Friday, April 6, 2018

"When Do You Stop Trying to Have a Child?"

(Contains spoilers)

"When Do You Stop Trying to Have a Child?" the New York Times headline in my feed asked.

"Well," I thought, as I clicked over, "it's nice to see the Times addressing these difficult subjects." 

What was I expecting to read? I guess -- based on the headline -- I was expecting (hoping?) for the story of a couple who made the difficult decision to stop trying to have a baby, how they came to that decision, and managed to survive and, yes, even thrive, even though things did not turn out the way they had hoped or expected.  I wouldn't have been surprised, or minded (much ;)  ) if they decided to pursue adoption after closing the door on trying to conceive themselves.

What I read:

The first thing I saw was the illustration that accompanied the article: a child with his parents. All righty then... was this a real child, or a hypothetical dream child?

Then the lede (first sentence):  "Our first child came easily." (Well, goody for you...)  Conceived on a trip to southeast Asia, no less.

Okay. So this was a story about secondary infertility, then. 

I read on.

The article was a first-person essay by the husband. In the two years after this couple decided to try for a second child, his wife endured five miscarriages. 

I felt sadness as the husband described the story that so many of us know so well: the excitement of a positive pregnancy test, the anxiety over every trip to the bathroom, the hurdle of the early ultrasound, the heartbeat that is too weak, or doesn't exist. The search for answers, for anything that will help the next time around. The feeling of failure. The resentment of couples who already have children (in their case, more than one child). 

"I was unprepared for the grief that followed the first miscarriage," the author writes. "That unmistakable, deep ache that lies beyond mere sadness. We had lost a family member."

The couple's marriage suffered. 
How long were we supposed to keep this up, enduring the nerve-racking trips to the bathroom, the tests, the bleeding, the screaming, the bouts of weeping? 
I wanted another child. But I also wanted our life back — a life that wasn’t interrupted by death every few months...
Couldn’t we accept how good things actually were for us? Or would we always focus on what we didn’t have? And how much more could my wife’s body take? Surely it was time to accept our family the way that it was — the three of us.
The internet is full of stories from women who’ve suffered multiple miscarriages — but they tend to end in success and messages of encouragement (“I finally had a child. Don’t give up. It could happen for you.”).
Could we allow ourselves to stop when we had “only” five? When we couldn’t say we had tried everything? Wouldn’t we be quitting on our son and his chance to avoid eternal loneliness?
And then -- (guess what??): 
And so we decided that we would give it one more try. One last go. The final job before retirement, like at the beginning of a heist movie. We went back to Bali for my wife’s 40th birthday. 
And now we have another son.
(To say my eyes rolled would be an understatement.)
I know how lucky we are to have these boys. We didn’t think we’d be another inspirational “don’t give up” story. 
We were ready to give up. And that would have been O.K. 
I am sure they would have been OK, too. But it's easy to say when you're watching your two children play together, isn't it?  Methinks the author doth protest too much. :p

I'm happy they got their "rainbow" baby. (Really.)  But the answer to the question posed in the title seems to be.... "Don't give up!!"  Right?  And there are plenty of us out there who know the price you can pay for doggedly pursuing pregnancy, cycle after cycle, loss after loss: mental, physical and financial exhaustion. Ruined marriages and ruined health.

There are no hard & fast rules for "when to stop," of course (whether you have other children or none at all). Everyone's "line in the sand" is different. Dh & I stopped at one stillbirth & three rounds of medicated IUIs;  some people stop after half a dozen IVF attempts, some never try IVF at all.

But I think that hearing more stories of "we stopped, and this is when & why (your mileage may vary) -- and we are here to tell the tale, and life can still be good" (etc. etc.) would be so, so helpful for other couples contemplating the same questions and difficult decisions.

I am happy to note, though, that (although there were only 5 comments on the article, last time I looked), the two most recommended were singing my song:  ;) 

From Maine Dem in Maine:
This article would have relevance to the subject if written from the perspective of someone who had no children and did have to give up. The article is about "when do you stop trying". Not sure how the article answers that.
And from Brian in Thompson:
I’m tired of these stories that end like this. As a family that tried far longer w/o success, this headline made me think this was a story for those of us without the happy ending. The NY Times needs more sensitivity in headlines so as not to lead the silent group like my family down the path of yet another happy ending story.
(Sorry if this post is a little too bitter. It's been that kind of day...)


  1. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Oh, man. That makes me real mad, because it is incredibly insensitive to put a title like that up and then have the message be, "oh, never, because if you go to Bali and try just one more time, you'll GET your baby!" Total suckerpunch. I love those comments you saw. Good for them, calling NYT out. I swear, I saw one after another of these stories that were "we just thought it would never happen...AND THEN IT DID! BOOYEAH!" Okay, maybe no booyeah. But that's what it feels like. And then you feel so unrepresented, even more like the little Match Girl on the outside of the glass, looking in on the party, slowly freezing to death. Ouch. I guess I'm a little bitter today too! I'm with you, lady. SO with you.

  2. Ugh. Stupid article. I'm gearing up for a post on No Kidding about "success stories" after a comment on a (non-ALI) blog recently, and this is just adding fuel to my fire!

    This family never had to deal with when to stop trying. They might have been ready, but until you face that time, all the hypotheticals in the world ("we were ready to give up" when clearly they weren't quite there yet) don't allow for exactly what it feels like when the door is closed. Grrr.

  3. You inspired me. Thanks!

  4. You’re not bitter!! And I think Brian’s comment is spot on!!! The truth is there is so little coverage about people who stopped without getting to the chance to parent and go on to lead amazing lives. Yet there’s a fear there about this road that I think is long overdue to squash.

    My question for this author is: given what you now know, does this open your eyes about who’s who are not parenting? Does it help you dash some of the myths and assumptions? Does this experience make you realize this entire process is far more complex than society portrays it to be?

  5. I notice they have changed the headline in the online version. ;) It now reads, "We Were Ready to Give Up on a Second Baby Until a ‘Miracle’ Arrived." More than 100 comments now, and a surprising number who feel as I did, noting the disconnect between the headline & the actual story. Guess that's why they changed it.

    Also amusing/eyerolling to see how many commenters took the author to task for failing to pursue adoption...! The usual number of "think of the planet" people. And also a good number who had opinions on single children...!

    I was also glad to see someone in the comments taking to task the idea that all it took was a "just relax" vacation, and voila! Baby! :p

  6. The article is just so typical. How many journalists end up skirting around the real heartbreak of being childless by circumstance, preferring instead to write something with a 'happy ending'. I have been much comforted by the writings of Jody Day, and of her Gateway Women group. Take a look
    PS Just came across your blog by chance - so heartening to read your words, and find that we have much in common. Keep writing - you are enlightening like-minded souls.

  7. Thank you so much for those kind words! -- you made my day! :) I too love Jody & GW -- she is amazing & her blog & book are must-reads for those of us living without the children we wanted. :)