I’ve always wanted a big family

I sat across from her in the exam room. She was there with her partner and the youngest of her two children, a toddler. She had no clue when her last period was, but based on some recent negative pregnancy tests and now positive, I knew she was in early days. I had congratulated her when I entered the room and she welcomed my words with a smile.

“So were you guys trying or was this a surprise?”

I ask pretty much all my patients this, especially at these kind of visits- one we call “confirm pregnancy” appointments. It’s a quick early visit, to establish with our test that a woman is pregnant and to see if they need an early ultrasound. Plus we are able to start some education and answer questions before the typical initial pregnancy appointment at 8-10 weeks. I ask this question because sometimes people come to this visit to discuss options- I’m trying to see if I need to discuss termination or just plow forward with all the excitement of a new pregnancy. I’m also trying to assess her emotional needs- does she have support? What are her worries?

“Oh, it was a surprise!” She said with a laugh.

“So were using any birth control recently then? Pills? Condoms…?” I ask this to help assess her pregnancy dating. Recent pill use can affect timing of ovulation and thus pregnancy due dates.

“No…” A typical answer that always makes me laugh internally. In my world if you’re not contracepting, you are actively trying to get pregnant.

“But you seem happy about things?”

“Oh yes! I’ve always wanted a big family!”

I looked at her, in her twenties now pregnant with her third child. No history of loss. Smiling, happy, accepting and expecting that things of course would work out.

I’ve always wanted a big family. In the beginning of our relationship, Chris and I discussed how many kids we wanted. He wanted two. I wanted five. He came from a family of two kids; I came from a family of five. No wonders there. Because I got married and would be starting a family later in life, I knew that five was unlikely- we sort of agreed on three (though he would sometimes would argue for two still). When Mabel was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, I became firm in my belief I wanted three kids. We needed to ensure she had siblings who would care for her when Chris and I were no longer able to or weren’t around.

I now laugh at myself- even then- at the naivete of those thoughts. As if we have some sort of control of how many kids we get to bring home (I recognize in a way we do- with the medical marvels of birth control and all…). I didn’t realize that when I was wanting three kids I should have been hoping for three living children. Silly me!

I recently posted about grieving parenthood but I’m also grieving the loss of my future family dreams. If I’m lucky enough to get a take home baby- I no there are no guarantees that I’ll be lucky enough to get another. In another world I thought being an only child seemed like a cruel thing. But I wasn’t thinking about the fact that parents might not have had a choice. My childhood was defined by my large family- I want a semblance of that for any future child I might be lucky enough to have. But I feel like asking for more than one living child is greedy. Just give me one, please. In addition to grieving active parenting, I’m grieving parenting a large family- and the innocence in that statement I heard in the office… “I’ve always wanted a big family!”

How have your visions of your future family changed after loss?

Grieving parenthood

As I slowly continue to work my way through this article, I keep finding little points, where I’m nodding my head. “Yes, yes.” I say in my head as I read. It’s incredibly validating. One section keeps reverberating through my head. For some of us, we lost our first pregnancies, which in addition to mourning the loss of our child, we are also mourning the loss of transition into parenthood. Into a new stage of life.

 Especially when it is the first pregnancy or when there are multiple pregnancy losses, there may be developmental interference rather than progression. Internal stagnation is common. Women and their partners experiencing pregnancy loss often talk of not getting on with their life goals, plans, and dreams. They feel stuck, off track, as if they are running in place as life is passing them by. Erikson’s landmark delineation of the eight stages of human development emphasizes the crucial role of generativity, serving as mentor to the next generation, which is typically, though not inevitably, realized in parenthoood.104 A qualitative study of the elderly suggested that lingering grief for their pregnancies of decades ago, and perinatal losses, may be related to their not having any grandchildren, failing to take one’s place in the generational hierarchy.

And that grief is real too.

Many of the usual responses to perinatal loss, such as visualizing or hearing a baby, wishing to have another baby as soon as possible, and feeling intense pain and envy when exposed to other babies, may sometimes be based less on grieving the death of their particular child than on confronting the painful frustration of not being able to parent.

This last line especially speaks to me. I don’t have to justify how sad I am about losing Mabel- losing her as a person. But I want to scream that I am also so sad … SO SAD… that I lost the opportunity to parent. Just like the article says, it hurts watching others with babies, not just because the babies make me think of Mabel, but also watching others parent their children in a way I don’t get to do! I’m so angry about the unfairness of that. I don’t get to see if I can comfort my crying baby, if I’ll struggle with breastfeeding, if I’ll be miserable and sleep deprived. I don’t get to see if I even enjoy parenting. I simply want the opportunity to do so and I have such little control over it.

I know I’m still a mother, a parent- I don’t need reassurance with that. I just wish I could have the chance to be a more traditional mother and parent in an active may, not simply tending a grave and making sure my baby’s name is not forgotten. I am not only grieving my daughter, but I am also grieving the loss of parenthood.

Do you feel this loss as well?