When It Comes to Becoming a Mother, Sometimes Less Really Is More
I tried to get pregnant for months. But when my fertility treatments worked too well, I faced an unexpected moral quandary.
We didn’t sleep at all that night. We talked for hours about how much we wanted a child and how stressed and unhappy we were from all of the months of treatments. It was hard to relate to our friends. Parenthood had come so easy to them, and we couldn’t understand why it was so unreachable to us.
On the other hand, we thought about our friend Rita, who had just delivered her twin babies nearly three months premature, and ultimately only one survived. Did we want to put ourselves through that agony with a multiple pregnancy that would practically guarantee pre-term labor? Were we prepared to raise numerous children with disabilities? There were potentially major challenges ahead if we had many babies at once.
We had never discussed abortion before in a personal way, but politically we were both pro-choice because we didn’t feel the government should rule over a woman’s body. I didn’t really know all of the Jewish laws pertaining to abortion, although I knew the concept of rodef—that if a fetus would be a danger to the mother, the fetus should be aborted. I also knew that a fetus that was shown in utero (through ultrasounds and blood work) to be fatally damaged—meaning he would not live more than a very short while after delivery—did not have to be carried to term and could be aborted, according to Jewish law. Surely there were not blanket yes or no answers to these questions, but these general guidelines would have to suffice for us, because we were not going to talk to a rabbi. We couldn’t imagine having someone else make a life-changing decision for us. Whatever happened, we were going to have to live with the consequences, and so we wanted to decide for ourselves.
After agonizing all night, my husband and I decided to continue with the insemination. We hadn’t made any final decisions about whether or not we would reduce, but we knew we could be facing a similar situation another month from now in a different treatment cycle and decided to take our chances. We hoped for best, and we prayed to God to please give us a child. Just one child.
Over the next two weeks, we didn’t talk much about the fertility treatment. All of our cycles so far had ended in failure, so we weren’t too hopeful. Besides, there was nothing we could do in this waiting period anyway, so we tried to put it out of our minds.
Of course, the pregnancy was all I could think about. I considered the possibility of many babies. I liked the name Zachary for a boy, so I tried to think of matching “Z” names for the other babies: Ziva, Zelda, Zeus … Maybe Z wasn’t the right letter after all.
I wondered if Pampers would give us free diapers, or if the baby gemach would have a stroller meant for eight.
I worried how we would fit everyone in our one-bedroom apartment.
Most of all, I agonized over whether I could really be a good mother to so many babies at once.
Two weeks later, I had a positive pregnancy blood test. I had one moment of elation: “I’m pregnant! Me! I can’t believe it!” Then the doctor said the hormone levels were so high that I should immediately consult with a maternal-fetal specialist about a reduction, because surely I was carrying multiples—we just didn’t know how many. My elation turned to angst.
It took a while for me to muster up the courage to go for the first prenatal ultrasound. My husband and I were paralyzed, unknowing, undecided. We had spoken to no one. We never consulted the fertility doctor, because he would have been furious if we told him we changed our mind and would not reduce. We never called the rabbi, because we didn’t want to hear that we definitely could or couldn’t do something. We didn’t talk to our parents or siblings, because they had no idea we were even in treatment. They watched carefully when we came over for Shabbat to see if I was drinking wine and seemed to spend a lot of time looking at my stomach, but they never directly asked us anything about having children. Our friends might have suspected something was going on, because we didn’t entertain or join in social situations as much as we had used to, but with them, too, we said nothing. We were completely alone.
Once again, I found myself lying on a cold examining table, shivering with fear. “Wait, how many did your doctor see?” the specialist asked. I squeezed my eyes shut. My throat went dry. “I only see one.” She pointed to a single flashing on the ultrasound screen. “See, that’s the beating heart.”
It’s been a long time since I was lying there on that examination table. I feel an enormous sense of relief that I didn’t have to make a decision about whether or not to reduce—perhaps even more than I did that day, because loving my daughter makes me realize how devastated I might feel about having aborted her twin, triplet, or quadruplet. She is turning 14 in December and is—along with her younger brother and sister, who were both conceived uneventfully with fertility medication—the absolute light of my life.
I still don’t know what I would have done if I had been faced with the reality of octuplets. It’s a terrifying situation whichever way you look at it. I’m just thankful to God that I didn’t become the original Octo-Mom. My daughter sometimes tells me that she wishes I did have octuplets, so she could be on a reality television show. I just chuckle.
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Overseas, I sought out ways to connect to the community, but when I came home, my old sense of alienation would quickly return