I am grieving a loss. It’s not your typical loss. No one died. I am grieving the fact that I’m done having children.
It comes in waves as most grief does. A photograph can be a trigger. A hug from my five-year-old, a mushy kiss on my cheek, or even a very vivid dream in which I’m holding a baby will all bring me to tears lately.
I am mourning the reality that my children will never again be babies. Dimpled hands that used to reach for me in the middle of the night have been replaced by lean, determined pencil-gripping machines that write me notes, help cut vegetables, and make friendship bracelets. It went so fast, as every grandmother, aunt, and grocery store clerk said it would.
At a time when I should be celebrating the end of diapers and bottles, I am clutching onesies and squirreling away swaddle blankets. Everyone sleeps a full night, and yet, I sometimes miss how my eldest (who is now tall enough to ride all the roller coasters at Disney) used to fit like key-in-lock into the bend of my arm as I breastfed her during the wee hours of the night.
You might ask, “If you’re so sad why not go for another one?” But it’s simply not in the cards for me.
I have stage four endometriosis. If you’ve read anything lately by Lena Dunham, who recently opted to get a hysterectomy, you know too that the best way to combat its excruciating symptoms is with hormonal medication, like birth control. But, I wanted another baby, so I put off taking the pills.
When my youngest child turned three, I had just finished the draft of my first novel, so my husband and I both felt we should go for it. We couldn’t shake the feeling that there was someone missing from our dinner table.
I saw my fertility doctor and scheduled my third laparoscopic surgery to clear my endometriosis (I had surgery before each pregnancy). As my doctor put it, we were going to, “see what we’re working with.” This began a yearlong process of pelvic floor physical therapy (which is so not fun), surgery prep, and ovulation predictors. I only have one fallopian tube—the other was excised during a previous surgery—so we’d have to know which side I was ovulating on each month too. It wasn’t anything new to me, but when you already have two little ones at home, it’s a lot harder to adjust to 7 a.m. follicle monitoring appointments followed by blood work and ultrasounds. It’s downright exhausting—and not just physically.
Surgery showed that my endometriosis had progressed and had infected my appendix. A procedure that was supposed to take two hours resulted in an emergency appendectomy. My recovery was much worse than after my previous two surgeries. As I lay in bed post-op, bruised and sick from medication, I asked myself why I was putting myself through this when I already had two children at home.
Two years later, months of trying for a third child had resulted in nothing. Even worse, symptoms of endometriosis can mimic early signs of pregnancy: bloating, painful cramps, the feeling that your uterus is stretching, tender boobs, the constant urge to pee. It all messed with my head.
One particularly hard month, I had a lighter period than normal followed by weeks of feeling flutter-like movement in my lower belly. A few weeks later, the flutters (which I swore felt just like quickening sensations from a fetus) grew more intense and were coupled with debilitating stomach pain akin to Braxton Hicks contractions. Turns out, those movements in my belly were uncontrollable uterine and bladder spasms caused by an endometriosis flare up.
It got to a point that each month came with such a feeling of loss and letdown. And I was only getting sicker. Days I could have spent with my daughters were instead spent curled up in pain, feeling depressed and irritable, or sleeping.
Today, I’ve started back on a strong oral combination birth control pill to manage my symptoms, and I’ve made the firm decision that a third baby isn’t a possibility. Even though my fertility doctor says he thinks I have a great shot with IVF, and I’m not yet 40 years old, I know that I’m finished with this roller coaster.
This means I’m done having children.
I remind myself constantly, as many medical professionals have, that it’s nothing short of a miracle that I had two healthy babies despite battling this progressive disease.
Now, I think through the next thing I might grow. Perhaps another book. Perhaps just an even deeper appreciation for the moments I have with my growing children. I’m sure there will be times I forget and take the time I spend with my family for granted, but I know I’ll do my damnedest to continue to remind myself of what an amazing life we have.
I will always hold onto those quiet moments of breastfeeding, the kicks in my belly before I met my daughters, the seemingly endless snuggles my eight-year-old freely gave before she started “getting cool” and more tween-like. Thank goodness I could experience all of that. It’s a gift, for sure. A miracle too. Something to cherish, but also something fleeting. And something that’s okay to grieve.