My breasts are killing me. Is it my imagination, or are they way bigger? And suddenly I can't even look at coffee, much less guzzle it with my usual gusto -- my stomach is a mess. But what else is new? My job is about as stressful as it gets these days, and I have two wonderful but demanding kids: My stomach is upset a lot. Then there's the missing period. Hey, it happened last summer too.
Any other mother of two would know the signs. But not me. After rigorous fertility treatments and two foreign adoptions, I'm in serious denial. Yet deep down I know. I'm 42, and I'm pregnant for the first time.
My husband, John, is out of town, so I suffer in silence for another week. When I finally reveal my suspicion, he literally laughs in my face. Nevertheless, he trudges off to the drugstore to get the test.
The urine has barely hit the stick when the positive sign blazes at me. I'm going to be sick. I'm too old to do this. John announces that we'll be 60 when this kid is graduating high school. I'm about to argue with him, but then I do the math in my head. He's right. This cannot be happening.
The next two weeks go by in a blur of denial and anxiety. The upset stomach has turned into 24-hour nausea, and my husband is really down (he's the primary caregiver and was looking forward to going back to work soon). I finally screw up the courage to see my gynecologist, a lovely, warm Italian woman, who saw me through the infertility treatments. She's ecstatic and can't contain herself: "This is a miracle! Let's drink champagne!"
I sob uncontrollably in her office, feeling guilty that I can't share even a tiny bit of her joy.
At times, I know what my doctor means. Miracle or not, there is a strong sense of fate here. And I don't want to mess with fate. I'm a religious person and believe that God has a plan, and it usually works out if we just ride with it. In rare moments I can imagine this will all be okay, that I'll be able to handle three children and even like it. But most of the time I want to scream, What kind of sick joke is God playing on me? I'm a weary mother of two with a high-pressure job and a house that's falling apart! I can't raise another child.
And what about my two gorgeous, hilarious girls, the lights of my life? Roma, who is 5, is just beginning to understand adoption and has heartbreaking talks with me. They go something like this:
"Mommy, I didn't grow in your belly, did I?"
"No, you didn't, sweetie."
"But I wish I had grown in your belly."
"I wish you had, too."
"How come I didn't grow in your belly?"
"Well, I guess God just didn't want it that way. Sometimes women can't grow babies in their tummies and so they adopt."
What do I tell her now? God changed his mind? (Evidently he did.)
Some mornings I'm so sick I can hardly get out of bed. Standing for any period of time makes me dizzy. I can't eat a thing. Work is crazy-busy and I'm down several staffers, but I drag myself in day after day and put on a good face. Then I'm exhausted when I get home and short-tempered with the kids. Our 2-year-old, Bea, still wakes up several times a night. Whenever I drag myself out of bed to comfort her, I can't help but think how much harder a newborn would be. How will this aging body care for a baby?
A window of opportunity
My husband and I haven't discussed abortion. Neither of us has brought it up. But at 3 a.m. I wake him. "Can you even think about abortion?" I ask. We talk for two hours, and the next morning we both feel relieved. Abortion, as awful as it is, feels like the right thing to do. Neither of us wants another child or feels equipped to deal with one, let alone what would be our first infant. More important, we both feel we have our family -- these two girls are our babies, and we will never love anyone more. A biological child feels like an intrusion, a strange add-on to a beautiful family. The window of opportunity for more children is gone. We're done.
Four years ago, we didn't have a hard time making the decision to adopt. Neither of us felt strongly about seeing our genes played out in a child, and we didn't have the stomach for continuing the fertility treatments. Frankly, I've never been a baby person; they seem so fragile and unresponsive. So going to China to pick up a 10-month-old was the best birth experience I could imagine. Somehow adoption just suited us, and I've always been proud of our mixed-race family. Yet there's a part of me that wonders why a biological child seems uncompelling, almost scary. Am I actually afraid of seeing a version of myself out there in the world? Why am I so selfish?
If I'm going to have an abortion, I have to learn something from the experience. I can't just look at this pregnancy as a mistake. I'm going to change my life in positive ways because of it. I write a list of all the things that having this child will keep me from doing -- traveling, making career changes, fixing up our house, and especially spending quality time with my first two children -- and I vow to make good on them. I can be a class parent, take the girls on day trips, be more present in their lives. A life that recently seemed overbooked suddenly appears wide open.
I reach out to friends who I think will support my decision. It's amazing how many of them have had abortions that I didn't know about. Although I can see hesitation in their faces -- in one case real strain -- I manage to block it out. Feeling bolstered, I make an appointment for a "termination consultation." The appointment is a week away, so I can always back out. I stop taking the prenatal vitamins. They only make the nausea worse.
On a particularly bad morning, sick, run-down, and facing a rough shift at work, I can't imagine how I'll make it through the day. I force myself to eat some scrambled eggs. They actually taste good. In fact, nothing has ever tasted so good. I eat more and more and more until I'm stuffed. For the first time in a month, I feel relatively normal. Not only do I make it through the day, I go for a run after work. While I'm running, it occurs to me that the nausea and weakness are contributing to my fears about caring for a baby. Now strong, I feel the possibility that maybe I could have a third child.
Unfortunately, the normality is fleeting -- the next day, eggs don't do the trick, and I almost throw them up -- but it's enough to make me postpone the consultation one week. I want to want this baby. Maybe I can will it. John, God bless him, has said he'll support any decision I make. I spend that evening at a party surrounded by people with infants, and not one pang of desire registers in me.
I'm only 75 percent sure about my decision. The other 25 percent is terrified that I'll never forgive myself for giving the baby up, that I'll always wonder what it would have been like. I pray for some kind of resolution. I just want a sign. We need to move on.
It's a gorgeous fall day as I walk my oldest daughter to kindergarten. She chats about gym class, and I realize I'm in a good mood. These walks have been a struggle lately -- the nausea is so strong in the morning, I have trouble thinking of anything else and tend to be terse with her. Today I feel better and truly enjoy our conversation. I think about another child and feel that the possibility might be there. After I drop her off, I end up walking all the way to work -- a good 40 minutes -- just to prolong the good vibe.
Two days later, I go to my termination consultation. Two minutes into the conversation, I know I don't have the heart to go through with an abortion. Maybe I never did. I look at the sonogram screen and am shocked to see the baby has arms and a head. Four weeks ago, in my doctor's office, it looked like a grain of rice. I walk out into the sunshine and realize I'm having another child.
A week later I'm sorting through summer clothes and packing some up for charity. Roma keeps taking things out of the giveaway bag, and I get annoyed. "But Mom," she says, "We need to save these for the baby." John and I haven't said a word to her, but she already knows.
Everything is going to be okay. More than okay. Blessed? I think so.
Nancy, John, Roma, and Bea welcomed their new addition to the family in April 2006.