Early on day two of my bedrest, a perinatal specialist came in to consult with me. He was positive about my stability, confident that I would make it to the 48-hour mark, and hoped I would even get in another week or so before going into labor. I was relieved.
“And for the next one,” he said, “we can just put in a little stitch and you’ll be fine.”
“Oh, I don’t think I’ll be doing this again,” I heard myself say. He waved me off and said it was a simple procedure (it’s called cervical cerclage) and kept talking. I didn’t hear any of the rest of what he said. My own words were echoing in my ears like calls of “Baby! Baby! Ruth! Ruth!”
I always knew I wanted to have at least two kids. My experiences being a sibling have not always been painless, but they’ve resulted in two of the most valuable relationships in my life. My mother was an only child and recommended against it wholeheartedly. My husband is the third of four children, and his mother was also an only child; he had trepidations about two, but obviously, we agreed that more than one child was a good idea.
But lying in that bed with an IV in my arm (for the second time), getting pumped full of antibiotics (for the second time), and looking forward to my baby staying in the NICU (for the second time), my mouth told my heart what it already knew: I would not be doing this again. I would have two daughters, and I would not be getting pregnant a third time. Something about consecutive stays in the NICU, consecutive uterine infections, consecutive eye-popping medical bills–on top of the fact that I’ll be 36 in August, which means any future pregnancies will be squarely in the “geriatric” zone–makes a girl want to say “Eight may be enough for some, but two and we’re through.”
The revelation made me a little sad. I’ve spent the last 22 years knowing that I had a pregnancy in my future–someday, not now, maybe, but someday, I’d see the positive on a pregnancy test, feel the first kick, see my belly begin to pooch out and swell. Pick out names. Buy a layette. More recently, bring the baby home and introduce him or her to older siblings. But now, I know, that’s in my past–I won’t be doing it again.
What’s more, I feel as though the decision has been made for me, by my body. I have no idea what it is to not be able to have children, and I’m not trying to say I know what that experience is like, but now I know what it is to have your body give strong “Do not pass go” signals. I had no trouble getting pregnant either time, but it’s carrying through safely to the end that I seem to have difficulty with. The first time, it was an infection; the second, the incompetent cervix. And the prospect of getting a stitch in my cervix to hold in an 8-pound baby feels, to me, like crossing the dilapidated bridge in Romancing the Stone. Every step of the way, we’d be asking: will it hold? Should I walk lighter? Should I lay down more? What if while walking to work I jolt too hard and my foot slips through a loose plank and my shoe falls off into the rushing rapids below and I don’t have Michael Douglas to swing in and sweep me to safety?
No, thanks. Sure, never say never, but I’ll put it this way: with Gillian, we weren’t trying, but we weren’t not trying, either. From here on out we’re going to be full-on NOT trying.
On the flip side, knowing the decision’s been made is liberating. We can officially get rid of all the kids’ clothes without wondering if we’ll need them again. Carseat: gone. Strollers: gone. All but the stuff I want to save for their daughters: gone. No more stress of pregnancy. I can decide to train to run a half-marathon again. No more stressing about how maternity leave will cut into my work schedule. No wondering if we’ll need to buy a minivan to accommodate a third carseat. And praise the lord, no more waking up at 3 AM to pump my breasts. And all without any residual guilt that I’m not giving Gillian a baby brother or sister; I can just tell her, “Look, kid, I wasn’t about to put myself through that insanity a third time.” (I grew up Catholic. Most decisions result in residual guilt.)
Of course, there are some things I know I’ll miss. Baby-cuddling is in a class by itself. But that’s what grandchildren are for.
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