I often play back my life like a slideshow – moments upon moments of what makes up my story all waiting to be put together for when I choose to reminisce. The slideshow I play inside my head changes with each part of my journey I recollect. The emotions that they arouse are varied and can change depending on the season of life I’m currently in. In many scenarios, my accident is a part of that slideshow – it changed my life forever and is a tough detail to overlook. In most cases I can include that crazy turn of events and move past it into the life that has unfolded since. I can see good in my life and recognize my accident as a major event but not an ending. However, there are a few scenarios where my slideshow stops abruptly – a few scenarios where I get stuck in my post-accident haze and place blame for certain things it took away from me. Recently one thing in particular has been at the forefront of my thoughts: baby number four.
We went into our marriage knowing that we wanted children and thinking that we wanted four. After we had our second son I slipped into a very relentless post-partum depression and anxiety and because of that we tried to convince ourselves that our family felt complete. But our family didn’t feel complete. When our second little man turned two, and I was in a much better state of mind, my husband and I started to talk about expanding our family again. About a month or two before we were ready to buy the ovulation tests, refresh my skills with period math and start trying for a third, we got a surprise positive pregnancy test. And a full-term pregnancy later, we got our third beautiful baby.
After the birth of our daughter my husband felt that our family was complete. While in that post pregnancy/post C-section/hormonal/dealing with a newborn stage of life, I started to agree with him. But all too soon the pregnancy became a distant memory, the C-section healed, the hormones subsided and our little girl started to grow – and I started remembering the reasons why I wanted four children. I started to picture our fourth child and how they would fit into our family. My husband and I would talk about it often, always ending up in a pros and cons sort of scenario. Ideally I wanted to get pregnant again soon after our daughter’s second birthday but she was 18 months when I had my accident and plans changed.
Within hours of finding out that my paralysis would be permanent, I began to acknowledge, that a fourth child would no longer be in our future. Initially I was still in a mindset of simply being grateful to be alive and a part of my three children’s lives. I was in a place where I needed help for my own self-care and couldn’t see past any of that – and I certainly couldn’t see a place where one day I would possibly be capable of helping care for another child. So for many months I accepted the fact that our family would remain as it was – just the five of us.
After a few months, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to just forget that I had wanted more children. After about 6 months, I started to think that maybe we could have one more. Every doctor I would meet would tell me that my body was still capable of carrying a child and that it would be safe to do so. It is still crazy to me that my body cannot figure out how to function properly but could still grow a complete and healthy tiny human. But, as any parent knows, there is a lot more to expanding your family than just making a baby.
In many ways, my husband and I are capable of having more children. I’ve written before about how people with spinal cord injuries can still be parents (“Moms On Wheels – Is It Unethical?”). Physically, I know I could care for another child. It would be different, but the different ship has already set sail around here – it would just be giving one more permission to come aboard. I also believe that we are emotionally capable of adding one more child to our family. It wouldn’t come without added stress but that is something every family would take into consideration before growing their family. There are days where my injury seems to be at the forefront of our life – whether a bladder infection has appeared, I have fallen from a bad transfer or it simply feels like everything I need is on the highest shelf. Admittedly, in those moments, the idea of adding another tiny person to the chaos sounds like a bad idea – days like that go on the ‘con’ list. But the biggest hurdle for us having a fourth child is the financial one.
Having a disability is expensive. Even with insurance, the cost of supplies, medications and equipment is somewhat unbelievable. We are stretched pretty thin and bringing another child into the mix would mean we would have to overhaul how we spend our time as a family and the things that we do together (even now it is getting difficult to keep them up). At this point, neither my husband nor I can justify that those changes would benefit our family. Yes we would have another child and our children would have another sibling, but the things we do as a family normalize us and make us feel as though we haven’t changed. I don’t think that taking those things away would be beneficial to us as the family that we are. But I also know that permanently giving up on what I had imagined my family would look like is not something I am capable of right now.
I think things got harder after my daughter turned two (Fall 2016) as, before my accident, that was when we had thought about getting pregnant. This is also the time my sister-in-law announced her second pregnancy. I had always imagined that when they had their second child, we would have our fourth. And while I was filled with so much joy for her and her family, I was also heartbroken that my dream would not become a reality. Now she is just about due and I am torn between excitement and jealousy – the latter fills me with guilt. I am thrilled for my children to have a new cousin and I cannot wait to be an auntie again (for the eighth time). My sister-in-law is an amazing mama and I’m thrilled for her and her husband to continue their journey as parents and to watch my niece become a big sister. But I’m jealous. I’m not jealous of them as much as I’m jealous of the version of myself that didn’t fall into a hole on that fateful day in March of 2016 and who could very well be almost due with her child as well.
Since about Christmas, I feel as though I am suffering a real loss with every pregnant woman who walks by me, every newborn I get a few moments with and every thought I have of our imaginary family of six. Some days I can compare the emotions to the ones that came over me after I suffered a miscarriage during my very first pregnancy. It feels like I have legitimately lost a child that I had expected to have one day because of factors beyond my own control. And I worry that for the rest of my life I will wonder about that child and who he or she would have been and the dynamic that they would have brought to our family. It scares me to think that whenever I wonder, I will go back to my accident and again feel stuck in that place of blame and anger.
I don’t want to give my accident more power than I have to. I want a fourth child because I have always wanted a fourth child. But I also want a fourth child so I can take that power back from the accident, from that hole I fell into and from this paralysis. I want to yell and scream and prove that this is one less thing that they took from me. I want the decision to be our decision and not be the result of a forced hand.
I long to be like so many of my friends who are confident in the size of their families. I know so many women who have no desire to go back to the stage of diapers and sleepless nights. I literally almost started crying when we wandered into the diaper aisle at the store last week due to such a strong feeling of loss. I cannot bring myself to get rid of our crib. Neither my husband nor myself seem capable of signing off on a vasectomy. And our answer when people ask us about more kids is always vague and non-committal. I know we are lucky to have the family that we have and I’m thankful for each of my children every day, but that doesn’t change the vision I had of what my family would look like one day – a vision that now seems very unlikely to come to fruition.
I suppose one thing I have learned is that none of us know exactly what the future holds. However, because of my accident I fear that another child will not be in our future. I hope I can work through this and let it go at some point. I work so hard at continuing to live a life that closely resembles the one I wanted before my injury. I work hard to move on. But this one thing is something that I feel unable to move on from – one thing that is really gut-wrenchingly painful.
I’m now reminded of my husband’s grandfather. He was a proud Scottish man who always told you exactly what he thought with an accent I could hardly understand. But often he would say “it is what it is” with such a sense of acceptance. He had this awareness of the complexity and unpredictability of life and knew that what was done could not be undone. He made it very clear that after all was said and done you had to choose to cope and move forward. So this is me coping: writing, crying and carrying on with my life. I will handle this the best way I can but I will do so while still feeling the losses overwhelming and deep. I will always wonder and I will always dream and I’m still not ready to say with complete certainty that there will never be a fourth child of ours running around. However even if there was – the story of our children (whatever that final number may be) is forever changed because of the accident. That hole. This paralysis. Forever changed.