The other night as I sat with my children on our couch watching a Christmas movie, I looked at the five stockings hanging from our mantle. This was the year I finally decided to get a full set, knowing that there will only ever be five stockings to hang. They match and they are beautiful, but something about them unsettles me. The certainty still feels strange to me. It is weird to say there is no maybe of another child in my future. There will be no more Christmas babies. There will be no more babies at all.
While I know we made the right decision for our family, part of me still wonders what might have happened if things had turned out differently. The birth of my third child was an experience unlike anything I had ever known – overwhelming joy tinged with a mixture of sadness and relief from the two back to back miscarriages I had experienced before his arrival. Having my rainbow baby was the end of a long and arduous journey, one which at times I had felt certain I would never see.
My pregnancy had been wrought with anxiety that something bad would happen. I stayed up late at night feeling like my body was cursed, that there was nothing inside me that could be trusted anymore to keep my babies alive. Early bleeding made me feel certain that this pregnancy was doomed like the other two. Yet it continued and thrived, and ended with the healthy birth of my last child. Finally crossing that finish line and having a baby placed in my arms gave me peace beyond measure. It also gave me a sense of certainty that I never wanted to do this again.
Though I hemmed and hawed over the finality of a vasectomy, we eventually decided that it was the best route for us. I waited until the last minute to sign the paperwork. I wondered if I would immediately have buyer’s remorse, but the truth was I felt a similar wave of peace when I saw my husband walk out of his procedure. This was it. We were done. The uncertainty, the miscarriages, the anxiety – they were all behind me now. They would be behind me forever.
Now, nearly a year later, I don’t regret the decision. I still know it was right. It still gives me peace. But it also leaves me with a sense of longing for what might have been. If I hadn’t been shaped by those miscarriages, if I hadn’t been gripped by the intense fear that I would have to go through that suffering again, I wonder if I would have made the same choice. I find myself wondering if I would feel so certain if nothing had gone wrong.
I know that I made my decision in part because of fear. Some days I wonder if it was entirely out of fear. I justified it by saying it was the most practical decision, because it was. I said it made financial sense, because it did. I touted that it would give me more time and attention to split between the three beautiful, healthy children we already had, and that was true. But if I truly wanted another child, none of those reasons would have mattered. If I wasn’t afraid, deep down, that I couldn’t have another child, love – not fear – would guide that decision. So I can’t help but think that if life had turned out just a little bit differently, I might have wanted another baby.
The truth is, I don’t know. I can no longer see my life without the memory of those miscarriages. I can no longer walk without the weight of that pain following me. I get better at carrying it, find different ways to shift the load, but it is still there and it always will be. I don’t have the option of erasing those experiences, and I do not know that I would want to. They have shaped and molded the way that I love my children, the fierceness with which I hold onto each sweet memory I can capture. My miscarriages have given me an appreciation for the settled life I have – the life with five stocking hanging on the mantle, and never any more.