The motherhood I didn’t choose
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted children. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted at all in life but having children definitely wasn’t on the agenda, not for a long time anyway. It was only after a decade together and several years of marriage, my husband and I decided we might regret not having children more than we’d regret having them and so towards the end of 2016 we decided to go for it. Even after we made the decision I spent a lot of time wondering whether it was the right one. At the start of 2017 we went skiing, I remember standing at the top of a mountain in Whistler, Canada, looking out over a vista of mountains and sky wondering whether I was ready to give up this life and the freedom not having children gave us. Getting that first positive pregnancy test a few weeks later was a bit of an ‘oh shit, this is really happening’ moment.
I found pregnancy hard, much harder than anticipated. There were many times during the early months while I lay in a dark room trying not to be sick I questioned what the heck we were doing. I felt pretty sure we’d only do this once, couldn’t see how I could go through another pregnancy feeling like this. I was still full of doubt about whether we’d made the right choice but as our baby grew so did my love for them, and while I’d still have frequent moments of doubt and panic I also started having moments of excitement, thoughts that maybe we were doing the right thing and that we’d be okay.
At 38 weeks, after a few hours labouring, our son was born. He came into the world wide eyed, alert and seemingly healthy. He was perfect, even speaking objectively and not as his mother I can say he was a beautiful baby. In the post-birth rush of oxytocin induced euphoria I remember thinking ‘I could do that again’. I would happily go through labour and birth a hundred times over for him, even the the months of sickness had been worth it. I knew then we’d made the right choice.
Then suddenly, unexpectedly, inexplicably at two hours old he stopped breathing and despite a resuscitation attempt by an incredible team of medics our little boy died. We called him Henry.
A life without children is something we’d considered, several of our friends have decided they do not plan on having children and that is a life we too could have been happy with, had it been one we’d chosen. But it wasn’t. We chose to have children and to go down the parenting route, so to have a child, and for that child to die and to then have to live the rest of our lives without them? This was not the choice we’d made. Once we had that positive pregnancy test, saw the flicker of a heartbeat on a screen, watched the life growing inside my body and held our little boy in our arms the track of our lives was set, we were parents. I never imagined a life in which I would have my child, but not have him here with me.
From the outside our lives after Henry died probably looked similar to how they had before. Three months after Henry’s death we went skiing again; being out on the mountains, in the company of good friends was good for the soul but I cannot say I enjoyed myself a whole lot. This trip was so different to the previous one, our lives may have looked similar from the outside but everything was different, we appeared childless but we were still parents learning how to parent our missing child, we still had our freedom, but I did not feel free.
Not long after Henry died we decided to try for another child. Not as a replacement, Henry is irreplaceable, but as an addition to our family. Once again I questioned whether we were doing the right thing, whether we were ready and what effect being born in the wake of their brother’s death, born because of their brother’s death might have on this child. I wondered whether it was worth the risk of this child possibly dying too, dreaded the thought of having to organise another funeral. Truth be told, I don’t think we would have ever been ready, so we just went for it and were soon, once again, looking at a positive pregnancy test. Just a year before I couldn’t imagine ever putting myself through pregnancy again yet here I was, lying in a darkened room trying not to be sick and this time I also feared for the life of the unborn child inside of me, I couldn’t imagine this baby coming home with us, I couldn’t let myself get excited.
Our daughter arrived at the start of 2019, she came into the world with a shout, as though to let us know she was here to stay. Once again the medics caring for us were excellent and have done as much as they can to reassure us that she is healthy, though I’m not sure I will ever be completely reassured, as far as we know Henry was completely healthy too.
We’re now over twenty months into being parents to our missing child and a few months into parenting our living one. I don’t regret having either of our children, the only thing I would ever change about our lives is Henry dying, but I can’t help but sometimes imagine those other, surely less complicated lives, that we don’t have. The life where we chose to stay childless and do different things with our time and also, more often, the life we did choose but where both our children are here with us, alive. We’re living a life we didn’t know was a possibility when we first set out to have children, one where we only get to raise one of our children, and so I can’t help but wonder who would we be as parents, and as people, had those other lives happened instead?
It isn’t something we’ll ever know but even so I’ll probably never stop wondering about those other lives and will never stop missing what could, and should, have been just like I’ll never stop missing our little boy, the one who made us parents. This isn’t the motherhood I chose but it’s mine and it’ll always have both my beautiful children at the very centre of it.