Sounding like a nursery or Dr. Suess rhyme came the question I asked myself two Sundays ago when it became clear that my embryo transfer did not “take.” After about a week of waiting, Googling “How to survive the two week wait” (so common, it even has a handy shorthand of 2WW), poking and prodding my body, analyzing every change or perceived change — in direct flouting of all the suggestions from the aforementioned Googling… — J and I came to know that this time didn’t “work.”
And when I told him, when I asked him how he felt, he said, “Disappointed.”
A few notes about J. When we met, he was 43, a so-close-to-being-confirmed bachelor that he wondered if he would indeed ever find someone to be with, let alone marry. He was, and is, persnickety, exacting, a creature of habit yet loathe to make plans for fear they may impinge on whatever spontaneous outdoor adventure may, perhaps, possibly, crop up. The rootedness of his idiosyncrasies meant that there was a narrow aperture through which a mate might skate, so narrow that his hope of having a partner felt increasingly elusive — family an order of magnitude more. Being a family man was not a dream of his boyhood or young adulthood; it simply wasn’t on his map.
And yet, when we started dating four years ago now, within the first month I knew that I had to bring up the “kids” conversation as it was on my map. We were eating on the back patio of a burger joint near my old apartment. Plates of sweet potato fries decimated between us, napkins curled up into balls, we sat in the dappled sunshine and I screwed up my courage: “So, what do you think about kids?”
I’m sure his answer was a quick-witted quip that soon turned earnest, as he did and does. He said he was ambivalent.
Not wanting to appear like this was a deal-breaker, not wanting it to seem that this would be an irrevocable rift, I, too, said I could “go either way.” And soon we parted for the afternoon. A few hours later I was on the phone with a close friend. I still remember sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, where I was parked, the color of the October leaves through the windows.
“You want kids,” she told me on the phone, “you’ve been pretty clear about that for several years.”
“Yeah,” I hedged, “but I don’t need them. I mean, I have students I teach and as long as I have children’s laughter in my life, that’s enough.”
“I’m telling you that’s not your truth,” she insisted. “If this is something you really want, you can’t just throw it aside as though it’s not. You will be miserable.”
And she was right. So I called J back and asked if we could talk. I told him that although I’d said that I could go either way about kids, I really couldn’t. And that if we really wanted to see where this would go, he needed to know that in that picture, for me, would always be a family.
He said okay. It was still early days, just a month in — plenty of time, I thought, for him to adjust the way he felt about having a family.
So we carried on. We went skiing, we went on trips, we snuggled and laughed and caught each others’ eye. And every now and then, I’d ask the question about how he felt about kids.
The answer remained “Ambivalent.” It remained so through meeting my family, through a 5-month break-up and reconciliation, through our engagement, and even through our wedding.
And I convinced myself that his stance, disappointing though it was (intermittently bordering on heart-breakingly devastating), it was at least not a “No.”
I convinced myself, sometimes rightly, that J had changed so much in our time together, had softened, had loosened, had lightened, that perhaps in time this same opening would traverse into the realm of our having a family.
And yet, his answer remained the same through our early pregnancy attempts, through our miscarriages, and even into the “serious as cancer” business of IVF. I mean, you can’t rightly state that you don’t want to have kids as you’re ejaculating into a cup! But, I suppose you can state that you are ambivalent — if it happens, cool; if it doesn’t, cool.
His answer remained, sometimes cheekily, sometimes frighteningly earnest, “This isn’t going to affect my life in any way, right?” And I would tell him that A) it would, and B) that he would still get to go skiing. And then I would roll my eyes so hard they stayed that way.
But, when, just a fortnight ago, I asked him how he felt and he replied, “Disappointed,” I was a bit shocked (and secretly elated).
I asked him to say more.
He said he’d been beginning to look forward to it, to having a family, to being a dad.
He’d been increasingly wondering about whether the homes we toured had enough space for a family, for kids.
He’d even started watching kids in public a little more, this time without an air of withstanding some unpleasantness or as though watching an alien species. He started to talk about kids’ skiing lessons, about cars big enough for all our gear — he even knew about the Snoo.
He said he was disappointed, that he was looking forward to it.
And so, following our “miss,” in perhaps one of the most bittersweet wins in history, my husband — the love of my life, my collaborator and my irritant, my playmate and my shoulder — begins to look forward to our future as a family.