Tick, tick, tick. I watch the clock, too nervous to look at even the back of the little white stick. I’m hyper aware of every noise, the magpies outside warbling to one another, my husband boiling the kettle, two- and three-year-old boys fighting, my six-month-old stirring in her cot. More waiting.
I already know in my heart of hearts what that stick will reveal, yet part of me remains optimistic. The boys’ fighting gets louder and my husband playing peacemaker, subduing the argument with promises of tractor rides later today. I know he’s tense too, waiting for the news. The baby, by now wide awake, is loudly requesting her morning breastfeed. Sighing, I know it’s time to start the day. Hands shaking, I turn over that tiny life-changing piece of plastic.
A wave of emotion rolls over me; none of them are what an expectant mother should feel. Dread. Apprehension. Panic. And then, nausea. The morning sickness that had been bubbling below the surface for days appears with a vengeance, almost as though it had been waiting for confirmation this was no longer a mere hunch.
I emerge from the bathroom, giving a quick nod to my husband. The look on his face tells me he has understood. I can almost hear the equation being processed in his head: four children = new car + bigger house + more mouths to feed, shoes to buy, university fees to stash away... I feel tears welling, so I pull my baby close, putting her to the breast and trying to breathe deeply. I smile, talking to the boys about what we will do today, but my mind races. Four babies in only four and a half years. My poor still-wobbly hips and pelvis! Not to mention my sanity, after countless sleepless nights. The baby, only six months old, still breastfed frequently overnight. I hadn’t even started having my periods again! How did this even happen?
The feeling of dread rises again as I imagine telling my parents. “Oh good, a girl this time,” my well-intentioned mother had said after the birth of my third baby. “Now you can stop”. My darling boys are such a handful, I can already hear her saying, “What? Again? You can hardly control the ones you’ve got!”
The next week I’m lying on the bed in my obstetrician’s rooms. Her banter cheers me up, and I’m enjoying her tales of her own children. She puts on the ultrasound, the grainy image flickers on the screen. Her chatter stops, and a funny look crosses her face. I glance at the screen. Even with my layperson’s eyes I can see four round sacs. She turns to me and says, “Multiple gestational sacs.”
Twins? Triplets? Quads? I panic – I didn’t want one baby, let alone four! Gently she tells me that while this had started as a multiple pregnancy, there is now only one heartbeat.
Leaving the doctor’s rooms I am once again overcome with emotion. But this time I can’t quite pinpoint what it is. Relief there is only one baby? Gratitude that there is actually one? Grief, because we lost the others?
Later that week I’m tired, hormonal and nauseous, still unsure how I feel about our news. I’ve started to let myself imagine the little person inside of me. I daydream about names, and find myself gooey over newborns. We start planning ahead for the moving of bedrooms, juggling cots, bassinets and toddler beds.
Three weeks later I wake feeling that something is wrong. I’m restless, uneasy. Then the cramping starts. My obstetrician confirms my worries, I’m losing my baby. That tiny soul, who had so unexpectedly forced its way into our hearts and minds, was leaving us, just as unexpectedly.
At home again, and my emotions are easier to identify this time: grief, sadness, guilt. Perhaps my reaction to finding out I was pregnant was the reason that we lost the babies, the first three and now this one? All rational thought disappears. I fear the miscarriage is my fault. I didn’t want my baby, now it’s gone.
I sit and cry every night, worn out after plastering on a happy face during the day. My heart aches for what might have been. My husband is my rock, soothing me, reassuring me that it’s no one’s fault. It’s during one of these nights I realise a new emotion is emerging. That extra place in our hearts is begging to be filled.
I want to be pregnant again! Was this all a lesson to show us that we needed another little person in our lives?
Six months later, and I am again staring at the back of a little white stick. Tick, tick, tick. The anticipation builds. The magpies warble and my husband is making tea and toast. I hear my now one year old racing around, chasing her brothers and there are fits of giggles from all three. I can’t wait any longer, and flick over the pregnancy test.
Two lines. This time though, the emotions are easy to pick: relief, elation and excitement. And then, once again, the nausea.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem