Anyone who’s been pregnant while raising a toddler can attest to the sheer madness of such a thing. Gone are the days of obsessing over what type of fruit we can liken our growing babe to in any given week. Instead, our time is consumed by changing dirty diapers, being a human pacifier and chasing our toddlers for sport.
My daughter was 18 months old when those familiar pink lines appeared on a pregnancy test. I was hovering over the toilet while I willed my daughter to stop scaling the furniture and eating hand lotion for just two minutes, and I allotted myself a cursory four seconds of gobsmacked elation over the results before I got back to the business of parenting. I had no time for anything beyond that.
Over the course of the month that ensued, I trusted my body and its process. I noticed intermittent hints of blood on the toilet paper, but for some reason, I wasn’t concerned. I passed the milestones: eight weeks, nine weeks ... and then, out of nowhere, no weeks at all. One day I watched my baby’s heart fluttering away. Less than a week later I was sedated while a team of masked professionals hollowed out my uterus after that child of mine had given up and let go, heart aflutter no longer.
I felt unspeakable grief after the loss of my second child, but I found myself reckoning with something far worse when I was told my first miscarriage also would be my last pregnancy. I was diagnosed with secondary infertility, meaning my daughter would grow up alone. She went from being a firstborn to an only-born.
I hated everything about that and grappled with it endlessly. But once the dense fog of my grief began to clear, I forced myself to think about all the ways this would surely lead to an easier path for our family. Fewer mouths to feed and bodies to clothe would mean less money spent on groceries and other basic necessities, and we wouldn’t have to barter stickers and M&Ms for successful trips to the potty ever again. I quietly accepted the idea I was kissing all of the most harrowing aspects of parenting an infant and toddler goodbye.
And, as it happens, all those things have been abundant blessings. My daughter is 4 years old now. She’s potty-trained, she sleeps through the night and she makes her own breakfast in the morning. I only have to sweep my kitchen floor 18 times a day to keep up with her mess-making, instead of the 46 times required when I had a monster of a 2-year-old.
The ramifications of parenting an only child are pervasive, though. If I’m being honest, there’s almost nothing easy about it. It is lonely and overwhelming. On a good day, it’s nearly impossible. On a bad day, it all but kills me.
Not only do I have to reckon with the absence of the child I lost, I have to do it while acting as everything my daughter needs. I am her sounding board, her human jungle gym, her entertainer and her idea-maker. I am hider and seeker, companion, consolation and comfort. I am open arms, a soft chest and a steadily beating heart. I am everything.
None of it is easy. The physical demands of it all nearly outweigh the emotional burden – I wanted her to grow up alongside a companion. I wanted to give her a tiny compatriot – a built-in ally with whom she could scheme, squabble and scream while exploring the complexity of feuding and making up. Instead, I’m constantly firing on all cylinders while my daughter saps every last ounce of my energy and patience by each day’s end.
Parenting is hard work, regardless of the number of children we hold in our arms, I imagine. The days are long, the nights are longer and the years somehow fly by at a logic-defying warp speed.
I will always mourn the loss of the life that was taken from me, but I will myself to remain thankful for the climb as I scale this great mountain with my daughter. I know the momentous nature of this task; I’d be a fool not to feel deep gratitude.
Yes, this is hard. And yes, I feel the absence of my lost love while my living love tugs at my shirt sleeves begging for every last iota of my attention and energy. But better this than nothing at all. My only-born may be determined to drive me to an early grave, but I’ll live out each day with her with great adoration and admiration. Really, the joy of it all was mine all along.