When Ellie was 22 months old we decided to start trying to have another baby. I imagined they would be 2.5 years apart—with enough distance to feel less gripped by competition and close enough to have things in common. I got pregnant in 8 weeks with Ellie and I imagined the second time around would be no different. Sixteen periods and 29 negative pregnancy tests later we are still trying for number two.
It feels selfish and ungrateful to grieve secondary infertility. How can I feel so sad about not having a second child when I have such an amazing and wonderful little girl by my side?
The days get separated by my malfunctioning cycle. My period ends and I’m cautiously hopeful—maybe this will be the month it happens. Maybe the acupuncture or Clomid or herbs or new diet or new sex schedule will give me my baby. My ovulation window starts and I pee on sticks and take my temperature and eat lots of almonds and have an exhausting amount of obligatory sex with my beautiful husband. I’m past the point of ovulation and I tip toe around my life. I try to exercise with less intensity and I guard my stomach from my daughter’s flailing arms and legs when she shakes with laughter. I whisper to my uterus that I can make a nice home for a little embryo—that our whole family is ready for you. And then when I’m two or three days from my period my anticipation peaks and I feel a compulsive need to take a pregnancy test.
I imagine dressing Ellie in the “I’m a Great Big Sister” T-shirt that’s tucked away in her closet and greeting my husband when he comes home and waiting until he sees the T-shirt and gives me a beaming smile and I smile back and cry—and then the test is negative and my dream shatters and I tell myself that it’s still pretty early and I should try again in a few days. My period comes and I feel so dejected and helpless and I begrudgingly get a tampon which feels vaguely like I’m plugging up tears from my vagina and I wonder if our family is complete and I need to say goodbye to the second baby I imagine.
We go for a walk or to a party and acquaintances get down on one knee and look Ellie in the eye and say enticingly “I bet you’re ready for a sibling!” and my heart explodes with anger and grief and I’m mostly mad because as naïve as they are, they are right—she is ready for a sibling. Ellie’s dolls have all become her little baby sisters and my husband and I are cast in the roles of big brother and big sister. We are her parents and her siblings and more often than not her playmates and it is intense.
My close friends ask if or when we’re going to try Intrauterine Insemination or Invitro-Fertilization. It feels like we’re not trying hard enough and if we really wanted this baby we would put aside the time and money for the appointments and the costs. I think about scheduling an initial consultation, but I can’t do it. I tell people it’s because I’m scared of having twins which is partially true. Maybe I am a little ambivalent. Maybe a part of me loves the intensity of parenting one child. She gets us all to herself and her love is unguarded and free from defenses and intoxicating. Maybe I don’t want to let myself want this baby any more than I already do. I dream this baby and breathe this baby. I hold other people’s babies to my womb and hope that childbirth is contagious. I worry that I won’t be able to withstand investing in this baby any more than I already have.
My husband feels like the horizon on a boat. He wants a baby and he loves our family the way it is and he wants me and Ellie to be happy and he can hold all of those feelings without swaying and I look at him in this storm and I feel a little less nauseous. I won’t get off the boat and I can’t stop the storm but I can look at the horizon.