“How can you choose to have a child now?”
She asked me honestly, the way a wise and good friend can.
We’d spent half of dinner talking about how the world is spinning mad, careening out of control. And then she leaned over the table in flickering candlelight and asked me – me sitting there nauseous, me drinking water not wine, me wearing jeans that no longer buttoned – how we could do this again, how on earth we decided to have another baby.
She wasn’t accusatory. She was wondering, curious, maybe even baffled.
I wanted to laugh. I wanted to say I don’t know. I wanted to say that I ask myself the same question – not only because the world feels terrifying, but because we know the intimate, absolute worst that can happen. Because we have buried babies.
But what I tried to tell her was what the poet means.
Neither are we.
We said yes anyway.
. . .
I’ve kept the secret for months.
I spent a year writing here from the honesty of my heart, from the vulnerability of grief. I never held back my pain, my sorrow, my longing.
But then when we decided to try again, we didn’t tell anyone. For a long time.
Truth be told, I was tempted by this writer’s story. I secretly wanted to creep toward 40 weeks and not tell a soul. Then surprise the world with a healthy baby once we could finally breathe deeply.
Of course we couldn’t keep quiet forever. (I get obviously sick and hugely pregnant and could NEVER hide a pregnancy if I tried.) But it took me weeks longer to share the news than I expected.
Why? I wondered.
Family and friends were hoping for us. Wouldn’t we want to give them joy, after they trudged through a year of grief with us?
People come to my blog every day searching for prayers for pregnancy. Wouldn’t I want to connect with their hearts?
What about all you readers, the ones who prayed our family through the worst? Didn’t you deserve to celebrate the best with us, to share in our delight?
Why wouldn’t I want to give everyone the happy ending, the rainbow baby, the dream everyone hoped for? My husband was ready to shout it from the rooftop. I wanted to hold back. (This is not the usual writerly dynamic in our household.)
Here’s why. Because it’s complicated. It’s uncertain. It’s compromised and hard. Pregnancy after loss is nothing like pregnancy before. I thought I learned this after miscarriage, but the death of children after birth is another terrible world.
When you know that babies can die, you are no longer naive.
So I didn’t know where to start. There would be no cutesy announcement. No ultrasound pictures on social media. No “surprise!” at a family party. All of that innocent fun is from a far-off planet, a lifetime ago.
All I can say to you now is the same thing I’ve been saying to you for a year.
Here is my whole heart. It is broken and still beating. It refuses to give up hope.
All I can say to you is that I’m pregnant. Because “we’re expecting” means nothing once your expectations have been ground to shreds. Because “we’re having a baby” means little when death has taken them from your arms.
But I’m pregnant. One trimester down. Two to go.
We hope. We pray.
(There’s nothing else we can do.)
. . .
We’ve been telling family and friends for the past month. Most people are over the moon; a few were surprised. You can see it in their wide eyes: why would you ever do this again? After what you’ve been through? How crazy are you?
Last fall I read a memoir by a grave-digger’s daughter: We’ll Be The Last Ones To Let You Down. At the end of the book, she describes how the baby section at the cemetery convinced her not to have children.
I drew a deep breath and closed the book.
She and I had both stared into the same abyss, the graves of the babies. And we made completely different decisions.
There is no right or wrong way. There is only your own.
And ours is to try again. One more time.
. . .
What does it feel like?
It feels as wild and unpredictable as you might expect. It feels like we are the bravest or stupidest people in the world, depending on the day or the hour. It feels alternately daunting and hopeful, overwhelming and grateful.
But it feels like the way I want to live.
To choose hope over fear. To take one step beyond terror. To look death and despair straight in the face and declare no – you will not steal my joy.
We always wanted four children. We got them, in spades, in ways wildly different from anything we ever expected. Now I nuance: I tell people, we always wanted to raise four children. We still hope that might happen. We have no illusions or guarantees.
The world is not ready for another child. It never has been. This place is a mess.
So we keep going, keep hoping, keep daring to chase a dream. Because dream-chasing is the only way to survive.
I’m pregnant again. And we’re expecting nothing but hoping for good. And we aren’t having a baby, because we already have this baby, because love works like that, it sinks its claws into you the second you say yes, and thank God, it grips fast and doesn’t let go.
Here we are. Here we go.
May delivery be easy,
may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses.
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far.
But not so far
that it sees into the future.
that one gift,
0 heavenly powers.
– from Wislawa Szymborska, “A Tale Begun”