Robin lives in Central New Jersey with her husband Kevin and 3 children...Daniel, 16, Caroline, 12 and Cameron, born March 2, 2009. Her story is one of triumph over tragedy. After many lost pregnancies, she is now ecstatically balancing the disparate lives of her children. She spends her days changing diapers, fielding questions about middle school dances and debating which college her oldest will attend.
An acquaintance of mine was pregnant with her fifth child. She’d become something of a phenomenon in my town. Every other summer she was the pregnant lady at the swim club. As she was expecting her fifth baby, I asked her if she was finished after this one. “I’m the youngest of five kids,” she said. “I guess I just want to have what I am.” She has six children now, so maybe she wanted a little sibling, too. In any case, she has now stated emphatically that her family is complete.
I am the youngest of three children. In the 1970s when I was growing up, the families I knew best had the same amount of kids. Families with two children seemed abbreviated and sterile. Three was messier in every way. No gentle pairing off of siblings. No equal numbers of people around the square kitchen table. Someone was always left out, either because of differences in age or gender, or someone was always an extra. Families with three children versus two were noisier, their cars were more crowded, and in the three-bedroom homes common in the 70s, two children always had to share a bedroom. But families of five were also more raucous and fun. Quiet was for the library, not for the home, and certainly not for the dinner table, where my family’s boisterous conversations most often took place.
There are a myriad of reasons why I fought so tenaciously for my own third child. Some are for the reasons stated above. My husband Kevin and I had the most sterile, tidy family of all. A son and a daughter, born on the same day, four years apart. Talk about tidy. And for almost four years, I was quite content with my square family. (I think of families of four as squares.) Kevin and I had been caught up in the adventure of living abroad when the children were little, and the exoticness of living in Puerto Rico and then Ireland was enough stimulation for me. But when we had to move back to the States suddenly and unexpectedly, I began to yearn for another child. It was subtle at first, but then it grew into an obsession, especially as it became more and more unobtainable and then seemingly physically impossible.
I was 35 and my husband was 37 when I was ready to have one last child. Problem was, my husband was perfectly content with the family we had. Our European party in Ireland was cut short and Kevin had to begin a new career with the company that had acquired his previous company in a hostile take-over. He had taken on an exhausting commute into Manhattan and a schedule that included 40% European travel. I was plunked back into New Jersey suburban wife-and-motherhood. (When we learned that we would be leaving Ireland, I had said I would move anywhere except for New Jersey.)
We chose a lovely little town where my lifelong best friend, Michele lived, because I needed to have something positive for myself out of this move. Michele was a newlywed at 35 and trying desperately to have a child. This fed my desire for a baby even more, I’m sure. And I hate to admit this, but it is probably true that the more Kevin said no, the more I wanted a baby. For about two years, I brought up the subject at least every day, whether privately, in front of friends and relatives, in front of our children, and most often due to Kevin’s schedule, through emails and phone conversations. I was convinced that, like so many of my previous desires, once they came to fruition, he would be happy that I had gotten my way. Not so this time.
Exactly a year after returning to New Jersey, Michele was in the delivery room having a C-section after a bout of infertility. I was in the waiting room with her mother and grandmother, who were like family to me. I remember babbling on and on about how much I wanted a baby, practically pacing the small room and mentally climbing its walls, so strongly was I suffering from baby lust.
Every night I would take my birth-control pill and hope I was in the 1% for whom it was fallible. Once I was prescribed antibiotics for an infection and prayed that it would deem my pills useless. But one thing I NEVER did was skip a pill on purpose. For all my annoying begging and whining, I never crossed the line to deception. I have too much respect for my husband and for our marriage. And I wanted Kevin to want a baby as much as I did. I wasn’t so much begging for another child as begging him to join me in the desire to have one.
One night, after two years of non-persuasive communication on the subject, I was filling my water glass to swallow the hated birth control pill. And it dawned on me. Instead of hoping for the thing not to work, why not just stop taking it? I emptied the water glass into the sink, came out of the bathroom and said to my husband, “I’m going off the pill. Do with that information what you want.”
I owe the HBO show Sex and the City for my first post-pill pregnancy. This child was conceived on the family room couch after my Kevin and I watched a particularly racy episode together. I was wildly ecstatic to find myself pregnant after such a long time. I was 38 and had had my last child at 31. It didn’t actually feel real to me. Wanting something so much made it seem so much more unattainable, and now that I had actually conceived, I couldn’t believe that I was so lucky. But in my mind, too, was the fact that my mother had suffered a miscarriage after two uneventful pregnancies, and that I was “due” for one after my two healthy pregnancies. It was part of my mindset to doubt my good fortune. I even said to my husband, “I’m due for a miscarriage, but at least I know I can still get pregnant.”
I had painful breasts, a good sign. They hurt so much that I experienced a feeling not unlike letdown, when you are nursing and your milk suddenly comes in. Like pins and needles in your breasts. But then the pain went away. I recall going into a maternity store one day - a chic, high-end store in Princeton - while window shopping. They were having a sale and I felt like a phony for being in there because in my heart I knew that I wasn’t pregnant anymore. I bought a shirt anyway. I wasn’t bleeding yet, so I still carried the right to say I was pregnant. I went for my 6-week check-up and told the doctor, Alison about my loss of symptoms. It was too early for an ultrasound, so she just reassured me that everything was probably fine. There was no reason to do anything further. I had no previous history of problems at this point.
I started bleeding a few days later. My friends got together and threw a breakfast for me. I called it my “Dead Baby Shower.” I was trying to put on a brave face by using black humor. During the breakfast, I got up to use the bathroom and out plopped what looked like a large purple marble. I made my hostess scoop it out of the toilet with a soup ladle. I saved it in a baggie within a brown paper bag so it could be tested. I wanted to know everything about this round little ball. Why had I lost it? Was it a boy or a girl? Was it healthy?
My baby-to-be stayed in my refrigerator for 3 days before my gynecology appointment. I would visit it from time to time, looking at the bag, picturing the sac it housed, wondering if a tiny baby was inside the sac. How I wished I could open that sac and see what it contained.
The fetal material was tested and did not have any chromosomal abnormalities, but it was also female. I was told that sometimes, though it’s rare, if the fetus is a girl, some of the mother’s cells may inadvertently be tested instead. If that was the case, and there was no way of knowing for sure, then the results were inconclusive. I chose to believe I had lost a healthy baby.
But something very positive did come out of this experience. The joy and excitement for the future that my pregnancy brought me was infectious for Kevin. After the loss, he found himself inexplicably as disappointed as I, and after sharing his feelings with me, we decided that we were going to go forward trying to have a baby together. I thought, “This is going to be easy.” It had taken a while to get pregnant with the baby we had just lost because my husband had been cagey. With us both on board, I thought, it would be a snap.
Part Two will be posted in January.
Please share your experiences here. We'd love to hear from you.