Friday, March 23, 2012

I see pregnant people everywhere

Everybody I know is pregnant or has a newborn.


That's an exaggeration. But not too much of one. One more pregnant friend and I won't be able to count them all on one hand anymore.

Naturally, being surrounded by pregnant women, moms of toddlers, and big sisters of newborns, I am frequently faced with the question of whether I want another child. Or, if we want another child. Or, if Ella wants to be a big sister. (Like she'd have a choice in the matter!) Sometimes the question comes from friends, sometimes family, sometimes acquaintances, sometimes strangers.

Everyone gets a different answer.

I took a quiz on the matter because I "liked" the TV show Up All Night on Facebook and it was one of their posts. It was amusing, so I shared it, and now I get even more questions regarding the expansion of our family of three.

According to the quiz, I am not ready (yet) to have another child:

Take More Time
As much as you would like to have another child, it takes two to tango and it might be best to wait a year or two. Your family is still getting used to having the first child, and in time, you'll start craving all the cooing and late night diaper changes.

Two of my friends have since told me that they took the quiz; both got the same results and neither of them plan to have more children.

A few of the questions on the quiz made me nervous because they obviously pointed to "hurry up and get pregnant!"--tiny baby clothes make me nostalgic for Ella's 8 lb. 8 oz. days, I would rather watch Three Men and a Baby than Children of the Corn or Baby Boom, I think of Ella's first week of life as a time of joy at the gift of a child for us to love, not a time of sleepless nights and dirty diapers.

Some of the questions calmed me down a bit because they seemed to indicate that either I am not ready or simply do not want to have another baby. When I hear another baby crying I am relieved that I don't have to deal with it. I want a vacation in the Bahamas instead of Disneyland.

I had Justin take the quiz, too, not before he said, "I don't want another kid," when he saw the title: "Baby Fever?"

He gave similar answers: he believed I am hesitant but willing to negotiate about having another baby, and that Ella would feel nervous about her place in the family if she had a baby sibling.

Our only serious variance, which concerned me greatly, was this: He described his life as "hectic" while I chose answer "A) Balanced."

"That's just my life," he said. I mean, really. The guy works in an ER (not exactly an environment known for its soothing qualities), comes home to a toddler who wants to play with him and a wife who knows he will cook and do dishes on his day off. What did I expect?

Still, I'm hoping we can help him feel like his life is more balanced and less hectic. (My vote is that he doesn't take as many extra shifts, since he actually likes playing with Ella, cooking, and doing the dishes. (Seriously! He told me he finds it relaxing!))

Justin scored "Take More Time" and said, "We don't have a year or two." So that settles that.

It's easy to get caught up in baby fever when you're surrounded by young pregnant women. (I just remembered two more pregnant friends. Seven! Officially counting on two hands. Wait. Eight!) When soon-to-be big sisters ask Ella if she's going to be a big sister, too, it's hard not to feel a little flutter of hope/disappointment for her. Don't all little girls want to be a big sister at some point in their lives? Didn't I always think I would have two children?

Everybody's doing it!

But I have to remember that pregnancy isn't so easy for some women. Yes, I have some friends who say they want to have a child, choose a preferred month in which that child might be born, think that it's going to take a few months for "it" to happen, plan accordingly, and then get pregnant right away. (Too soon!) There are variations on these "success" stories. But there are also the friends who have had multiple miscarriages, who have lost babies, who have tried various medical interventions to achieve pregnancy and still don't have babies.

I have to remember that not everybody is doing it.

There are some reasons not to try to have another baby:
1. The sleepless nights
2. The dirty diapers
3. The inconsolable crying (of the baby, usually)
4. That Ella will be at least three years older than her (what will they have in common?)
5. That it might not be a her
6. That we love Ella so much
7. That another baby won't be Ella

Obviously, some of these reasons have simple solutions or aren't even good reasons. The sleepless nights, dirty diapers, and inconsolable crying do suck, but they come to an end. The age difference could be a blessing--Ella would have her own space and experience and toddlerhood on her own, and a sibling would have someone to look up to instead of just across at. Maybe they wouldn't be as competitive with each other (as compared to, oh, a brother and sister only 13 months apart). Sure, we'd have kids in high school and college for about 12 years in a row, but who doesn't want to drag those experiences out?

What if it's a boy. I'm still not equipped to raise a boy. Have I mentioned Ella's legendary mad laundry-folding skills? Her delicate use of crayons? That I can sometimes find her quietly reading in the living room? That she puts her toys away? That when we're shopping in Target and she sees an item on the floor instead of on the shelf she says, "Uh-oh!" and points at it?

Obviously, we love Ella so much. Yes, we know love expands and there's more to go around. Everyday I think my heart is as full of love as it can possibly get and then the next day somehow there is more. We could share our love with another kid and Ella wouldn't lose a drop of it.

But another baby won't be Ella. Chances are really good on this one being true. We have had it so easy with Ella. Even in the hospital, the nurses were in awe of her disposition. They were on the verge of worrying about her, she was so quiet. Ella is a good, good baby.

No one gets this lucky twice.

But realistically, there is another, much darker and much more important reason not to ever get pregnant again.

My health and the health of the baby.

I am not one of those women who loved being pregnant. It's not just because I felt sick most of the time, though day and night for nine months it was like having the flu (not all the time, but off and on for nine months). I was 35 years old when Ella was born, so that automatically catapulted me into the high risk category. Some people regard 35 as an arbitrary age for doctors to get concerned about Down Syndrome and other birth defects, but I figure it's about as arbitrary as nine months being long enough for a baby to become ready for the world outside the uterus. The numbers do change, the eggs do get old, the body does work differently.

In addition to my age, I was a high risk pregnancy because of all the medications I take to keep my mood disorder under control. I know lots of women go off their meds when they so much as consider getting pregnant, but I was not one of them. Firstly, we had given up on the possibility of pregnancy because we'd tried for so long and then miscarried and then not gotten pregnant again. Fertility issues seemed to be getting the better of us. Secondly, and more importantly, I don't actually do life that well without my medicine. Once you've been to a place where you believe viable solutions to your problems include causing yourself pain or killing yourself, you pretty much do whatever you can to avoid going back there.

I love my psychiatrist. I saw five or so other ones before I found her. She is a genius. It's hilarious that what I'm on is called a cocktail, but she is one hell of a mixologist. I was in a pretty bad place when she started treating me. In her care, I have been incredibly stable despite numerous chemical changes that she has rolled with, tweaking doses, subtracting one med, adding another. Whatever it takes.

When I told her I was pregnant it really freaked her out. Even her. I could tell. She immediately did research on each of my medications to see what there was to be seen about whether they should be dropped because of possible harm to the baby. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of concrete evidence out there as to the effects of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety medications on pregnant women and their fetuses. It's not like you can take a bunch of women with chemical imbalances and get them pregnant, withhold medications from some of them, give medications to others, and see what happens. So we had to rely on mice. I did clearly have to give up two things, so I did. (I never name the medications in my blog, since everyone's experience differs.) The rest were question marks. She decided she'd talk with my perinatologist (the extra OB I got to have who specialized in high risk pregnancies) and they'd discuss my options. It's important to remember that everybody's brain has chemicals in it, and that a chemical imbalance is simply moderated by, well, chemicals. It's also important to remember that the effects of an unchecked chemical imbalance (otherwise known as depression/bipolar II/anxiety/whatever) also hasn't been researched on actual pregnant women. (Same problem as with researching the meds.) It's fair to assume that depression is not healthy for a fetus, either. This might be due to the funky chemicals in the mother's brain messing with the development of the child. This might be due to the funky chemicals in the mother's brain causing her to do less than healthful things during her pregnancy--those are too numerous to even attempt to list.

As she put it, "If you were diabetic we wouldn't ask you to go off your meds because you're pregnant."

These two doctors who see terrible things happen to mommies and babies but also see goodness and light had a conference call or two about me. We decided I should stay the course with my medications.

It was a terrifying nine months.

Was the baby OK? Was I OK? Was something miscarriage-y happening? Was I causing harm with every pill I swallowed?

I'm not really up for that again.

Plus, even if I were to get pregnant this month, I'd be 38 when the baby was born. These eggs aren't getting any fresher.

I would not go off my medications in the event of a pregnancy. I can't take that risk. Now, I can't even just chance it because I believe it might make my baby healthy (again, no guarantee that's even true!). I can't mess with my health because Ella needs me. And Justin can't have me in the hospital again. Last time, that one time, he was in medical school. It wasn't good timing, but now it would be impossible. How could he work? What about Ella? I'm getting nervous just thinking about it.

So, we'd be at a higher risk of having a baby born with birth defects due to my age and my health?

That's a crazy gamble.

And it's not fair.

It's not fair to the baby to have these cards stacked against him from even before the beginning.

I could never live with myself if something went wrong. Even though I know it wouldn't necessarily be my fault (so little is known!), I would crumble under the guilt. And I don't know that I have the wherewithal to deal with those consequences.

And that's just for getting through gestation! I'm not even going to start on how risky it is for me to attempt to live with a toddler/preschooler and an infant under my care. I can (hopefully) stay sane with Ella, but with two kids? Even healthy people get tired. 

To be honest, when I first wrote "it's not fair" I was thinking about the baby. It really wouldn't be fair to him. But there was a moment when I had that self-pitiful tug that it's not fair to me, either. It's not fair that I can't be one of those young women who just wants to have a baby or two and so she does and there is no grave fear or problem. I do feel sad about it.

But it's also not fair that I get to have Ella. She is perfect. We are perfect together, Justin, Ella, and I.  It's not "fair"--it's an amazing blessing, a gift from God, a true, living example of grace.

Ella is our family.

One of the choices for an answer in the quiz was whether when you picture having one more child you feel like you have "a complete family."

I do.

But I also see my family as complete now, just the three of us.

If we could do it all over again and have another healthy baby that would be amazing. But it's not very realistic.

It is amazing right now. Tonight, Ella wrapped her arms around my neck when I picked her up. I said, "Hug!" because I narrate almost everything I do with her, and she squeezed so tight that I could feel her little muscles tremble with the effort.

1 comment:

B. Wilson said...

I don't really know how to comment on this, but I really want to. You're a wonderful mother and so considerate. You've obviously weighed the risks/interests and it sounds like a house of 3 is exactly fine. Ella is one loved babe.