Last week I tried to buy a bike rack. I found a good deal on a quality one and had dreams of family bike rides through Lynchburg trails with the summer wind blowing in our faces. All those dreams came crashing down when I realized my husband’s truck hitch wouldn’t fit the rack. Today, I bought another rack, one that fit my trunk and our budget and my expectations for quality. After school, I picked up my son and we took our bikes to a local park to ride our hearts out before a spring thunderstorm was to strike. I’m not sure what makes an 8 year old boy ride through every mud puddle, but he did and the whole backside of him from ankles to head was covered in splatters. It delighted him (and me) as his laughter and whistles competed with the wind.
A close friend and I recently chatted about the pain of only having one child when our arms ache for more. For me, the years of infertility and the experience of an angel baby has left me a bit dried up and searching for who I truly am, when I was “supposed” to be the mother of a houseful of noisy children, who made Christmas dinners entertaining and left dirty socks in every corner. It doesn’t help that we live in a city where having children is almost a religion and only having one child entices many to ask… “Are you going to give that boy a sister?” Or the pitying looks from those wondering if I’m every going to conceive again. When Ethan was 5 or 6, the questions of when we were having another seemed to fade away. If we lived in a metropolitan area, I’m pretty sure no one would bat an eye at our only having one child. But today, it took me off guard when the owner of our favorite Mexican restaurant asked me that very question. In all fairness to him, we haven’t seen him in years as he runs multiple eateries, but it still surprised me.
A few years ago after we lost our baby, we went through fertility treatments. Physically and emotionally, I knew I was done, one afternoon. Sitting in the waiting room full of eagerly expectant moms with swollen bellies sealed the deal for me. I was done trying. Done with painful procedures. Done with daily temperatures. Done with ovulation kits and intimacy for the point of procreation, and that horrible two week wait after ovulation, wondering if I had conceived that month. Moving on from these lifelong dreams, however, cut me like a knife. Would I ever have a daughter to dress in bows? Would Ethan feel like he was missing out on life without a brother? Had I failed him in some way? Would I grow old one day and live alone in a nursing home with no one to visit me if Ethan lived across the country? How was I going to wrestle with my maternal instincts that seemed to be on overdrive? That wrestling led me to a new career pursuit of becoming a Lactation Consultant. Never in all my years of practicing my nursing career would I have dreamed I would work with breastfeeding babies and mommas. But it fits somehow, like a puzzle piece. This love for babies and nurturing has redemptively turned into a love for educating women and loving on their babies.
Yet, There are moments when I see adorable, chubby faced babies in bows, or that picture of a perfect family with parents surrounded by multiple cherubs in a field of grass with the sun casting a warm glow on their little family… that my heart aches. I have cried many tears in the shower over the loss of my baby almost 4 years ago…of the loss of my dreams of how I thought my family would look. Death of dreams demands attention.
I inwardly cringe every time I hear someone refer to a newly expectant baby (after the loss of another baby) as a rainbow baby. Perhaps because rainbows do not happen for everyone in that manner. It hasn’t for me… I went for a walk last week at the park and ran into a woman I had cared for at the hospital. Her adorably chunky baby was smiles and sweetness. I knew this woman had wrestled with difficulties in conceiving and had experienced a miscarriage. Some women exude joy in parenting. This momma is one such woman. She loves being a mother and is doing an amazing job. But she was wrestling with whether or not she wanted another child or not. She asked me the pros and cons of having one child, aware of my story.
I love that Josh and I have been able to parent Ethan with such individual attention. That my son has his passport and has been able to travel to other countries. He absolutely adores Mexico and wants to go to Europe. That he plays the violin, and I can actively participate in that experience with him. That we can have calm bedtimes and snuggles with him. That he doesn’t have to share our attention with other children at this time in life. But I ache that he doesn’t have a brother to share a room with and be scolded with for whispers past bedtime. That I am the playmate at times on lazy Saturday afternoons, instead of a brother or sister. My heart is incredibly grateful for the neighborhood kids and the dear friends (who are like brothers to Ethan) who Ethan has shared incredible memories with. Mercies for my heart…
When that first bike rack did not work out, I was disappointed. But then another one came across my path a few days later. I chewed on this… This thought that one rack was not better or worse than the other. They were...simply different. And so it is with my family and every other family with one child, whether by choice or not. We are not better or worse than any other family structure… we are simply different. We are us… and our child is an absolutely precious gift. Perhaps society can begin to accept the variations of families that don’t all look like alike and lay aside any personal judgements and ideas we hold others and ourselves too. And perhaps as mothers we can begin to address that our identities as women supercede being mothers. That who we are is more than the chores of changing diapers and washing dirty laundry. That we have a loving nurturer inside of us. And we can throw that love into raising our families…whether with one child or 20. And we can spread it to others outside our family too… as for me… breastfeeding mothers and their babies. Because we are strong and loving women who need the support of one another and need to extend grace to ourselves and our differences.
And speaking of washing dirty laundry… a little boy’s muddy clothing and shoes are asking to be cleaned.
Julie Brown, Mother to Ethan, RN, BSN, Breastfeeding Educator, IBCLC candidate
Julie serves as a leader for The Motherhood Grief Group which meets the 2nd & 4th Wednesdays of the Month at 12 noon. Please visit their page for more information.