little disjointed — but what I mostly felt was relief.
Lest you think I am a total alcoholic, it wasn’t just because it felt good to have tequila coursing through my veins after two months of going without (though that was really nice; my husband makes a mean margarita). It was what that cocktail signified: freedom.
The pregnancy hadn’t been a mistake. But when I saw that double line on the pregnancy test six weeks earlier, I didn’t feel giddy or hopeful like I had the first time around. Instead, all I could summon up was that awful feeling of being awake in the middle of the night trying to calm a screaming baby when everyone else in the world was asleep. Until we had Henry, I didn’t comprehend how attached you had to be to a baby — both physically and emotionally. But going into this second pregnancy, I knew what I was in for.
Before Henry (or BH as I sometimes call it since the time feels so clearly demarcated), I thought we would be those take-your-kid-anywhere type parents. Sure, a kid would be an adjustment, but he or she would ultimately be an awesome companion. But in practice, all that stuff — dining at gastropubs, going to Wilco concerts, traveling to far-flung places — just felt way too hard with a baby. In fact, everything felt harder, not just the adventures. From showering and peeing to having a conversation with Tom and getting out the door each day, everything required an extra step; everything required that I simultaneously plan ahead while living in the moment.
It’s not that this time wasn’t without its joys — nothing can melt away hours of dull fussiness like the moment you hear your baby laugh for the first time. But I longed desperately to get some time to myself, to be able to curl up with a good book, to be able to throw on a pair of flip-flops and just walk out the door. I felt like I could deal with it all if I could just get an eight-hour chunk of sleep, if I could get from the house to the park without a thousand stops in between, if I could just have one hour where I wasn’t so viscerally aware of another person’s immediate needs. But I couldn’t.
As the morning sickness and fatigue of the second pregnancy set in, I tried to wrap my head around the idea of living through that intense time of anxiety and limitation again. It was just temporary, right? And there was so much good that came out of it all, right? But all I could remember were the stinky, breast milk-stained shirts, the absence of adult conversation, that time of night, around 5:30, when all hell would break loose for reasons we could never figure out. Insomnia set in as I obsessed about childcare, fitting another body in our tiny house, and my marriage, which had taken some hits over the last three years thanks to the pressures of parenthood. So how, you may wonder, had I gotten here – knocked up and filled with dread? I was doing it for Henry. I wanted him to have the sibling I never had.
Growing up as an only child, I didn’t really feel jealous of my friends with siblings – but now I do. My parents are divorced, my mom remarried – to a woman. My childhood, in retrospect, was lovely in many ways but pretty odd. We lived in a trailer park, marched in peace protests, hitchhiked. When I was 16, my mom and her partner moved out of the house and went to live in a teepee in Montana. I stayed home and held down the fort, paying the lot rent and letting a runaway boy stay in our spare room. And now, I wish there was someone who was there with me when it all happened, someone who could help me decipher my mom’s bouts of depression, my dad’s stoic reserve. I also worry about taking care of my parents all by myself as they age. I imagine this crazy household where me and my long-suffering husband co-habitate with my dad, my mom, my mom’s wife, their two cats, their five dogs, and a whole lot of tchotchkes.
My husband, on the other hand, has a brother and sister. While his childhood, by all appearances, was far more conventional than mine (think suburbia, sailing, golfing) it takes only a quick dip into their ocean of family lore to see that, like all families, they too had their unique quirks and issues, their embarrassing and strange moments. Except Tom got to live through it all with his brother and sister. It’s not like they talk constantly about the minutiae of their past — or even always get along in the present. But when you spend time with the three of them, it’s obvious they share a common history, a common language and culture all its own. I envy their inside jokes, their years-old traditions, their arguments and alliances. I think it would be amazing to know two adults who knew you when you were small, when you were at the very beginning of who you are.
And so we have weighed these things — the daunting prospect of having a newborn in our family again versus what we want Henry’s childhood to look like: an experience that can be looked back on, castigated, laughed at, analyzed, fought about — or simply endured — with another. And that’s why, despite the sharp pang of relief I felt at miscarrying, we will most likely try again to have another baby. Because even with our foreboding we still think that having a sibling will make Henry’s life better, and ours, too. Henry certainly did.
Last weekend we headed to the beach. Henry spent hours happily splashing in the water and went for a long walk with Tom. We dug a big hole and built a road lined with shells. There was a little bit of crying, but a lot of laughing. I even got to read a few pages of my book. Nearby, a woman sat in a beach chair calming her howling baby. And instead of cringing, I was able to trace the path that had led from there to here. Without all the mess, the sleepless nights, the anxiety, the boredom, we couldn’t have had this perfect day. I closed my eyes, and I could finally see it: another perfect day, when instead of the three of us, we would be four.