The moment my next-door neighbor commented on the size of my house and suggested I needed to have more kids in order to fill it up will probably be etched in my mind forever. Not because it was a particularly noteworthy exchange, and under different circumstances I would’ve laughed and wholeheartedly agreed – but the truth of the matter was that I’d been recently diagnosed with unexplained secondary infertility, and so there I was standing in my driveway, holding the hand of the one and only child I’d ever get to have, wondering whether the swing of a baseball bat to his kneecaps would be a forgivable offense under the circumstances.
When my husband and I bought our house in the early spring of 2013, our six-week-old infant daughter affixed to my boob while we and a handful of our most cherished friends lugged our belongings into our first home, we had no idea what the path we were walking down would end up looking like. We’d been living in a one-bedroom apartment with no room in which to raise a tiny human, so we spread our wings and emptied our savings account and settled on a four-bedroom house a few miles up the street. It wasn’t that we were necessarily planning on filling up each square foot with chaos and kids, but we had our minds set on one day expanding our family of three to one of four, or maybe even five if we dared. One kid at a time, though, we agreed, and mentally mapped out the ways in which our home and all of its contents would shift and change with the addition of each and any new occupant.
The daughter that I do have, I should say, didn’t come to us easily. For 14 months we worked our absolute hardest to have a baby, being tossed around clinics and hospitals as our doctors ran the gamut of tests on us to determine the cause of the tumbleweeds that seemed to be rolling around in my uterus. And somehow, because the universe is an at-times cruel and mysterious mistress, not one week after those tests were run was my daughter conceived, practically out of thin air; and thus began a 40-week-and-3-day-long adventure in pregnancy that I’d do all over again if I could.
What I really didn’t know, once the fog of early motherhood had lifted, was how to go about family planning – because our daughter had come with no help at all, and because I’d discovered within myself a newfound confidence in my body’s power and capacity, I had to ask myself whether we needed to try for a second child with great intent, or whether we needed to tread lightly for fear of having too many babies too soon; and because my husband is the Ultimate Ruler of the Kingdom of Practical, we decided to watch our step. Sure enough, on our very first attempt at making baby v. 2.0, we succeeded.
Eight weeks later, though, my world fell at my feet when on a grainy screen at my first ultrasound, I saw my baby and its beating heart, fluttering weakly yet steadily, and was told I needed to say goodbye. One week later, I found myself back in that room with white noise, strident buzzing and shrill screaming filling up my head and my heart while I met my baby again, on that same screen, unmoving and effectively gone.
And while months passed in which I grieved the loss of my child, months passed all the same while I worked tirelessly at getting pregnant again. Because I’m not done, I cried. This isn’t over – our family doesn’t end here. I want my baby back. I want a new one. I want the last one, but barring my ability to bring the dead back to life, I wanted a do-over.
I found out roughly six months later that such an experience isn’t in our cards. Secondary infertility isn’t something I was ever acutely aware of, but make no mistake: nothing in life is a guarantee. I always wondered to myself what spurred parents of only-children to end there. It never occurred to me that the decision to have one child might never have been a decision at all.
It’s been 572 days since I lost my second child, and not a day has gone by since that I haven’t thought about, longed for and so deeply missed that little one. Eighteen cycles is what it took to accept defeat – each one lined up behind the other, poised and waiting to steadily break down all last ounces of hope I had cupped in the palms of my hands. Where it’s always been second nature to me to methodically study my body and its fertility signs like they were a frog on the desk of my 10th grade biology classroom, I’m standing now at the precipice of a deep and gaping cliff, attempting to make sense of what’s been handed to me and how to move forward with it.
I have yet to find the answer to the question of how exactly to let go, but I know it’s time. One foot in front of the other, I remind myself – that’s all I can do, and that’s okay – but not a bone in my body lies in comfort as I go. The struggle of defeat, of grief, of loss and longing is a burden nearly too great to bear, but if there exists one shining beacon of light, one great reminder to keep going, and one overwhelming reminder of exactly why my grief is so great and my loss so deep, it’s the girl I’ve got; the wild and beautiful 3-year-old who reminds me every day what capacity I have to love. What a torturous but great blessing it is to parent alongside loss, knowing every day exactly what it is I’m missing.