When Brian and I were engaged, we used to joke about “the back nine.” Lilly, his daughter who lives with us, was nine years old when we met. Since she would (in theory) leave for college at 18 that gave us nine years of raising her. He called it playing the back nine together.
The back nine also meant the second half of our lives. We were ridiculously, giddily in love, like teenagers in the movies, but aware of our middle-agedness. When we married, the question of more children was on the table, but not well discussed. It was possible that we would simply make a family of three. Later we could launch Lilly into the world and ride off into the sunset—still healthy, only in our 50s, just the two of us.
Little did we know that when I walked down the aisle, I was already knocked up. And then we were so happy at this new plan for our future. And then we were broken.
Over this Christmas break, Lilly went to her mom’s for a week, and Brian and I took a mini-honeymoon at home. We cooked grown-up food, read books in front of the fire, and watched football naked under fleece blankets. We ate on no particular schedule, drove no one to soccer practice, and attended no parent-teacher conferences. For a few days, we looked like a carefree couple with no responsibilities. We looked almost like that original vision of our back nine.
I let myself try it on: the relaxed schedule, the freedom. It was nice. What if we stopped trying for another baby? What if we walked away from the whole IVF project? What if we looked at each other and said, Okay, it’s just you and me? We could do it, you know, we could pull the plug.
But I am afraid of becoming a bitter, childless old woman, mired in grief, ruining my husband’s golden years. I almost ruined our little vacation this week. One moment I was saying, “The sun is out, let’s go for a walk!” And three breaths later I said, “The pain of missing her is so bad that I wish someone would hit me with a two-by-four.” How romantic.
Our baby’s death has cheated us out of so many things, including the ability to dream our own future. If we hotly pursue interventions or adoption, I want to do it with my whole heart, not because we got screwed. If we choose to raise no more children, I want to embrace that path fully, and appreciate the time and freedom we would have, instead of always mourning for what could have been. But inevitably that road will be second-best too.
We could have had such a wonderful goddamn life, if she had never come to us (terrible mother!), or if she had never died. I am turning 39 in a few days and feel no peace about the second-best life we’ve been handed. Instead, I feel my advanced maternal age.
I remember a few years back, when I was single, sobbing in my mom’s car outside the Rochester airport. It was a pent-up cry that I’d been holding in for days. My flight was leaving in 45 minutes, and I was holding us hostage, wiping my snotty fingers on her lambskin seat coverings.
I wish I were 45 instead of 35, I wailed. I just want to know already if I’m going to have a family or not. And if not, then I just want to be an old woman. I hate this middle part.
Skip ahead. I now have a wonderful little family, but I still hate the middle part. I want to peek ahead ten years, to find Brian and I deep in that back nine, and to see, is there a new little grade-schooler out there on the greens with us? Or just the two of us holding hands, with a baby in our hearts?
The future doesn’t feel like a choice anymore, only a mystery. There’s nothing for us to do but wait.
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As we enter this new year, what does your future hold? Have any of your dreams and plans for your future remained the intact through your loss(es)? Where does family-building figure in your future plans? If you could magically jump ahead in time to gain perspective on your life, would you do it and to when?