It’s strange how you can grieve for someone you never met.
There are moments when I grieve for the people my sons might have been if they didn’t have autism. At ages 13 and 11, they are quickly becoming little men. I wonder what their interests would be if the world weren’t so darn hard for them to understand. Would they like school? Sports? What would they hope to be when they grow up? At times, my heart aches to meet those two young men.
And sometimes I grieve for their little sister, who does not and never did exist. She dwells along a path our family did not take.
When the boys were younger, I tried to convince my husband to have another baby. Being a sensible man who believes our overriding responsibility is to take care of our sons, he said no.
We agreed he would get a vasectomy, in hopes of quelling my baby-lust. It worked for a few years. I focused on my job and the boys, who grew and changed and fought hard to overcome daily challenges. On difficult days, I tried to imagine what it would be like if I had to deal with a crying baby on top of it all, and I thanked Greg for standing firm.
But my biological clock or hormones or whatever’s to blame was persistent. Last year, with my 39th birthday approaching, I told Greg I had tried, truly tried, to let it go, but my desire for a baby was stronger than ever.
The ache for a daughter
I made my case. The previous 10 years had been so hard. Every step forward for the boys was laced with sadness for all the milestones that were never achieved. I wanted a reason to be unabashedly happy. I craved the excitement of pregnancy and the overwhelming joy of bringing home a new baby. And I wanted to have all of the experiences that I missed out on with the boys. Answering her questions about the world. Watching her make a friend. Going to her first concert or dance recital or art show at school. Having a conversation with her. Learning about her hopes and dreams.
I sounded like one of those silly teenage girls who get pregnant because they think having a baby would be fun. Certainly, I knew better, but I refused to consider the possibility this would be anything but wonderful. I just wanted it that badly.
After several difficult conversations, my husband acquiesced. He agreed to look into getting a vasectomy reversal. But first, I had to go to the doctor to get checked out.
I had had an easy time getting pregnant with the boys, but I was in my 20s then. I often worried that the stress of raising them would have long-term health consequences for me, including the possibility that my ovaries might decide to shut down early.
Which is what the doctor’s test revealed.
A quest to boost chances
Of course, I started researching online, and I found plenty of websites with plans for boosting fertility and pictures of women with test results similar to mine cuddling their newborns. The strategies included yoga, acupuncture, a super-healthy diet and an extensive list of supplements.
I was also looking at diets that promised to increase my chances of having a girl, as well as protocols for reducing the risk of having another child with autism. Researching them, figuring out how to make them work together, and actually implementing them would be a full-time job.
Time was already a scarce commodity in my life. In addition to working and caring for the boys, I was neck-deep in the application process to start a charter school for middle- and high-school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
There was no way to take on another major project. If I wanted to try to have this baby, I would have to walk away from the school, which I truly believe has the potential to change my sons’ futures and give them a chance to have fulfilling lives with purpose and independence.
So I cried for my imaginary baby, and I let her go. Our family was going down a different life path, one with amazing possibilities for our boys but that could not include her.
Earlier this month, the Public Charter School Advisory Council voted unanimously to recommend the Dynamic Community Charter School’s application for approval. I did not think about that baby on that day.
Instead, I hugged my sons and rejoiced in knowing that we are all on the right path.