Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Indecision City, Population: Two


Embryo transfer date confirmed, backup profile selected, and medication protocol underway, I should have felt settled and satisfied. I felt neither.

A lot had changed since December when we were last approaching an embryo transfer. Our daughter was now mobile and her personality was asserting itself. She was insatiably curious, increasingly stubborn, and needed constant supervision. I’m not complaining (I am nothing if not curious and stubborn myself), but somehow, I’d forgotten that taking care of little babies was actually a breeze compared to burgeoning toddlers.

Our daughter was now sleeping through the night again, but I found myself awake at 1 a.m., staring at the ceiling, wondering if we were being reckless in pursuing the dream of another child.

When my husband and I discussed it, we went 'round and 'round the same concerns about having a sibling for our daughter: Do we have enough money? Can we handle more stress? How will another baby affect our marriage? Will we need to hire help? Can we afford that?

When my husband rattled off all these concerns, any rational person would agree that having another baby was crazy. Ah, but when it comes to babies, I am not a rational person. When I saw siblings out in the world playing together, or I witnessed a sweet moment between my teens, I’d think, “Of course the baby should have a sibling.”

And yet, we'd finally scraped together some balance in our days. In addition to working and parenting, I had time to exercise and meditate and pray every day. I had my body back – no, even better: I was 15 pounds thinner than I was pre-pregnancy. Life was pretty good. Why mess with it?

But then I thought about how every milestone our daughter hit – standing up and clapping are her latest adorable achievements – were the last of these kinds of milestones I would see if there would be no more babies, and that made me sad.

When I rattled off the pros and cons of having another baby in my head, it was clear there was only one pro: that the baby would have a sibling. On the flip side, there were so many cons: health risks, financial strain, marital stress, energy depletion. But I couldn’t bring myself to cancel the transfer – and my husband seemed stuck in a state of resigned inaction.

“I wish there was a professional decision-maker we could go to,” I told my husband after we rent ‘round and ‘round again discussing all this. “We’d give them all the information we have and then they’d decide for us.”

“You want a stranger to make this decision?” he said.

“At least that way, if it was the wrong decision, we could blame the misstep on them.”

My husband thought this idea was ridiculous.

“Well, I would throw ridiculous amounts of money at someone to make decisions for me right now,” I replied.

I mentally toyed with the idea of abandoning the dream of another child and just focusing on our daughter. On easy days, I would dote on our daughter and feel my heart swell with how much I loved her. I would think, “She’s enough – more than enough. Why do I need anyone else?” And on hard days, I would think, “I don’t have the desire or the energy to do all this again from day one.”

One early morning, my husband made this announcement: “I don’t think I can be a good parent to any more children.”

I’ll admit: I’d had similar thoughts. I knew another baby would not get as much affection and attention that our daughter does. There just aren’t enough arms and energy. I also didn’t want my children to grow up in a household with unhappily married parents – though I suppose we were at risk of being unhappy regardless of how many children we had.

But my fears hadn’t outweighed my hope. Not yet. Especially not after my lining check ultrasound, which revealed an incredible 17mm of cushion in my baby house! (For reference, 8mm is the minimal endometrial lining thickness required for a transfer.) Mine was so impressive, the sonographer said, “You go, girl!” 

My husband was not wowed by my super-womb. He was a dark, toxic cloud that loomed over what should have been a time of delightful anticipation. This was why I hadn’t wanted to cancel the transfer in December – I knew that given too much time to contemplate, one or both of us might change our minds.

“Are you saying you want to cancel the transfer?” I asked my husband after he dropped the aforementioned truth bomb.

My husband started to cry, which confused me because I thought canceling would make him happy, right? Didn’t he want to be relieved of the pressure?

“Do you think it’s easy for me to tell you this?” he asked.

It seemed easy enough. He said it, didn’t he? Or did he? What was he saying?

“If you’ve decided we can’t go forward, then you call West Coast IVF and cancel,” I said. “You explain to them that you’ve had a change of heart – if that’s what this even is. I’m not going to be the bad guy.”

Of course, my husband didn’t want to do that. Or maybe he wanted to, but he was afraid of my reaction. So our discussion fizzled out, only to be reignited every few days when something would set us off.

Would canceling the transfer be a relief? Or would it welcome in a new wave of grief? It was easy to pretend I would be calm and regret-free post-cancellation when I still had the transfer scheduled. It’s like fantasizing about breaking up with someone you’re still sleeping with at night and drinking coffee across from every morning. You don’t know how devastating it will be until you actually end it and have to confront the gaping chasm of emptiness where their presence once was.

Also: this wasn’t just a decision about a transfer, or even about a baby – it was about the end of an era. What would it feel like to close the door on my fertility, forever? I wouldn’t know until I got there.

I took to Google, seeking answers. I researched outcomes of only children (because, while I have two teens, the age gap between them and our daughter is 16 and 17 ½ years; our daughter would basically be growing up as an only child). All the studies said that only children fared just fine; they are no more likely to experience loneliness or depression than people with siblings (though they are more likely to be obese, interestingly). Only children are, however, more likely to be successful as adults.

So, there was that – the rational, scientific take on whether or not to have another child. But what about the emotional value of siblings? On this, the internet seemed divided. There are many only children who say they desperately wanted a sibling growing up and/or wish they had one now, as adults, to lean on. There are also many people with siblings who point out that growing up together doesn’t guarantee any kind of bond. Sometimes siblings are close, but they aren’t always. I could certainly think of examples of both scenarios in my family and social circles.

As for the infertility community, I didn’t even bother asking their opinion. Women who have experienced infertility are all incredibly supportive when someone is undergoing treatment, but don’t you dare drop even a hint of ambivalence on their social media spaces. It’s as if the first rule of Infertility Club is: Never, ever give up! No. Matter. What.

“Are you still hellbent on doing this thing on Friday?” my husband asked me one morning.

“It’s on Monday, not Friday,” I replied, frustrated that he couldn’t even remember the timeline of when I was supposed to fly across the country to get pregnant. “And I’m withholding any decision-making until I speak with my therapist.”

I think my husband thought my therapist would talk me out of the transfer. I hoped for the opposite – that she would encourage me onward. Of course, what I got was typical therapist spiel: objectivity and non-answers. Don’t get me wrong; it felt cathartic to talk it all out with Shania. But her conclusion was: “It’s not the decision itself that matters; it’s how you two come to a decision together.”

It reminded me of a column in The Atlantic by therapist Lori Gottlieb (whose perspective I usually love) in which a woman was considering divorce because her husband refused to give her another child. Gottlieb essentially told the woman to coddle her husband’s feelings and accept that she might have to smother her baby dream so that her husband could take more naps. (This is my ruthless interpretation, which is naturally biased given that I’m going through a similar situation; others will probably read it differently.)

I told Shania that my husband and I have talked this thing to death and we just keep having the same conversation. I already know his fears about moving forward (money, stress, relationship quality) and his fears about not moving forward (my anger and resentment). I know why he sticks his head in the sand (he’s afraid of my reactions; as he probably should be). What new information could possibly come from another conversation?

Shania gave me a set of questions to ask my husband and encouraged me to be non-threatening when listening to the answers. She told me to be present in the process and to avoid charging ahead to the outcome. 

But instead of feeling curious and compassionate about what my husband was going through, I was infuriated. Why did it seem like he got to make this decision, not me? How could we make a decision together if we couldn't agree on how to proceed? And when it comes to having a baby with IVF, there really is no such thing as compromise. You either do it or you don’t.

During our session, Shania acknowledged how frustrating it was that I’d spent the last six months filling out paperwork, fighting with West Coast IVF, undergoing procedures, and taking medications, only to have to contemplate canceling the transfer this late in the game. If we were going to shut down the baby factory, what the fuck had I spent the last half-year doing? Was it all for nothing?

“It’s like training for a marathon and not getting to run it,” she said.

Yes…but no. It’s like training for a marathon and being told you will never run again, even though you’re raring to go and your body is perfectly capable.

So here we are, on the cusp of one of the most important decisions of our marriage – if not our lives – and I’m instructed to just sit back and listen (’cause that will go well) while my half-packed suitcase awaits next to the bed...

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