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Choosing the life our family had

by anonymous

June 7, 2019

After almost an entire marriage of unprotected sex and two children conceived through fertility assistance, I discovered myself unexpectedly expecting at 42.   This recognition dismayed and alarmed me.

A wise friend suggested I close my eyes and do what my head and heart told me, but my head and my heart conflicted. Ever the realist, my head won.  I chose the life we have over the magical unknown growing within me.

A miracle came, and I destroyed it.

We have two healthy children, and even when they irritate me endlessly, I marvel at my fortune.  I watch others with special needs children, or even kids who get sick more frequently than ours, and wonder if I could muster their strength.

The actual pregnancy and even the first six months or so of babyhood didn’t scare me.  I considered myself more fit and “younger” than most at 42, and tenacity is among my defining characteristics.  I delivered my second child completely naturally, and I didn’t doubt my physical stamina to survive a pregnancy and nighttime feedings.  That requires grit, and my success in sports despite lack of size or raw athletic talent confirms my ample grit.

What terrified me was the day to day impact of adding a baby to our lives – the juggling, the resentment all family members might feel with another “task.”  Babies bring joy.  Babies also bring mess and work. I feared our family unit would suffer from a third child.  My husband felt strongly against having another child, so without 100% certainty I wanted this third, how could I decide for both of us?  Would I always feel I should shoulder more of the burden?

I also questioned my emotional strength to support another.  Life is already so loud, with so much competition for who gets to talk … who would hear another voice?

Or, would the older ones listen to the new one, and all get wrapped up in their own worlds, as they sometimes do with each other?  Would the older ones learn to be more generous, less self-centered?  We’ll never know, and when their lack of gratitude irritates me, I wonder.

We already shared an urban space with no yard – many from the suburbs cannot imagine living in so little.  Children visit and ask, “are these the ONLY rooms?”

We fit in our car.  We fit in our tent.  We fit in one hotel room.  Life feels full and complete.

I wanted to make space in our hearts and in our home and in our lives.  But I couldn’t escape the visions of my resentment at dirty dishes, me snapping at our children, guilt whenever I made time to exercise or do anything else for myself, anger at the impact on my career.  I imagined my husband’s frustration at the budget and logistics implications of this extra body on our travel plans, his bitterness toward a life revolving around  scheduling children.

And all that even with a healthy baby.  Some suggested waiting to see the results of tests.  But how could I feel better about a decision to abort an “abnormal” child?  Would I be saying, “Well, I guess we’ll find a way if it’s “normal,” but no way we can handle one that isn’t?”  Plus no test would show autism or emotional fragility or depression, which I feel less equipped to manage than many other disabilities.

As we headed to the hospital, my husband asked if I might jump up and run out – of course I wouldn’t.  I’m not that dramatic.  And I was too exhausted.  That exhaustion in some ways decided me.  The stress of the decision combined with lack of sleep and the physical reality of first trimester pregnancy at 42.  I didn’t have the emotional or physical strength to change my mind.

As women, we wanted choices – for careers, for spouses, for our health.   “A woman of seven and twenty … can never hope to feel or inspire affection again,” said one of Jane Austen’s characters.  Sometimes I wish we didn’t have all our options, that our goal as women was to find a suitable husband.  With rights come difficult decisions.  I never thought I’d be a person who would have an abortion.  Theoretically I was pro-choice for as long as I can remember having an opinion – I just never believed I would make that choice.

Everyone in the surgery was so NICE to me, and I felt so evil for allowing their kindness.  I woke up abruptly in recovery and asked, “Can my husband come?”  He was there so quickly, and I felt such relief.   I didn’t have to be alone with the reality for even a minute.

My husband was a rock throughout the hours of waiting and immediately afterward.   Clear and unwavering in his own feelings, he nevertheless let me know that I could change my mind if I felt that was right.    Oddly, however, after the abortion, he was the one falling asleep at home while I folded clothes and cleaned.  After he picked up our kids, I jumped into action, feeding them, talking about homework, responding to a request from one’s school.   For weeks, I hugged them a little harder, played an extra game of Connect Four, threw or kicked the football one more time, timed my little guy upside down on the monkey bars again and again, determined to treasure my time with them, as well as the time away from them our life permits.   I went to work the day after the abortion, ready to lead an 8 AM meeting without missing a beat.

Our family unit is enough, but not too much.  We don’t need to “outsource” any more of our childcare, and our children will continue to always have a parent at school pickup and drop-off.

I will never know if the extra weekends of camping or the extra travel or the extra days at the beach or the additional parental participation in events and day to day life will prove a richer experience for my boys than a younger sibling would have.  I simply embrace the life we have.

And somehow, the feelings faded.  I no longer dreaded the moments alone to think.  After a few months, I realized the decision had stopped haunting me first thing when I woke up and as I lay attempting to sleep.

I don’t regret not having the child.  And I don’t feel I deserve to mourn.  But I still want to apologize to that little person that wasn’t, for deciding I couldn’t have been enough.

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