parent opinion

'I didn't want a second child. But I ended up at the IVF clinic anyway.'

At the beginning of this year, we began IVF for a second child. 

We had done IVF before for my first child and despite a rather harrowing experience, got pregnant fairly quickly.

What happened next turned out to precipitate perhaps the biggest realisation about myself so far in this life.

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I’d always wanted kids. 

Probably two, I thought. 

I imagined a big noisy, chaotic dinner table when they all came home, grown-up, every Christmas. I started getting broody at about 28, but we waited - I had a job I’d wanted since I was 10, touring constantly, and my partner (to be husband) and I, with a shared love of adventure, had some travelling to do.

We came home from our honeymoon and got to it. 

Conceiving turned out to be a bit more complicated than we had hoped. Due to a completely unforeseen issue, we had to go down the IVF route. 

It was a total kick in the guts shock for both of us, but we got through it. In all its science experiment-like weirdness, we fell pregnant, and soon that side of things was a distant memory.

I loved being pregnant, and the high-achiever, never-sit-still part of me revelled in how self-indulgent with my time I could be. 

Walking instead of running, slow, easy yoga instead of pumped up heated classes, actually giving myself permission to sit down for lunch instead of gulping it on the run.

When it came to the birth, I also loved my labour, and was in awe of what my body could do. All that stuff was beautiful and challenging; for the most part enjoyable. 

What nobody can prepare you for (as any parent will agree) is what comes next. 

Once my daughter was born, I was hit in the face with the proverbial New Parent Brick.

Coming from a highly successful, high-profile job, my expectations of myself were extremely high - too high in fact - and it wasn’t long before I plummeted hard into post-natal anxiety, overwhelm and a giant sense of failure as a new mum. 

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I drove myself crazy with guilt for not loving motherhood like I was told I should be. I love my daughter more than I ever knew I could love, but it was in confusing paradox with this resentment I felt for this tiny tyrant stripping me of my freedom and personal space that I so highly valued. 

It felt like a never-ending hamster wheel. 

Some days when I got out to go to the grocery store on my own, I fantasised about simply driving away and not coming back. Then I’d feel terrible for feeling that, and so the cycle would continue.

Ever the planner, thinking of the next thing, I also started tormenting myself about having another baby. 

Even just six months after my daughter arrived, I’d have sleepless nights, think about all the reasons I SHOULD have another baby - pleasing the family, giving our daughter a sibling, etc.

The thought of intensifying what I was right in the thick of, though, made me feel physically weak at the knees.

As many of my mum friends with kids the same age began to fall pregnant with their seconds, I felt more and more isolated by my distinct lack of an urge to start trying again. 

Everyone I voiced this to said something to the effect of "you’ll change your mind when the time comes," or "come on, just do it - it’s so much easier the second time round".

But for the good girl in me who had always done everything I ‘should’ do, these comments made me feel even more isolated.  

Was there something wrong with me? Maybe I wasn’t a good enough mother to have another kid? Or maybe I simply just didn’t have the capacity that other mums did?

I felt guilty and abnormal for feeling like this. 

The feeling of failure intensified the more time passed. I was also acutely aware that the clock was ticking. If I waited until the magical day I woke up ‘ready’, would I even have the choice anymore? 

There was another thing at play for me too - and I don't think it gets acknowledged enough in our society. 

As well as being Mothers, we are Women, many of whom love their work. 

For me, my work has always been a vocation and a passion, and I get immense joy and energy from it. 

Since getting back into it after my daughter arrived, I had successfully navigated a pretty massive career pivot which I was immensely proud of, and the thought of putting all my work on the back burner again for a second child didn’t feel right.

It was a huge sacrifice that I didn't know if I was willing to make.

But I didn't feel like I would outwardly acknowledge this for fear of being judged; called selfish, whiny, and a bad mother.

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Back and forth I went, endlessly listing the pros and cons of one child as opposed to two or more, over and over.

I read every article, research paper, personal story about other people’s decisions because I didn’t feel like I had the ability to make my own. 

The internal debate raged on.

Maybe I could handle it after all? Or more so, maybe I should be able to handle it? 

Maybe I was just overthinking it? Maybe I just needed to turn my head off to the fear of ‘what if’, and jump in?

After two-and-a-half years of adamantly telling my husband and friends that no, I didn’t want another baby, I found myself back at the fertility clinic because I thought it was the 'right' thing to do.  

I felt an immense sense of urgency. I wanted to get on with it so I wouldn't get to the point of it being too late to make my own decision.

We went through the whole process for a second time, then stored some more embryos in the freezer. 

Then, while we waited, things changed for me drastically.

With the reality of embryos ready and waiting to become babies, and an appointment for the first embryo transfer, s**t got real. What the hell was I doing?

I suddenly woke up to the reality of the situation and the consequences of that. 

When I sat with my fears, hopes, passions, values and what my heart was really telling me, the deep truth I got was that another baby felt all wrong. 

Suddenly our family of three felt more whole and complete than I had ever realised. 

I loved my life the way it was; I loved my little family the way it was. I loved my vocation; I loved the relationship I had with my partner and the freedom we had to breathe and not feel stretched beyond capacity. 

Through floods of tears, I said to me GP, "I feel like my little family is enough."

"Why change it then?" he replied.

A wave of relief came over me. I didn’t have to torment myself anymore. The decision had finally been made by me, for me.

The reason I am writing this is ultimately because I want to call out the ridiculous pressure on mothers in 2021. The perfect mother, the perfect family, doesn't exist, and quite frankly, it's silently wreaking havoc on mothers all over the world. 

Why do we feel we need permission to create the size and shape of the family that we really want? Why do we even need to define a family as one with kids at all?

We are SO attached to what we think mothers should be and do as a society, and this pressure caves in on women as they embark on the hugest transition of their lives.

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I really do believe that in Australia, the general reaction to a couple announcing they have chosen to have just one child by choice remains as much of a shock to a lot of people, as a couple who have chosen to have no kids.

It's now six months on from that final IVF round that turned out very differently to how we had planned.

On a sunny Sunday morning, my husband, my daughter and I are sitting around the breakfast table talking about what we’re going to do with the day. 

There are three empty chairs at the other of the table. Once their emptiness felt confronting and induced huge amounts of guilt. 

Now, all I see is more space for our little family of three to grow and expand our own story, the way we want to write it- to continue creating the life we choose, because it’s right for us.

I would be lying if I said I don’t think about those six little embryos a fair bit. Who knows, we may change our minds, but we may not.

That's not important right now. Right now, I am content, and free with the knowledge we have chosen the reality that feels right, and that reality certainly looks bright and full of possibility.

Maddy Mursa works with women, supporting and empowering them with the tools they need in order to make powerful decisions with conviction, and reclaim their identity, purpose and value. She has also had a highly successful career spanning 15 years as a professional violinist touring both internationally and nationally. She now lives in Sydney with her husband and their daughter. You can read more about Maddy and her work  here

Feature Image: Supplied.

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