October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. My heart goes out to all parents who have experienced devastating loss. As someone who suffered an early miscarriage, I know something of this pain and disappointment. Only a week after the joyous occasion of finding out I was pregnant for the third time, I learned that we would not be having another baby after all.
I also know that everyone has a different path to healing following a loss and that the path forward varies depending on individual and family circumstances. Some parents who experience loss go on to have a rainbow baby – a child who is born after a miscarriage or infant loss. Other times the rainbow baby never arrives. Our story is the second kind.
I acknowledge that when comes to family life, I have had more than my fair share of good fortune. I was born to two loving parents. I had a happy childhood. I’m married to a true partner in life and parenting who makes me laugh every single day. I’m the mother of two amazing children who are healthy and thriving. By all accounts, we are living the dream.
Yet I can’t shake the feeling that our family isn’t complete. I have tried to talk myself out of this for many reasons.
First and foremost, we already have two kids. One in eight couples struggles with infertility. Some are desperately trying to have one child. Others are dreaming of a sibling for their only child. Wishing for a third child feels a little self-indulgent by comparison.
Second, there are the practical concerns. From restaurant seating to car design, the world is built for families of four. Then there are the financial considerations. Whether you are paying for daycare or extracurricular activities, there is no denying that having three kids will stretch resources more than two.
Third, I leaned in heavily during the early years of parenting. In the United States, a quarter of mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth, so I know I was extremely fortunate to be able to take some extended time off. I let my career take a backseat to infancy and toddlerhood twice and was lucky enough to get back in. Would it work out again a third time? I don’t know.
Finally, as a sociologist I’m familiar with the research on parenting and happiness, which has yielded mixed findings at best. Studies tend to find that parents with children at home are less happy than adults without children, especially in the United States where there is little support for families. Empty nesters are a bit happier, but not dramatically so.
All of this logic fails against the feeling that someone is missing. And yet that person continues to be missing. Our youngest child will soon turn seven and there is no rainbow baby. I know there are many paths to expanding a family including fertility treatments, foster parenting, and adoption. For various reasons, these paths will not be our paths. At least not right now.
At this point perhaps I should offer some tips for coping with the rainbow baby who didn’t arrive or the loss of the family you pictured. I’m not sure I have any tips. But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one whose plans for family life did not work out exactly as expected. I know there must be others out there who are missing someone who never arrived or who was taken too soon. If you are traveling this path too, maybe we can miss them together.