There are two questions you should never ask a woman. The first question is: “when are you due?” The second question is: “when are you going to have a baby?” These are two different questions. If you’ve gotten to a point in your life where you’ve “settled down” with your significant other, the question of “when” is bound to come up. Before I got pregnant, my response was either an awkward, “Oh, I don’t know. Soon, I guess,” or the smart-ass response of “about 9 months after I get pregnant.” Why do people you may or may not know very well feel completely comfortable asking you about your sex life? (Family can ask “when,” but that’s family.) But the question basically boils down to: Are you bumpin’ uglies on the regular with the hope that 9 months later you’ll pop out a screaming little bundle of joy?
The question of “when” assumes that everything can and will work as it should, but that’s not often the case. If you’re anything like me, once you’ve decided it’s time to have a baby, getting pregnant is a driving force in your life. “It’s time to make the babies.” Calendars are carefully marked, sex is scheduled, and pregnancy tests are bought so you can pee on a stick when your period is 15 minutes late. There’s a lot of waiting and hoping and speculating. When you finally get a positive pregnancy test, a different kind of waiting and hoping and speculating comes into play. But what if you’ve been trying and it’s not working? What if you’ve been trying and just found out that you’ll have to go through extraordinary measures to get pregnant? What if you’ve decided to not have children? What if you’ve decided to adopt? What if you know your only option is to adopt? What if you did get pregnant and it didn’t work out? What if you are pregnant and not telling anyone yet? The “what ifs” are endless and there’s no easy way to answer the question of “when.” You’re left to cobble together a response that hopefully satisfies and shuts down further inquiry.
Once you’ve had a child, though, the questions about your procreation don’t stop. Now the questions are, “when will you have another?” or, my favorite, “when will you give her a little brother?” As if you have a choice in the sex of your next child and that the second child will be a gift for the first. (And if you’ve already had two children but they’re the same sex, the question is “are you going to try for a boy/girl?”) These questions, too, are loaded. Maybe you’ve decided that you’re one and done. Maybe you’re trying again and it’s not working. Maybe more extraordinary measures are needed. Or maybe you’re like me and did get pregnant again, but it didn’t work out. When I get asked this question, I usually just nervous laugh because what am I supposed to say? I guess I could say, “well, I did get pregnant again, but I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks. After that, we decided to wait a while because I just wasn’t ready to get back on the baby making horse again.” I’m assuming that that’s not the response people are expecting.
If it had worked out, though, we would be in the homestretch of a pregnancy that happened within the window of time where inquiring minds don’t consider it too early to be pregnant again, but not long enough to where they start to be seriously worried about the state of your uterus. But it didn’t work out. I got pregnant again at the beginning of March, and by the end of May it was over. Until recently, I thought I had put it behind me. Yes, it’s something that still makes me sad, but it was no longer on the surface. However, Margaret said something recently that made it bubble up again.
One afternoon on the way home from school Margaret said that we needed to go the grocery store. We often stop by the store on the way home because what’s the sense in getting all your groceries in one go? I asked her what we needed at the store, and she said she wanted to get “a baby disher.” I ran through a list of things that I thought she might be requesting, all food related, but I couldn’t figure out what she wanted. We went home, and I forgot about the request until later in the evening when Henning was helping her put on her PJs. I asked her to tell him what she wanted from the grocery store, and she said it again, “a baby disher.” Henning understood right away what she wanted: a baby sister. I started crying. Margaret LOVES babies. She has “baby dollies” that she takes care of all the time. This isn’t play that we’ve actively fostered; she’s just a caretaker by nature. I love this about her. Between her love of all things baby, a book they read at school about siblings, and the fact that a lot of Margaret’s schoolmates are becoming big brothers and sisters, she has decided in her wise-beyond-her-years logic that she needs a baby sister and that the baby sister can be bought at the grocery store. Margaret doesn’t know that if everything had worked out, she would be getting a sibling about 3 weeks from now.
I was 6 weeks pregnant when I first thought I was having a miscarriage. I was awoken in the middle of the night by commotion in the bathroom, which turned out to be our cat torturing a mouse in the bathtub. I silent screamed at the sight of the mouse and then sat down on the toilet because my bladder was screaming at me. I saw blood and started to panic. I was just 6 weeks along, but in that short time I already felt a connection. There was exhaustion, morning sickness, and hormonal shifts that made me feel extremely pregnant, Iike we’d already settled into a steady and positive course. I sat on the toilet trying to figure out both how to remove a dying mouse from the bathtub and how to find out if I was having a miscarriage. It was the weekend, but Henning was out of town for work, so the next morning there was a coordinated effort among some amazing neighbors to take care of Margaret and take me to the emergency room. It turned out to be just a scare, a threatened miscarriage. I felt relief in seeing a fluttering jelly-fish looking baby on the ultrasound screen and took comfort in blood work results.
After the scare, I plunged deeper into morning sickness, surviving on chicken broth and noodles and French fries. With each wave of nausea and every pregnancy discomfort, I felt relief that things were going in the right direction. At 9 weeks we saw a gummy-bear looking baby on the ultrasound screen and heard a strong heartbeat. I was feeling optimistic, a feeling I don’t often use liberally when pregnant. We were almost to the point where we could let everyone know that they needn’t ask about when we’ll have another baby—it was already in the works. Then about 2 weeks later, I felt OK. But it was too early to feel OK. Then the bleeding started again, and I knew it was over. We went to my OB/GYN to confirm my suspicion and saw the still outline of a slightly bigger baby on the ultrasound screen; there was no heartbeat.
When Margaret said she wanted a baby sister, I cried because my little caregiver doesn’t know that she would be very close to getting a sibling if everything had worked out. I cried because she had simply deduced that everything can be bought at the grocery store, even a sibling. If only it were that easy. I love seeing her figure things out, even if her conclusions are way off base. (Her early awareness of consumerism is a little alarming, though.) To untangle this connection between everything being available at the grocery store and wanting a sibling, I talked with her about where babies come from, using very primitive examples. We talked about how Margaret was in my belly and how her cousin was in my sister’s belly. We talked about how when the baby is ready, he or she comes out. I’m sure she understood very little of what I was trying to explain, but my basic point was: you can’t buy a baby at a grocery store (at least not legally, I’m assuming). It’s not that simple; it takes much more than that.
I didn’t tell her that there had been another baby in my belly and that that baby came out, too, but far too early. She doesn’t know that one day in May while she was at school Henning and I went to an outpatient surgical center so I could have a D&C. I treated it like a simple procedure, not letting myself think about what was actually happening—the remains of our second baby were going to be removed from me and sent to a lab for genetic testing. Sent away to hopefully help answer the question of “why.” Why had this happened? It wasn’t until I walked into the operating room did it hit me—we were going to have a baby and now we’re not. Now we’re sending tissue to a lab. I started shaking and my eyes brimmed with tears. I climbed onto the table and laid down. My OB/GYN said something about what she would do, the anesthesiologist put the mask over my face, and I was out. I woke up as if no time had passed, but it was done.
We found out that there was nothing wrong genetically with the baby. There was no explanation for why the pregnancy ended. Through a chromosome test, though, we found out that the baby was a boy. The little brother that people ask about existed briefly. I felt a tinge of guilt about this—like Margaret, I wanted her to have a sister, too. What if my body sensed this and said, “nope, sorry, no boys here”? Margaret is too young to know or understand what happened. The only thing she knows is that she had to stop nursing because Mommy had a boo boo. And now she knows that she wants “a baby disher.” The question of when this will happen is still unknown because making it happen isn’t like a trip to the store.
And the next time you feel the urge to ask whether there will be another baby and when that might happen, just know that maybe the next baby did happen, but it didn’t work out.
P.S. Margaret, if you do end up having a baby brother one day, though, I’m sorry, dear, you’re going to have to deal (and I’m sure you’ll love him) because Mom and Dad are two and through.