For years, I dreaded the question, "When are you going to have children?" It seems so innocent . . . except to those of us who had trouble conceiving. Or those who are not able to have any children at all. Or perhaps those who don't want children. You see, it is not always a good basis for chitchat or even something that everybody wants to talk about, including me.
I am very blessed with one child. And the question I cringe at is, "When is he going to get a brother or sister?" What do I say when the real answer is "probably never" but the topic is raw and chokes me up and I really don't want to discuss it with anybody but my devoted husband. "Is that your only child?" "When are you having another?" These questions ball up my insides and make me uncomfortable.
My husband and I fell in love at a young age and waited to have children for a while (sound familiar?). For a few years, we had trouble conceiving and faced that "children" question. Then, when I was finally pregnant and ecstatic at age 32, I had a very difficult early pregnancy. I developed a rare condition called hyperemesis gravidium, which basically means continuous morning sickness.
It sounds harmless. However, it holds immediate and grave consequences for both mother and baby because it can cause quick and serious dehydration and vitamin depletion. At times, I couldn't keep anything down--not even water. Luckily for me and my son, the problem lasted only four months and I managed to get by, sometimes on a special diet of clear liquids and simple carbohydrates. During the worst times, doctors were able to treat the condition with a few hospitalizations in which I was hooked up to intravenous lines to keep hydrated.
After four months, the pregnancy was a breeze. My son was born healthy and peppy and just a bit on the small side (like both of his parents).
So when I got pregnant again 18 months later, my husband and I were elated. We had been told that hyperemesis was something that would most likely happen again but we were smugly prepared for it. We arranged for at-home nursing care for intravenous rehydration--cheaper for the insurance company and enabling me to be at home with our son. It sounded too good to be true, and it was!
The second time around, my hyperemesis was much worse. The symptoms started even before my pregnancy was confirmed by a doctor and this time I couldn't even manage the simple hyperemesis diet. Nurses were not able to get an IV line into me. The home care wasn't working and I ended up in the hospital a few times in the first weeks.
We visited lots of specialists. I unsuccessfully tried the few drugs that were offered, along with other suggestions: One medicine caused a severe allergic reaction and the loss of a front tooth; another drug did nothing; holistic methods worked for a few minutes but gave me no lasting relief. My options were dwindling and my condition was worsening. My IV sites were shot and so was I.
Based on my history and my symptoms, my doctors predicted that the hyperemesis would continue the full nine months and no one was sure what damage that would cause for the baby or me. Several nurses told me that they weren't even sure the baby was going to make it . . . or if I would.
My husband and I researched and discussed our options, but there are few studies of hyperemesis because nobody wants to experiment on a pregnant woman and very few cases are as serious as mine was, so we had little information to go on. My doctor told us that one option was to terminate the pregnancy since the condition could cause me major problems, possibly even death. I was willing to die for the sake of my unborn baby, but I had my toddler son and husband to consider.
We debated for more than a weekend what to do and finally, sadly decided to terminate the pregnancy. My husband and I both sobbed throughout the entire procedure, crying for the life of our never-to-be second child. Even though it was very early in the pregnancy, we felt terrible about ending it. We are pro-choice, but we never thought we'd have to be the ones making the choice.
I continued to be in poor health for a month. I marveled at the toll this whole episode had taken on my body and my mind. I was not physically well for nearly six months. The emotional and mental healing is still going on.
My doctors told me not to attempt another pregnancy, and after all we've been through I don't want to tackle the emotional upheaval an adoption would entail.
I can't get myself to hold a baby yet. It's been more than three years and it's still too painful. I guess things are improving because I don't feel as bothered by birth announcements and talk of babies as I once did. I used to envy pregnant women and babies. I've gotten over the jealousy and sadness but I still feel an emptiness. I don't think it will ever go away.
My story is not really something that I care to talk about with strangers--and most strangers don't really want to hear it. Yet there is always someone who will ask about our plans for additional children.
Why don't people realize this is a private issue between husband and wife?
These seemingly innocent questions are not always so easy to answer. If you want to make chatter with a stranger or distant friend, please try another angle. I beg of you to please think before you ask!
Laurie Adler is a writer living in Silver Spring.