So I was listening to a podcast about contraception the other day (as you do), and in amongst all the awkward teenage discussion of "pulling out", and diaphragms, I had a thought - I should get a vasectomy. That's probably not the most common epiphany, I know, but for us it is relevant, because I think now we have reached the final decision that we are not going to have any more kids.
When we lost our baby last year, many people would, with the best of intentions, try to provide comfort by reminding us that we could "just try again", that this was just a bump in the road and that their sister's friend or someone else they knew had LOADS of miscarriages before finally getting their "rainbow baby". . . The problem with this, apart from the casual dismissing of our grief (and, for that matter, their sister's friend's grief), is that it wasn't really true. While technically there is no reproductive impediment to us having more kids (i.e my wife still has a womb), the reality of what another pregnancy would mean for Annamarie and for our family is hard for us to even consider.
It's pretty much guaranteed she would get hyperemesis gravidarum and hyperthyroidism again, and with her already compromised immune system the impact would likely be worse than before. We'd be giving up more than a whole year of our lives to her being bed-bound and vomiting, me playing nurse, cook and cleaner, and all of us barely holding onto our sanity. And then the further recovery after the birth. Many months of trying to remedy the damage to her digestive system, lymphatic system, endocrine system, immune system, even her teeth. And then there's Sam - is it worth giving up years of watching him grow and develop, of enjoying being his parents, in the hope of giving him a sibling?
Because of course, as we know too well, it is only a hope. There are so many things that could go wrong in any pregnancy, and while the percentages on all those "normal" things (Down's Syndrome, Spina Bifida etc) are relatively low, given our prior experiences I don't like our odds.
What if it's a molar pregnancy again? The chances are now 1 in 55 of that recurring because of a previous molar. What if it's something worse? And then there's the genetic question. We now have more knowledge about both of our genetic make-up and what conditions we could pass on to a future child. And while the odds are still low of passing on a serious abnormality that one of us carries, it's something that plays on your mind. Is it worth quite literally putting Annamarie's life on the line to chase the dream of the family unit we originally wanted?
They say that time heals all wounds. I think that's a crock of shit. I feel lower now, 18 months after we lost our baby than I did at the time. Because, see, life doesn't go the way you want it to. Life doesn't just give you one hardship and then provide you all the time you need to process and move forward. In our case my psychologist has called it a "cluster of traumas" - an abnormal situation that doesn't often happen in life. Normally you might be dealing with a death, ill health, a break-up, redundancy etc - a big emotional jolt while trying to deal with your everyday stresses of work and family. That current stress could be epic, huge - it takes everything out of you, but you get through it eventually after much struggle because humans are really quite resilient creatures.
In my case I've had the grief of continued loss and continued significant ill health. Sometimes everything seems all too much and I resent my lack of control over my body. My G.P said to me the other day that I was lucky I didn't need a medical certificate after my gastro bug because I work for myself. I actually got quite irate, Is it lucky? Is it lucky that I've continued to be unwell, continued to be knocked back by surgical procedures and remnants of my molar pregnancy? Is it lucky that I've only been able to do extremely part-time work, working for myself for the past 2 years because I haven't been able to commit to working for someone else? Is it lucky that I have to let clients down when I'm ill? Is it lucky that I haven't ever put effort into marketing my own business because I'm scared of not having the energy to commit to a larger clientele? I'd say that looking at it from the perspective of my family - as a wife and mother - that my limited contribution to family life and my almost non-existent financial contribution has put incredible strain on our lives. Lucky???
The last few weeks have been extremely difficult. Not only is coming home from months of travel depressing enough but on top of that I've been sick the entire time - first with a cold and then a terrible gastro bug that awarded me an ambulance ride & short stay in hospital followed by a week of not eating & horrific symptoms while the bug slowly left my exhausted body. So my outlook has been less than rosy. My appetite for writing has been as non-existent as my appetite for food. And as we get closer to Christmas, the "happiest time of the year", I find myself struggling to find any joy. Being constantly reminded with what we don't have anymore - the special people no longer with us and the little girl that was meant to be part of our family.
With these last few weeks of the year also comes the end of Sam's time as a preschooler. Early next year he'll turn 5 and be a big school boy. And I'm grieving for the loss of my baby, the only one I'll ever have. He's growing up too soon and I feel as if I've lost the past 2 years of his life - it just passed me by while I spent most of it in bed. I'm not ready to face him going to school, so much so that we haven't even decided on what school to send him to. It's a week until his Kindy graduation, 2 weeks until Christmas, and rather than joy I feel grief and then of course I feel guilt for not being totally present in my child's life and missing out on more. It's a vicious cycle.
Writing this blog has at times been extremely cathartic. It's kept me honest, it's allowed me to confront and deal with my feelings. But it's also been exhausting and the confrontation has been challenging. I'd love to say that almost a year after we started the blog that I'm the mentally fit, healthy person I was hoping to be when we started. That the strategies I put in place throughout the year have made me a stronger person. But again, life isn't like that. You take a step forward and get knocked back and then struggle to get back on track. Some days it seems like I'll never find myself again and that's scarily depressing. I normally try to be completely honest in my writing, but also hopeful - to try to embrace the challenge and use it to find my silver lining. All I can say right now is that when I do feel hopeful again, maybe I'll feel like writing about it to prove that it did happen.
It has been a little over 18 months since we lost TJ, and in some ways the pain has eased - I think about her less nowadays, I don't feel that raw stinging feeling any more, like something has been ripped away from me. But in other ways the loss has deepened, spread out through our lives somehow. TJ's loss doesn't just mean the death of our daughter any more - it represents the loss of our dream, of the family we hoped for, of the life we hoped for. And that's the kind of hole that doesn't fully heal with time. You just sort put a fence, chuck up a warning sign, and learn to walk around it. We're grateful for the life we have - it has many advantages over the original plan (more available cash, getting to sleep through the night, the ability to travel more easily) - but it still represents a compromise, an enforced change that we're trying to make the best of.
I suppose in many ways that's what life is made up of - a series of less-than-perfect decisions in the face of shit that happens around you every day. Nobody gets everything they want. Even the rich and famous are unhappy. I get that, and we don't expect special treatment from the world. But some days, when you realise at a random moment that you'll definitely never be a father again, it still hurts.
This blog has been about addressing that hurt, about capturing it in words as best we can and in doing so making it easier for us to process. Hopefully it's also helped some of you along the way. But doing this has also been exhausting, both in terms of pure logistics and emotional effort.
And so, we've made another decision - we're putting the blog on pause for the moment. While we have loved sharing our journey, and it's been amazing to hear from people how much it has meant to them, we need to be honest - we're tired. We need a break. And so, we're taking one. We don't know for how long, we don't know if we'll start it up again, but for now, it feels like we've reached a natural stop, or at least a place where we need to refuel. Thank you to everyone who has come with us on this journey - if you've stuck it out through dark moments, travel angst, tentative hope and extreme rage at pantry moths, we salute you. Hasta luego, amigos.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.