It's like a wave of internal questions and memories that takes me out of the present, and my own connotations to that question come raining down, pulling at me, demanding articulation. The swirl goes something like this: How do I explain that it wasn't an act of bravery? How do I explain that I know full well how blessed we are with the final outcome and that having a third child wasn't just us being "selfish" or irresponsible with procreation? (Yeah, that's more my own stuff than anyone else's.) How do I explain that I didn't overcome my fear because there isn't a day that goes by that I am not afraid?
And then, there is that big underlying assumption behind the question: How could I have consciously made the decision to risk having another child that could possibly go through that pain, the risks, the surgeries?
Honestly, I don't know. I wish I had a magic formula. That somehow, my experience could fall into a clean and solid set of answers to help you get beyond your own doubts and fears, but I don't and that's not how life works. That last bit is the hardest for me to swallow: knowing that you can plan til the cows come home and that life will still throw you curveballs . . . and that sometimes those curveballs are balls of fire. Dramatic, yes, but real too.
Allow me to throw in some context. I originally wanted four children. I grew up in a house as the eldest of eight, so four seemed modest in comparison - my idea of a "small" family. That changed real quick after my having my first. Parenting is hard work! And never mind my body's issues with childbirth!
Even so, I knew I wanted my first-born to have a sister. For more on that, read this post.
We knew how blessed we were to have both of our girls. We knew how blessed we were to have Tatiana come out scarred but with a fighting chance in life. We knew that Tatiana was a blessing in general - a few have even gone so far as to describe her like a "special angel" and we definitely know she has a knack for capturing the hearts of even the most guarded adults I know.
The chances of having an EA/TEF baby are approximately 1 in 4,000 babies and the chances of having another child with the same anomalies are slim from what I've been told. Still, not all that reassuring to know that the slim chance exists. And, I'm all too familiar with the tragic stories of families who have lost their little EA/TEF angels because of complications, and that is a huge understatement of the swirl of emotions conjured up by those stories.
But, still there was something about the idea of fear being the ultimate decision-maker that didn't sit well with either of us (my husband and I). In the end, it wasn't an act of bravery at all, but our fear of fear. In a sense, you could say that fear was what led us to take the gamble because we refused to let our lives be completely dictated by it. We didn't plan, per se, because we were too afraid to make the conscious choice to create another life, but we we didn't prevent, so to speak, because we were also too afraid not to take the risk.
So, when we confirmed that we were expecting, all of those emotions of fear and excitement converged into a crazy storm of emotions. We were more cautious with spreading the news. The pregnancy was monitored heavily. I had several ultrasounds and non-stress tests ruled my calendar. We had a genetic counseling session and some extra blood work. It was definitely considered a high-risk pregnancy. For the most part, the biggest problem was my gestational diabetes and the stress from all of the what-ifs.
A little over a month before I was due, one of the ultrasounds indicated that the baby's measurements were enough to cause concern. Whoo - yea, that threw me deep into a panic. The recommendation was that we proceed with a scheduled c-section and deliver the baby early. Of course, I freaked out . . . on so many levels. Those fresh wounds opened right back up and there are no words to capture the overwhelming feelings all of that brought on. I just had to remember to breathe. I wasn't prepared to predestine my baby to come into the world knowing there'd be a high probability that she'd be on a ventilator until her lungs matured. And according to the docs, with each passing day, the risk of her being still-born increased. Dramatic and traumatic to say the least. Oddly enough, it also made me come to the realization that every pregnancy is a risk in its own right.
In the end, I elected to wait a few days (and pray every way I knew how). We went forward with an elective cesarean about three weeks before her original due date. Kind of a compromise, I guess. It seemed I had been holding my breath the entire time, and I'll spare you all of the details on this birthing process (for now). I will share that I had some issues with the anasthesea and I felt that knife cut into me right before squeezing my husband's hand, screaming out something like "for the love of god," and blacking out into a series of disturbing dreams that made me think I was either dying or going crazy. Me and childbirth apparently do not mix. Not pleasant. When I came to, the first question I asked is "Was she a girl?" followed by "Is everything okay? Is she healthy?" She was indeed a healthy baby girl weighing somewhere around 9 lbs. I finally exhaled fully after those nine months or so of holding my breath.
She is two now and gives Tatiana a run for her money. She's a wild, carefree child with a soft-spoken sweetness that embraces you lovingly and she isn't afraid to speak her mind the best she knows how, even if it's with a forceful grow and a matching scowl.
When I see my three girls together, I see that my answer is there, without words. It's that faith that we aren't meant to know all the answers. That reality that sometimes life will throw balls of fire our way and there won't always be a rhyme or reason for them. Sometimes, I guess the risk is its own reward.