pregnancy

"I was saying goodbye to an entire phase of my life." The tough decision to stop having kids.

This post deals with miscarriage and might be triggering for some readers. 

The ultrasound technician wiped off the wand, handed me a box of wet wipes, and apologised once more before leaving my husband and me alone in the darkened room. I cleaned up as best I could, pulled on my underwear and pants over the sticky goop that never quite wipes clean, and went to the chair where my husband was seated. I draped my arms around his shoulders, resting my forehead on the crown of his head.

My tears fell into his hair. “I can’t do this again,” I said, and that was that.

Watch: Tina Arena speaks to Mia Freedman about her miscarriage on No Filter. Post continues below.

Video by Mamamia

We’d resisted making a firm decision about having more children.

Nine months earlier, our daughters were four and six years old and we still hadn’t decided whether or not we would have more children. My husband wanted one more. I was ambivalent, but as the years passed and the newborn days faded into memory, I became certain I didn’t want to repeat them. I loved my job and I was finally regaining some of my autonomy after so much time serving the children day in and day out.

Some Friday nights, glass of wine in hand as we watched a rare television show together, one of us would ask, “Are we gonna have any more kids?”

“I don’t know…” the other would begin, and we would take turns ticking off our well-rehearsed pro and con list. The cons were very concrete; the pros more abstract. It was apples and oranges and in the end, we’d move on without a resolution.

Eventually, I started saying, “I don’t think so.” It was getting late, and hitting the reset button seemed ever more difficult the older our girls got.

And then I got pregnant.

My husband beamed when I told him; I cried. I’d thought that door was closed, and it was a jolt to my system for it to swing open so abruptly.

I had some time to settle into the idea of having another baby, though. We started making plans to remodel the house; we even started talking about names. When I miscarried, it felt natural to try again.

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After the second miscarriage, though, I was physically and emotionally spent. That day in the ultrasound suite, I became firm in my conviction that the childbearing years of my life were over.

Not having any more children was the logical choice.

Two days after the procedure to remove tissue from my second miscarriage, I was in the emergency room with an infection. I doubt I was ever very close to death, but with a 104-degree temperature that didn’t respond to medication and a pain in my uterus that felt like I was being ripped in half, I certainly saw death as a possibility.

I wasn’t getting any younger. After two losses and this terrible post-loss experience, it seemed irresponsible to try again. Why would I risk leaving my two living children without a mother simply to chase some misplaced nostalgia? I just couldn’t justify rolling the dice.

The girls were getting older. They each had their own set of needs and challenges. Their schedules were getting fuller, their activities more expensive. Adding another human into the mix would exponentially increase the agony of schedule juggling.

I had quit my job and begun a new career in writing. My kids were both in school most of the day, leaving me time to work and keep house but also attend their events, take them to appointments, and actually take care of myself for the first time in my life as a mother.

I developed a healthy diet, a meal planning routine, and a workout schedule.

We were all finally sleeping through most nights, and not once did we have to schedule events around anyone’s sleep schedule.

Yes, best to dust off our hands and call it a day.

Still, the decision to not have any more children made us both sad.

The night of that ultrasound, after we put the kids to bed, my husband went for a drive. While he was gone, I lay in bed and wept. Silent tears turned into sobs that wracked my entire body. Alone and in the dark, I was finally able to let out all the grief and anger that had been piling up since the day I handed my husband that first unexpected positive test.

My husband likely wept that night, too, as he drove around and processed his feelings about the baby, and the not-baby, and the never-baby.

Both of us were sad about the miscarriage, but there was more to it than that. There was a finality to things this time that hadn’t existed before, and it hit both of us harder than we expected.

My husband felt helpless, not having any input. Sure, he realised I would be the one assuming the risk and responsibility of carrying a baby, possibly losing another baby, and, if not, nursing it for a huge chunk of time afterwards. He was aware of all the physical and emotional baggage I’d be subject to. But, as the other parent, he understandably felt left out of the decision. 

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My grief deepened into the existential. As I wept under the covers that night, I realised I wasn’t just saying goodbye to the two angels I had lost in the previous few months. I was saying goodbye to an entire phase of my life. Saying the words out loud, “I will never do this again,” had placed a bookend on my childbearing years that I had never really considered before. 

The situation also lacked a sense of closure that I think we both craved. Had we stopped after our second daughter, we could have eventually been okay with being done, a sort of slow tapering of the desire to answer the “what if”s. But ending this stage in our life with two miscarriages made it all the more emotionally striking.

From time to time I would wonder what it would be like to feel a baby inside me once more. When my kids asked for a sibling I would feel a pang of nostalgia, sad I’d never hold one of my progeny to my breast again. Confident as I was in my decision, I was surprised at how sad it all made me.

The decision to stop having children is a milestone event.

Learning to walk. Graduation. Committing to somebody. Having children.

Whether they happen suddenly or after much planning, in the traditional order or not, eventually these milestones will happen to most of us. Up until now, the milestones in my life have been joyful — the beginnings of something.

Deciding I was finished having kids was something else. It represented an ending, and a sad one at that. It was a signal that one phase in my life — one in which I was youthful and energetic, building up my family, my career, my friend base, creating and welcoming the next generation into my family and the world — was over.

With every onesie, toy, or piece of baby furniture I give away, the sadness sets in. I’ll never need this again, I think, and then I remember that I’ll also never feel the kicks of a baby from inside my body, or the feeling of my milk letting down as I nourish my infant.

It’s part of the natural order of things, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be sad or nostalgic about it.

One phase of my life is over, and the best way I’ve found to be at peace with that is to remember that another is beginning. I’ll look back in five years, or twenty, or fifty, and I’ll be thankful that the sleepless nights eventually ended, and the nappy changes and the sound of midnight pitter-patters on the floor are a thing of the past. I’ll relish the fact that my children can do for themselves that which they used to rely on me for, and I will enjoy having mature conversations with them.

That day will come, and alongside it more milestones, each gradually revealing my mortality in greater clarity. The days and years will pass, without regard to my nostalgia, until one day there is nothing left.

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But until then, I’ll just keep wiping noses and tying shoes and chauffeuring my girls to softball games and swim team and therapy sessions, and know that whatever phase I happen to be in at the time — that’s where I’m needed.

Feature Image: Getty. The feature image used is a stock image.

If this has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Sands Australia 24 hour support line on 1300 072 637. 

You can download Never Forgotten: Stories of love, loss and healing after miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death for free here.

Join the community of women, men and families who have lost a child in our private Facebook group.

Nikki is a career educator from Massachusetts, USA. She’s passionate about social and educational equity as well as children’s rights and mental health empowerment. When she’s not writing at the local independent coffee house, she can be found lifting weights, playing fetch with her pup, or trying her wits at an escape room. She lives with her partner and children just outside Boston. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @NikkiKayAuthor.

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