My son has been sick the past few days. The doctor says it could be a viral sore throat, and the fever and other symptoms could therefore last up to seven days. My poor baby doesn’t want to eat or play much. I’ve been sleeping in his room so that I can be instantly with him when he calls out asking for water at 3:00 a.m.
He’s so thirsty and his body so warm. He has a fever, so I give him ibuprofen and hold him in my arms, rocking our bodies in the chair until he settles down, the weight of him heavy as he wriggles, digging deep into my chest, stomach, arms. I feel he wants to return to the womb, if only for a little bit. He’s 18 months old and the world is so exciting in his eyes, but being in my arms is the only part of the world he’s interested in in this moment. I wait a little longer to make sure the ibuprofen is kicking in, and I return him to his crib, and his favorite blanket, of course. I want my baby to feel better soon, but I’m also taking in every moment of our bodies melded together.
I’m all that he needs right now, and I love feeling needed and wanted in this way.
And just like that, I feel the rush coming one more time: I want another baby. I get this feeling more and more often. It comes at completely random times, and I can only describe it as an intense desire.
Yes, it feels like wanting a chocolate bar, or a bag of gummy bears. You want it, and you want it now. And you know it’s going to be amazing while you eat it, and whatever happens after doesn’t matter. Yes, I know a baby is not like a chocolate bar. But that raw and deep desire, naked of any logic or reason, feels like a craving to me. I want to feel another life growing inside of me, I want the sweet smell of a newborn, and to nurse again, and even to feel the exhaustion of sleep deprivation. I know. I’m crazy. Our lives seem finally to have gained a rhythm and routine. It’s working, and we all sleep through the night. Why would I want to ruin what we have? It doesn’t make any sense, but I guess that’s exactly what wanting another baby feels like.
And yet… and yet, just as I finish indulging in an imaginary bag of gummy bears, I realize I’m not purely instinct and passion. Now my stomach hurts (mainly from guilt) and I know I will have to brush my teeth really, really well tonight. You see, I also remember that I’m a BRCA1 carrier. And while that has nothing to do with gummy bears, it has everything to do with children, parenthood and life.
When my mom, who died at age 62 from ovarian cancer and was a BRCA1 carrier herself, found out that I too had the mutation but my sister didn’t, she was devastated. At the time, I remember trying to cheer her up by asking her: “What, are you trying to be fair? Would you have preferred for both of us to be carriers of that gene mutation?” The answer was: Of course, no. I wasn’t a mother at that time. I couldn’t imagine what she was feeling.
Logic then takes over my thoughts. How long should I wait before undergoing preventive surgery? Who will help out while I recover from that surgery, since we have no immediate family around to help? What if I get sick before that surgery? And, what if I get sick even after the surgery? My husband will kill me if I get sick and he’s left caring for our son…well, not literally. But what if we had two children? Oy!
And then I think: Is it fair for my son to not have a sibling with whom to share his feelings, a partner if mommy ever gets sick? What if I pass on this mutation? Is it fair for me to even consider having another child? The list of hyper brain activity and considerations goes on just as fast as tears roll down my face.
I know that life is filled with mystery and unknowns. Nobody knows what tomorrow holds, and as unsettling as that might be, well, there’s no escaping it. And I think I could do just fine if only making decisions based on the uncertainty of life. After all, what you don’t know, you just don’t know.
However, what you know, you can’t un-know.
I have always felt privileged to be able to know that I’m a BRCA1 carrier, and I continue to affirm that knowing is better than not knowing. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t shaken my life in significant ways. Knowing is the only choice for me. But knowing what to do with the knowledge I possess is something I’m still wrestling with.
So, I don’t know if I want another child. There, I said it.
In the meantime, I’ll continue rocking my son in my arms, softly singing lullabies, placing my hand on his forehead to make sure his fever has gone down, for as long as he needs me.