We went back and forth for a long time – our entire relationship up to that point, really. I was still feeling shell-shocked from memories of PPD and a failed marriage, while David simply thought that no kid could ever top Jack. (Awww.) Could I go through the stress of a new baby again? Could I trust my partner to do his part after what had happened in my previous marriage?
It took until Jack was five years old for me to answer those questions.
We finally decided sometime late last year. We wanted to have another child and we would start trying sometime in 2012. We had gone through some ups and downs in our relationship but had settled in nicely and were working toward our goals. We felt secure in our love for one another and our desire to build our family. I thought that at least I’d be prepared if I got PPD again, and we decided that Jack was probably meant to be a big brother and would not feel slighted by an addition to the family. We would make sure he DIDN’T feel that way.
About a week into the new year, we were sent to the hospital with Jack and handed the diagnosis of Leukemia. I kid you not – just days before this I had been talking to my friend Becky about child loss (we were brainstorming for a resource page for Band Back Together) and I said, “I’d probably kill myself if something happened to Jack.” Jack is THE REASON I turned my life around back in 2008. Regardless of how far I’d come in rebuilding my life, how could I keep going if he wasn’t a part of it?
The conversation with Becky haunted me as soon as I knew there was something wrong with Jack’s health. I thought, “I did it again – I opened my big fat mouth! I’m never going to say a goddamned thing parenting-related again!!!” It had seemed I’d asked for it. I had tempted fate and now my boy was sick. Considering the hardships I’d been through in my life, I should have known better – don’t acknowledge the blessings out loud, lest they be taken away.
I wish I could say that the feeling that somehow I caused this went away, but it hasn’t. It’s a known issue with me – I blame myself for most things. Magical thinking at its finest!
Not long after the diagnosis, one of my (many) panicked thoughts was, “We should have a baby – that would keep me here if something were to happen to Jack.” I just knew that if we lost Jack, everyone around me would lose ME, too. I simply hadn’t been living before Jack was in my world, and how would I live without that sunshine in my life? Another child would ensure that I stayed rooted. I needed something to keep me rooted – something that told me that there was NO WAY I was allowed to give up. I probably don’t need to point out that I was feeling a clawing desperation and horror, and that was affecting my thinking at that point in time…
Sometime in the proceeding days, my thoughts shifted. There was NO WAY I could handle a baby while my firstborn was fighting the battle of his life! I could not take my attention away from Jack! I was going to be right by his side and make sure we beat this!!! Thankfully my husband and I had a heart-to-heart and he expressed his concern that I would throw myself so thoroughly into taking care of Jack that I would ignore myself, our marriage, our life.
David has an amazing ability to center me. I made the right decision there!
I don’t remember who in the oncology team said this – maybe it was more than one person – but I heard the message loud and clear: you can’t stop living because of this diagnosis. You can’t change your life plans – that will just frighten Jack more.
I couldn’t reconcile that message with my other concerns. It was clear to me that I couldn’t completely throw myself into the role of Jack’s savior. There was really very little I could do to help him fight this and losing myself in the process would be more detrimental to him than anything, not to mention I had a husband I’d made promises to – but this was my SON, my first-born, my lifeline! If he wasn’t okay, I wasn’t okay! There was no getting around that. I likely wouldn’t be here if Jack wasn’t here – how would I carry on if he was gone?
Understandably, thoughts of adding onto the family were put on the back burner. The stress and worry over Jack’s health weighed on me so heavily that I no longer slept peacefully and I could barely get up in the morning – I couldn’t see how I could handle a pregnancy or infant on top of all that. On top of that, it didn’t matter that Jack’s prognosis was fantastic – that it would be a shock if he didn’t lick this – we had already drawn the short straw. There was proof we had bad luck. How could we take the leap of faith necessary to have another child?
Jack is now six weeks from the maintenance phase – the phase where we are relatively “home free” and he can return to school. There is no reason to believe he won’t completely heal from this and never experience a recurrence.
So now I have time to return to thoughts of another child…and my worries have not faded. Having a second child feels like taking a risk. We are both now hyper aware of all that could go wrong. Maybe we should just call it good! No need to tempt fate!
But I still can’t let go of the thought of expanding our family. It doesn’t seem right to give up, to never again experience pregnancy or birth or those little developmental milestones. I can’t help but wonder what my genes mixed with David’s genes would create. Not to mention that as hard as parenthood is, having Jack in my life is absolutely worth it.
Before Jack’s cancer, I was sure we’d be trying to conceive this year and add to our family. Now, I’m not sure.
Unfortunately cancer affects life in many ways, and it has shaken us to the core.