Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 1)

Today I am reflecting on the preponderance of the number two in my life. My wife and I together are two; my daughter is two years and two months old; we have two household pets (a dog and a cat); after the tragic death of Peking the Pecking Pekin two weeks ago, we now only have two chickens; and two weeks from today, we are due to welcome baby daughter number two into the world.

And then we’ll be in more number two than we know how to handle! (Come on, admit it, you were expecting a poop joke).

Yes, my wife is thirty-eight weeks pregnant. I might have forgotten to mention this over the past, oh, thirty-eight weeks. Partly because I wrote a series of posts about how I wasn’t keen on having another baby, and I hate going back on myself; and partly because of good, old-fashioned denial.

Not that the pregnancy wasn’t planned – it was, and I’ll explain about the decision process in Part 2 – but I’ve been caught in a quagmire of complacency and the mistaken belief that I had more time. It was always, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ or, ‘I’ll do it next week,’ but I’ve run out of next weeks and I might have run out of tomorrows too, so I’d better do it now.

You see, the first time you’re expecting, you go to all these classes, buy all these weird and wonderful products, read everything you can about babies and child-rearing, rearrange the entire house, get everything ready, and pontificate about what it means to be a parent. Consequently, the baby takes forever to arrive and you’re in touch with the process every step of the way.

Not so with second pregnancies. The second time round, having been through it all before, you’re a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. I mean, you’ve already got everything a baby could ever need, the house is as babyproof as a marshmallow, and having successfully raised a child from babyhood to toddlerhood, you’re pretty confident you know how this parenthood thing works. Instead of living, breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping pregnancy, therefore, you’re not as closely tied to the day-to-day development of your child, so it races by with little notice until you realise with shock that it could literally arrive any moment and you’ve not prepared yourself emotionally for that wonderful, terrifying, exhilarating, traumatic and altogether life-changing day.

But that’s only half the story of why second pregnancies race to an unexpectedly sudden climax. The other half is that there’s already a pint-sized version of yourself tearing around the house, and throwing herself down the stairs, and loving you, and hating you, and hitting you, and hugging you, and generally taking all your attention, all your love, and all your energy, so you can’t spend anywhere near as much time thinking about the second unborn baby as you did the first. That’s not really fair on the second bump, I know, but it’s the way it is, although I’m fairly certain that my neglect of my child in utero won’t have that many long-term consequences. What’s important is that I focus on her once she’s born.

And therein lies the other reason I’ve avoided thinking about my impending second child until the last moment – I’m terrified of how it’ll change things, I’m terrified of how it’ll affect my relationship with my first daughter, and I’m terrified of letting them both down.

With your first child, you don’t have to divide your attention. You lavish everything upon her because you can. Every need she has, you meet there and then. You give yourself to her, body and soul. She is the centre of your universe.

How can I give that to my second child? Clearly, I can’t. And how will my first child cope when I can’t give it to her anymore either? The best thing I’ve got going for me is the closeness of my relationship with my daughter, and I don’t ever want to lose that, but equally, I want to have the same with my second daughter, and I’m struggling to see how that’s possible. I’ve always considered my heart as fixed in size – one child can have all my heart, two children can have half each, three a third, four (god forbid!) a quarter, and so on. The only way out of this diminishing is for my heart to double in size each time – and I’m not sure there’s enough room in my chest for that. Or perhaps, in my typically autistic way, I’m far too focused on this ‘heart’ metaphor and should stop trying to intellectually analyse something that is beyond conscious comprehension.

I said in my earlier posts on the subject that having a first child is a matter of faith – trusting that you’ll be able to cope and it’ll all work out okay – but that a second child is more of a conscious decision. I’m only now realising that having children is always a matter of faith.

Because for all my cocksure complacency, my know-it-all arrogance and bluster, I’m just as scared this second time around as I was the first.

 

Afraid of Number 2, Part 3

Irrespective of whether you are religious, spiritual, agnostic or atheist, having your first child is an act of faith.

No matter how much you learn or how well you prepare, no first time parent knows what they’re getting themselves into. You don’t know if you’ll make a good parent, or how you’ll cope with the lack of sleep, or the crying, or the screaming, or if your relationship will survive the stress. You don’t know what it’s going to be like changing nappies, or feeding, or bathing, or dressing, or being entirely responsible for another life in its physical, emotional and developmental needs. It’s the equivalent of being led blindfold to the edge of a cliff and then jumping off and trusting you’ll survive the fall. It’s not rational at all.

So why do we do it? Unless we play fast and loose with contraception, we do it because we’re driven to do it, without rhyme or reason. We do it because a couple of billion years of evolution have programmed it into our DNA to ensure our genetic legacy. And we do it because our hearts are crying out for completion, for something more to love.

Having a second child is nothing like that. It’s not such a leap into the unknown as you pretty much already know what it is to have and raise a baby. You know how your lives have changed, how your relationship has altered, and therefore how a second baby is likely to affect this fledgling family dynamic. As a result, discussions about a second baby are less to do with the heart than they are with the head.

‘I want Izzie to grow up with a sibling so she has someone to play with, learns to share, and won’t be lonely. I think an age gap of two to three years is best – with Izzie at pre-school there’ll be less disruption, and they’re close enough in age to get along. And I’m better with toddlers, you’re better with babies, so you can look after the new baby while I look after Izzie. It’s the perfect division of labour.’

So says my partner Lizzie. It all sounds very logical, and rational, and clinical, but logic had nothing to do with why I had Izzie. I had Izzie because my entire being was crying out to become a dad. There was a gap in my heart that I knew only a baby could fill.

Izzie filled it. It might change in the future, but right now I feel complete. My heart is whole. I don’t feel the pressing need to have a baby that I did before. So surely, then, it wouldn’t be right to have another baby purely because I can justify it intellectually?

And there are other considerations. As I wrote yesterday, Izzie was our miracle baby, a gift from the gods. How ungrateful would we be to take that miracle and demand another? And the journey to her birth was so long, and moving, and life-changing that how could a second baby possibly compete?

‘This is our daughter Izzie. After years of fertility treatment and events conspiring as though Nature itself determined that we should become parents, we were gifted with her presence. And this is our son Gregory.’

[pregnant pause]

‘We thought Izzie might like a playmate.’

Now I know that our children aren’t meant to compete, and I know that every child is a miracle (No, says the biologist, it’s a natural process resulting from the coming together of two gametes), but Izzie has set the bar pretty darned high. Even the reason for having a second baby – for Izzie’s personal development – means even before it’s born it’s in her shadow, not desired or considered in its own right the way Izzie was. And that’s just wrong.

It’s wrong to Izzie too. I love her so much and we’re so close, I feel like having another baby would be something of a betrayal. It’s like saying to her, ‘You’re great, and all, but we need more. And you can’t provide it. So there. Sucks to be you.’

And, in all honesty, I am afraid of having a second baby. My heart is full. People say that you always worry you won’t love the second child as much as the first, and then it arrives and your heart grows to fit all the love you feel and you don’t know what you were worrying about. You discover your capacity for love is boundless, and blah, blah, bollocks.

But what if you don’t? What if you discover that, heaven forfend, you have a limited capacity for love, and wouldn’t you know it, you’ve just hit your limit? Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200. Go to the back of the class.

I have specific reasons for my doubts. Because of my Asperger’s, I’ve always struggled to manage feelings and relationships. If I had a friend, I couldn’t be friends with anyone else because not only would it be a betrayal (I know it’s not, but I can’t help feeling it is), I couldn’t find the mental space to consider the needs of more than one person at a time. And when I have a partner, like I do now, the very thought of wanting to spend time with anyone else just makes me feel dirty. This is a lifetime pattern of behaviour. I’m a U2 kind of guy (one-love, one-life).

I loved the fish until we got the chickens; I loved the chickens until we got the cat; I loved the cat until we got the dog; and I loved the dog until we got Izzie. What if, by having another baby, I transfer my love to it and can no longer care about Izzie or manage to consider her needs in such a way that I go from being a good dad to merely an adequate one? I don’t want to turn my attention and my heart away from her towards anything else and let her down. The very thought of it is heartbreaking.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying I’m afraid of having a second child. I’m afraid I don’t have enough love to encompass two children. I’m afraid that my relationship with my daughter will irrevocably change. And I’m afraid if I’m spread so thin I’ll lose my ability to be a good, caring, attentive dad.

So in a way, I guess having a second child is a leap of faith. You’re not sure you’re going to love it – you don’t feel that you can – but you have it anyway, trusting that it’ll come good in the end. I said before that you can’t live your life imprisoned by fear, or else you deny yourself the chance of something good, and perhaps this is one of those things.

But not right now. Right now, I don’t feel the desire for a second baby, not on its own terms. My heart isn’t crying out for something to love. And until it does, I can’t even think about bringing another child into this world.

It’s explaining this to Lizzie that’s the hard part.

Afraid of Number 2, Part 2

My route to fatherhood wasn’t the usual one. The thing with watching your girlfriend undergoing IUI with donor sperm to get pregnant with a baby you don’t particularly want is that over time you come to accept that, for better or worse and with no input from you, there’s going to be a baby in your future. And that does weird things to both your head and your heart.

Because Lizzie so wanted a baby – because her very being ached for it – I wanted it to work. For her. I read books on babies, pregnancy, parenting and babies conceived by donor sperm so I could support her through every stage of her becoming a parent. I injected her every afternoon with hormones, drove her thirty miles to watch her have probes inserted into unmentionable areas to scan her ovaries, then thirty miles back listening to her excitement that we’d seen a follicle or heartache that we hadn’t.

Then, after a couple of years adjusting to this weird set of circumstances, I sat in the room and held her hand as she underwent insemination with the seed of a man she’d never met and was never likely to (which means a virgin can get pregnant – take that, God!). After which, I treated her like a queen – albeit a queen that needed her court jester to help her with two suppositories a day. Definitely think I got the shitty end of this arrangement…

Two weeks later came the agonising – ‘Is that blood? No, that’s not blood, it’s just – oh God, please don’t be blood. Oh Christ, it’s blood. But maybe – no. It’s gone. That little follicle we watched grow and grow on the ultrasound screen, that we nurtured and spoke to and treated as though it was an actual baby, has gone. And those two weeks we’ve spent thinking and hoping you might be pregnant – they’re over.’

The strangest thing – I was just as heartbroken as Lizzie. I don’t think anybody who hasn’t undergone fertility treatment can understand what it’s like when it doesn’t work. It feels like a miscarriage because you’ve seen the egg, you’ve seen the sperm, you’ve seen them meet. It’s not just a period – it’s the loss of a baby, a dream.

People who knew what was happening said, ‘So? It took me/my partner a year to get pregnant.’ But that is not the same thing. When you’re trying for a baby naturally, a period means you simply try again – an upcoming month of sex, cuddling and romance, yay! When you’re having IUI, it means another month without sex. Another month of injections, three-hour round trips to the clinic every couple of days, scans, pressure, insemination, suppositories. It’s cold, clinical and the most unromantic thing you can imagine.

Also, you’re acutely aware of the fact that you only have enough money for three attempts. As Lizzie couldn’t grow follicles without injections, and wouldn’t ovulate without a different injection, and was using donor sperm, each failure dramatically reduced the possibility of her ever having a baby. So it’s completely different from trying for a baby naturally.

On the second attempt, on the way to the insemination, I drove my car into flood waters and screwed the engine. Looking back, I wonder if, subconsciously, I did it deliberately as a result of the stress of the whole shebang. But we were towed out of the flood, made it to the hospital, and Lizzie was promptly inseminated again.

This, similarly, didn’t work, but we were more prepared for failure this time and we knew we still had one shot.

It really was third time lucky. The follicle grew beautifully; the hormone-induced mood swings were almost non-existent; and the insemination went so well, we were almost guaranteed a healthy, happy baby. So when the blood came again, we pretended it wasn’t a period for the longest time, until we had to face the devastating truth – there would be no baby in our future.

After having spent three years getting my head around having to raise a baby, the fact that suddenly there wasn’t going to be one knocked me for six. Over the years, I had grown not just to accept my impending parenthood, but desire it, not in my head but in my heart. I was as desperate to be a dad as Lizzie was to be a mum.

But we’d run out of money. That third miscarriage/period was the most painful experience of my life.

On the other hand, I’d run out of reasons why I didn’t want to be a father. After a lot of soul-searching, I realised they were all based on fear – that I wouldn’t be good enough, I’d mess the kid up, I wouldn’t be able to cope, it wouldn’t like me, it’d be autistic. But then I thought: what if I was able to cope? What if I was good enough? By wrapping myself in cotton wool and avoiding the possibility of bad things happening to me, I was denying myself the possibility of good things – great things – happening too.

If you deny yourself the possibilities in life, then you’re not living and you might as well be dead. And what had all my self-protection got me? Life still found a way to intrude, time and time again.

It was like a spiritual awakening. I realised I needed to give up control and learn to embrace a little chaos and random chance – not an easy admission for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Suddenly, I had faith in myself and life. So I decided to leave the issue of my parenting in the lap of the gods – we would stop using contraception, and if I was meant to be a father, Lizzie would become pregnant.

Not that I expected much. We’d learnt during the fertility treatment that Lizzie ovulated without drugs about twice a year. She also didn’t form a thick enough wall of the uterus to enable the egg to implant without suppositories. And on three occasions, viably-proven sperm had been implanted right on top of the egg and failed to fertilise it.

The odds of Lizzie growing a follicle, the follicle getting big enough to mature an egg, the egg being released, us having sex at exactly the right time, the sperm penetrating the egg and the egg implanting, were so astronomically small that we figured we’d be in for a long, hard slog. So, in the meantime, we’d get a puppy and live our lives as normal. If a baby came along then great, but if not, we had to get on with our lives.

Lizzie was pregnant within two months.

I knew from the second of that first positive pregnancy test that everything would be fine, Lizzie would carry it to term, and it would all work out okay – I’d trusted in the Universe to tell me if I should be a dad and the Universe had answered with a massive, emphatic yes! There was no chance whatsoever we’d be given such a gift only for it to be taken away.

I’m not a religious person, but everything that happened seems as though it was meant to be, as though somebody wanted me to be a dad and took our little family on a journey of pain and spiritual growth in order to make that happen. And as soon as we were both ready and willing and trusted to fate, we were handed our longed-for baby.

Izzie is a miracle. I truly believe that. She is a gift from heaven we had no right to expect.

But now Lizzie wants another…

Continued tomorrow…