Welcome, Liad Meir.
To my unborn fourth child, the one I just might not create, the one I may choose to not give life.
I dreamed of you, a tiny ball of cells, then growing into a petite baby, chicken-like, the youngest of three older siblings. I groped at the vision, held it tightly in my fists so that when I birthed my third, and when I weaned her, I wasn’t pained with thoughts of This is my last. I keep boxes of neatly folded clothing for you in the attic, covered by a filmy layer of dust. Four is a nice number, round, even, an ideal family. But I might stop at three.
I wonder what will become of you; if you will be reassigned, begrudgingly, to another family, or if you will exist for the duration of the world as a bodiless soul, wandering between heaven and earth, one leg straddling each, but never quite belonging. Will you cry invisible tears of longing, shouting words that won’t be heard because you don’t have a voice? Will you never matter?
I think you would be a little boy, a soulful playmate to your older brother, who constantly beseeches me with, “Why don’t I have a boy to play with?” as he only has two sisters. You would race cars together on our hardwood floors, sliding on your knees as you struggle to see who can reach the dining room table first. You would play hockey in the driveway, boys against girls, and you’d probably have to play goalee, the less desirable position often relegated to the younger, slower siblings. I would call you “Liad,” Hebrew for Mine, Forever.
“Should I give away the exersaucer?” I ask Yoni one day, because Mica, at a year old, has outgrown it, and it is serving as a dumbwaiter for clothing in our walk-in closet. I am testing him, his resolve to end our child-bearing years. If he sincerely does not want more children, he will want to be rid of the extra clutter.
“Sure,” he says, shrugging, “just give it to your sister, or something.” I am crestfallen, still hoping to catch his bluff, and so I ignore the conversation, leaving the exersaucer as is, until it gets placed lovingly in the attic, next to the defunct baby swing, baby bjorn, and boppy pillow.
Not having a bigger family leaves me feeling unfulfilled. As a child, all I wanted to do was grow up to be “a Mother.” I felt that having children defined me as a person, gave me credibility, stood next to my name in place of a “phd” or “md”. The more I had, the better I was, and somehow, I don’t quite feel that I have made Phi Betta Kappa yet. But I suppose I should feel relieved that there are no more sleepless nights in store for me, that I will no longer awaken in a puddle of breast-milk or worry about errant projectile peeing, on my sheets, during hours of the night when even the streetlights are asleep. I should be happy to graduate from baby-making to the “rest of my life,” and yet, I am not.
Yoni worries about my deteriorating health, the advancing of my autoimmune condition, the well-being of our children, and his ability to provide. He does not want more children. We used to see eye-to-eye on this, especially during my third pregnancy, when I felt my veins bulging out of my legs, throbbing, independent of my heart, and had to limp around in $130 compression stockings that would tear every two weeks. I vowed never to go through it again, that Mica would be my last. But then I had an easy (early!) labor, an even easier delivery. And the baby was a living angel. How could I not want another? I’ve changed my mind, and I’d like to change his, too. I would like us to have a fourth.
“Trick him,” a friend suggests, over sushi and crispy beef. But I can’t fathom bringing a child into this world against his will. I can’t create a life out of a dishonest gesture. It has to come from him, physically, mentally, willfully.
“Maybe you should consider something more permanent,” my OB says to me, one afternoon, over the phone, her voice a smooth, velvety song. I had called to complain about my copper coil IUD, again, unsure of my ability to survive much longer with the device implanted and invading my uterine space. With the endless monthly hemorrhaging it caused. It is an antennaed alien crowding my soft tissue, and It needs to go. Sometimes, I can even feel subtle vibrations, and I am convinced that it picks up sound signals. My own little transistor radio, tuning me in to the life beyond.
But the finality of her statement is haunting, as I have exhausted and eliminated all other methods of birth control. “You might want to get a tubal ligation. It’s a good option for women with medical issues, like you, who aren’t planning on having more children,” she offers, trying to be helpful. Tears sting at my eyes, and I am grateful not to be in her office, sitting, exposed on the examining table, crying into the paper-gown which would disintegrate when wet. I am only 28, and yet I am considering ending my child-bearing potential. I have friends who haven’t even started.
“Think about it,” she says. “Discuss it with your husband.” But I don’t want to, because I worry that he might say yes. I hang up the phone and stare blankly into the emptiness of my kitchen, at the still air hanging softly, motionlessly in pockets around my face. On my to-do list, an X was unwillingly being put next to “have a family.” It was finished, but I didn’t feel complete.
I immediately call Yoni at the office, even though I thought I’d wait until later in the evening. I hold my breath, hoping he picks up his phone and that he is not with a patient. I hope he is by his desk. He answers. “The doctor thinks I should get a tubal ligation!” I gush into the phone. “This IUD is just not working for me, and I don’t have many other options…” I drone on, repeating my earlier conversation, between gasps and sniffles.
He listens carefully, and I strain to hear the subtle nodding of his head across the phone lines, over the miles that separate us. I imagine his eyes must be lighting up at the simplicity of the birth control solution, the sudden end to all future, “So… should we try for another?” discussions that will never have to happen.
And yet, without hesitation, he says, “No.”
“Really?” I say.
“You’re so young,” he continues.
I nod. Maybe there will be a fourth, then.
“You don’t know what will happen in the future.”
Definitely, a fourth.
“What if I die, and you remarry, and that man wants to have another kid with you?”
He might want to give away the exersaucer, but at least I can keep my functioning ovaries.
A month later, I am at the OB’s office, switching my copper coil for the Mirena IUD, my last and final hope at birth control. It is the gruff Italian partner, with more hair on his arms than on his head, and he asks me in his thick accent if I am planning on having more kids, because if not, I might want to go with the tubal ligation. “But it’s so permanent,” I say, not ready for the big commitment, wondering why everyone seems so desperate to get me to cease having children.
“Well, you can still have kids after, just you would need to go through IVF.” He says this casually, as if having eggs harvested and injecting hormones intramuscularly is no big deal. Like getting a manicure. This is news to me though, that it is not 100% permanent, and so I take out my phone and quickly text Yoni, while I shiver in my paper gown, and my feet dangle loosely in the stirrups.
You sure I shouldn’t do it? I type. I can always do IVF later.
It’s expensive! He writes.
Insurance will cover the ligation, I pound into the tiny keyboard.
No, the IVF is expensive!
What do you care? You’ll be dead. It will be my second husband’s problem, I type.
But I sense that through the excuses, the answer to the procedure remains as a “no.” And maybe not just for my imaginary second husband’s financial sake, or to spare me the emotional pain of going through IVF. But perhaps because Liad is not so far off. Maybe he is still within our reach. Maybe at night, Yoni will hear his soft voice, the voice that nobody else may ever hear, calling out, “Daddy, Daddy,” and he will know that this is his home. His only choice for a home. And if he doesn’t reach out for him, Mine, Forever, will never be.