We’re actually in the thick of this discussion at our own house, so I’ll let you in on the major points (with a lot of digression and pointless explanatory statements as usual). The question is more than just when, the question involves traces of “Should I even try to get pregnant at all?” Though we already have one child, if I were to get pregnant, in many respects it would be as if we were trying for the first time – we know about so many unknowns (as opposed to the unknowns that you don’t know you don’t know, you know?).
Fears about pregnancy itself
I always wanted to get pregnant but I only ever wanted to get pregnant once. Two children seemed like a nice number, but since I was planning on being a single mom, I figured there’d be no way I was capable of handling a pregnancy AND another child AND a job. See, all the women in my family (both sides) all have such severe morning sickness that they are truly out of commission for most of the pregnancy. They are the women who LOSE weight while pregnant, who carry around bowls and bags and peppermint gum, the women who look pale and sickly instead of glowing. Healthy babies, unhealthy mommies. No guarantees, but it looks likely that I will be that kind of pregnant woman, too. And yes, I know there are medications out there, but what side-effects do those medications have? Some of those medications given for morning sickness a generation ago resulted in birth defects that we are only now beginning to see. So, I figure I’ll have an exhaustion and vomit-filled pregnancy. And to try to do that and take care of an older child while working seemed to be too, too much I thought. I’ll have two if they’re twins. Or maybe I’ll adopt, but that’s it, no second pregnancy for me. Then I met Kristin. And when we started planning our family multiple children were always part of the picture. Partially because Kristin wanted to adopt while I wanted to birth, and partially because with two of us it seemed feasible to have more than just the one. And then Kristin decided that she’d like to birth, too. So, two kids, two different pregnancies, two different bodies. Perfect.
Then we decided that Kristin would go first. Not to be a whiner, because I know that we were lucky to get pregnant at all AND I know that that Kristin’s complications were nothing compared to some, but Kristin’s pregnancy sucked. It was awful. It was hard and scary and stressful. And though yes, YES, Julia was worth every second of it yes, still I would not want to do it again. But what does this have to do with anything, after all it will be an entirely different creature? Yes, yes it would. But Kristin’s pregnancy destroyed something for me I didn’t even realize that I was clinging to: a romantic fantasy of pregnancy. How could I have such a romantic vision of pregnancy when I had seen so many of my aunts so sick with child? I’m not sure, but all I know is that though intellectually I knew that pregnancy was hard and not all showers and nurseries and cute bellies and glowing skin and knitting, some inner child version of me was sure that that’s how it would be for me, and that all my female family members had somehow done it WRONG. Can I blame it on all the pregnancy “fashion magazines” and romanticized tales of enceinte bliss? I don’t know, but now I know the reality. They were not doing it wrong at all; they were doing the best they could. And now do I want to do something that could conceivably make me that sick for that long?
Yes, yes a baby would be worth it. But I am selfish, and I REALLY don’t like being sick. If we have to move anyway, why not just move and adopt?
Well, we’re not going to adopt because we would like the children to be closer in age than they would be if we had to move first and then start the adoption process and then wait for placement. If we planned on adopting then Julia would be 4 to 5 (or older) before we got our next child. We wanted our children to be 3 years apart or less. And no, that’s not a rational decision, it’s just the way we feel about it. And Kristin has already said that she would be willing to get pregnant again so that we could have two. But I’m not willing for her to do that. I’m not willing to be on the sidelines watching my wife go through so much again. I will take this bullet for her.
And as I type that phrase "take this bullet for her" I come to the crutch of my problem – instead of seeing pregnancy and childbirth as being something joyful and wonderful, there is a huge part of me that sees it now as something to be endured. Should I get pregnant while this is my mindset? Could I even get pregnant with this as my mindset? Would I subconsciously sabotage each attempt? Would I drive myself crazy thinking that I’m subconsciously sabotaging my efforts each month that I fail to conceive? Or would I go nuts thinking about how I’m thinking about how I may be … well, you get the picture. (please don't take this paragraph to mean that I think that every woman who fails to conceive is not pregnant because they are doing freaky self-sabotagy things. I DON'T. I just think that I am all powerful and that if I don't want something good to happen to me that I can will it not to happen -- even if I'm doing the willing subconsciously -- especially if I'm doing the willing subconsciously.)
Negative associations with Semen
Our lesbian pregnancy bible has a passage where the authors talk about needing to get rid of your issues with sperm. They propose that if you have a hostility or negativity toward the sperm within your body you may have a harder time getting pregnant. I guess your vagina will become even more hostile* if you have latent hostility toward the “invaders”? I don’t know. What I can tell you is that I have very negative associations with semen. I may not be a “penis-free lesbian” but there haven’t been many in my life. Most of my encounters with semen have been extremely negative. Not all, but most.** The first time we were inseming and semen got on my hands I FREAKED OUT. Right in the middle of the insemination I nearly burst into tears and had to forcibly restrain myself from flinging the syringe to the floor and rushing off to wash. I held my breath whenever handling the semen because I didn’t want to smell it. During the insem weeks I stayed away from the areas on Kristin that had been touched by semen. Honestly, the thought of having it inside me, of touching it, of wiping it off, of smelling it come out of me, nauseates me. It would be so much easier for me if we were doing this with washed sperm. But we love our donor and we can’t imagine not having a known donor, and we don’t want to go to the expenses entailed in having his sperm frozen, stored, tested, washed and inserted in me when if I could just get over this issue (my language, not anyone else’s) we could do it for free and on our own time. If I want to get pregnant I need to resign myself to having semen within me. And if I want to feel good about myself I need to be beyond thinking of it as “resignation”. I don’t know if I’m ready to do that.
Two miscellaneous things that will expose me as shallow and selfish (if you didn’t already know) and may even provoke mean comments that will make me cry:
Because even though I know that my idea of pregnancy is fueled by pictures of skinny, skinny women in tiny clothes with cute little bumps,*** and I know how wrong and damaging that is, I STILL see myself 80 to 100 lbs skinnier when I get pregnant. And that, people, is never going to happen. I will never be that skinny. I probably should never be that skinny. Yet how will I feel like a beautiful pregnant woman (in between bouts of vomiting) in the cute maternity clothes if I am not? If I can’t even fit into most maternity clothes even before I get pregnant? Mermaidgrrl posted a beautiful picture of a heavier pregnant woman on her site, and I look at it every day in an effort to retrain my thoughts about beauty.****
I’ve read so many sites about breastfeeding, overheard so many debates on the subject. I do truly believe that the best food for a child is breastmilk and yet… I watched Kristin struggle and struggle to produce milk for Julia. When we finally gave up there was such a release of tension in our home. And Julia is so healthy and so smart; I can’t see how she could possibly be healthier or smarter if she were exclusively breastfed. Well, I guess her poop would smell nicer. But there are women out there whom I respect who have expressed the idea that if a woman chooses NOT to breastfeed then maybe that woman shouldn’t be a mother. Maybe she’s not selfless enough. I am already a mother and yet I didn’t breastfeed. If I had breastfed Julia would that make me MORE of her mother? But I guess that’s not the point. I think the point is that by choosing not to breastfeed you are choosing not to do what you think to be best for your child, and what kind of a mother would choose not to do what’s best for her child? I have to tell you that the few times I suckled Julia I hated it. It didn’t hurt, exactly. I know I had her latched on correctly. It’s more that the sensation had me wanting to crawl up the walls. And the thought of that sensation fading because I will lose some sensitivity in my nipples makes me want to cry. And my breasts are already so large I worry about the state of my back (and my chances of finding even bigger bras) if they get any larger. So how do I reconcile the idea of giving birth and being a good mother with my extreme reluctance to breastfeed? I have decided that I will nurse my newborn to provide him/her with colostrum, but after that I guess I’ll see, perhaps it won't be as bad as I think. But you know this goes back to the semen thing. Will I have breastfeeding problems simply because I don’t want to breastfeed? Will I have breastfeeding problems because I’m sure I’m going to have breastfeeding problems because I don’t want to breastfeed. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
I just want to work through this all with the least amount of self-recrimination possible. And I want everyone to love me and think I’m not so selfish and needy and neurotic that I can’t do a perfect job. I just want to add to our wonderful family without fucking everything up in the process.
My current job is a contractual one. My contract is up in October (I think, maybe September). The trend here is to keep contractual workers on by renewing their contracts and all my colleagues talk as if I am to be here for a good long time. But still, there’s a level of uncertainty. After the last pregnancy and all the stress associated with expecting a child while one partner was unemployed, Kristin and I do not want to begin TTCing and then find out that my contract will not be renewed. So, we wait until I can ask and find out if they will be renewing my contract. Hopefully I’ll know well before the contract is up. And then we hope that if I get pregnant before I get firm papers that nothing happens to change their mind. Further, because I don’t want to have to look for a new job after the baby is born, we want to make certain that I will not be going on leave anywhere near the time when my next contract is up for negotiation. I don’t want them thinking that because they’re going to have to do without me for 3 months that they might as well not renew my contract and just get another girl in here. So (unless I get another job in the meantime – and I am (sort of) working on that right now) we will have a very short window to achieve pregnancy without worrying about my job.
Combine that with the fact that for the last 6 months my cycles have been 20 days or less. I’m not sure what part of my cycle is shortened, it could be both parts. I’ve started tracking my cycle this month and I had some blood tests done last week. But I’m worried that it won’t be easy for me to get pregnant, and that, coupled with our timing concerns and my ambivalence to begin with, just adds to my worry stew. And that stew is getting mighty thick and tasty.
Despite all this ambivalence, we are planning on beginning the TTC thing sometime this summer. But because of all this ambivalence, I’m not certain that we’ll let anyone know if/when we start.
Does that answer your question?
* I swear to god one of these days I’m going to write a poem called “Hostile Vagina”. It'll be magnificent.
** Ok, I guess with all the insems last year my history with semen is tipped toward the positive spectrum, but the trauma remains.
*** these images are so pervasive, they're even emblazoned on the cover of this book that I was thinking of buying but am not certain that I should now because I worry that it will aggravate my body issues -- I know, I know, never judge a book by its cover, maybe the pictures inside will show more diverse body types.
**** My standard of beauty does not extend to other pregnant women. I think ALL pregnant women are beautiful. It’s just me here. This picture looks like something I could look like, and so I think maybe I can work with it to retrain my self-talk. I do want to say that all you women out there who don’t have model/Hollywood bodies who post pictures of your pregnant selves make me unbelievably happy and I think they do important work for women with body issues who are thinking about getting pregnant.