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…


Three Weeks of Growth

Izzie is three weeks old. Before she discharged us, our midwife warned us about Day 21. Apparently, new mums are the most fertile they’ll ever be today. Not realising this, many women go for their six-week check to discover that there is another bundle of poopy joy on the way. So we had a lecture about women’s fertility that ended with the catchy refrain: ‘contraception, contraception, contraception!’

Can you imagine? You’re just starting to get the hang of buttoning up sleepsuits without attaching the leg poppers to the stomach poppers and you’re back to morning sickness, mood swings and hair-thinning financial worries. Just as you’re weaning one child you’ll be trying to get the other to breastfeed.

I told the midwife she had nothing to worry about in that regard. Energy is at a premium right now and when I get into bed, the last thing I want to do is waste any. Besides, last time I looked down there, in the operating theatre, it was a car crash: I’ll probably need counselling before I have the guts to go anywhere near it again!

The midwife letting us go is both gratifying and butt-clenchingly uncomfortable. As people with ‘special needs’ we had a special midwife, although she was more used to dealing with alcoholics, drug addicts and battered wives than a couple with Asperger’s Syndrome. She was meant to stay twenty-eight days but we’re doing so well she decided we didn’t need the additional safety net. I must admit, I loved that safety net.

Lizzie says that it’s real now, though why she thought it wasn’t real before is anybody’s guess. She says she doesn’t feel like a mum. I know what she means. I have no idea what a ‘dad’ is supposed to feel like, but I expected it to be different than this.

Despite the fact I should know better, I have a weakness for believing external stimuli can cause personal growth. When I was at middle school, ten years old, I’d see the bigger kids walking towards secondary school and think, ‘When I’m that age I’ll be confident and able to cope.’ But when I grew up it was harder still – age is no indication of capability. The same with travelling: I thought if I walked down the street in some out-of-the-way town in a rainforest or desert I’d somehow be taller, and cooler, and better looking. Instead, I was the same old me, only more sunburned and slightly malnourished.

I slipped into that trap with parenthood. I thought I’d become a different person, that as soon as I saw Izzie it would be like flicking a switch and suddenly I’d be mature and wise and capable. Instead, on first seeing my daughter I thought she looked like someone had left a blue sock in a white wash. Then I wondered why she looked Mongolian. I think if I’ve changed, it has taken place over the past nine months and in such incremental stages I didn’t notice it.

I don’t feel wise or capable or mature – when Izzie’s asleep I use her arms to do the YMCA dance – but I guess we must be doing something right.

Lizzie got upset when the midwife left. It being day 21, I told her there’s a sure fire way to have her back in our lives for the next nine or so months. Judging by Lizzie’s response to that suggestion, she’s not that keen to see the midwife again!