Thin Blue Lines

September 18, 2007 at 8:55 pm (Uncategorized)

I felt like I was straight from the pages of a woman’s magazine yesterday.  I had holed myself up in the grocery store bathroom with a pregnancy test I had just purchased.  The stall where I stood was dingy, and I had to balance the test’s stick on the back of the toilet while I waited the requisite two minutes for the results.  The scene suggested something far more dramatic than my reality.  I half imagined that I was a teenager hiding the test from strict parents, or that maybe I had an abusive husband who would use the knowledge of my pregnancy to exert control over me.  Luckily, my life isn’t that exciting.  I just wanted to make sure that I was definitely not pregnant before I had an MRI performed on my foot, which is stress fractured and still hurting after six weeks in an immobilizing brace.  Given my busy schedule, I simply didn’t have the time to run home with the pregnancy test before heading to the hospital –  hence the bathroom stall.

I am not supposed to get pregnant again.  Not only am I taking an assortment of medications that could potentially harm a fetus, I’m also overweight, which would put me at an ever greater risk for diabetes.  But the real reason is that my heart has been affected in unknown ways by the sarcoidosis.  Although it appears that the prednisone and Remicade have controlled the cardiac electrical dysfunction (caused by the sarcoidosis), the right side of my heart remains curiously enlarged.  I’m fortunate that the right ventricle and right atrium have stopped growing – which they were doing, with a disturbing regularity for a couple of years – but no one knows what caused this phenomenon and what to do about it.  Since pregnancy strains a healthy heart, my physicians are reluctant to give the green light to reproduce when my heart is already weirdly out of whack.  Jay and I have been very conscientious about the doctors’ orders.  I won’t go into specifics, but we are responsible.  Not only do we both want to keep me healthy, we also want to make sure that our existing child has a mother around before we start adding to the brood.

Intellectually knowing that I should not get pregnant with a second child doesn’t mean that I’m sanguine about it.  Sometimes I feel like my bones and my blood are screaming for a baby.  I’d heard about biological clocks before, but I’d always chocked it up to anti-feminist schlock – you know, make a baby now or you’ll regret it when you’re old and withered.  But something is definitely tick-ticking inside me.  It could be the proverbial clock, but the intense pressure I feel makes me wonder if it isn’t a bomb waiting to explode.   Seeing babies on the street makes my mouth water.  Passing infant clothes in department stores leaves me cooing to myself, “Oh, those onesies are so adorable.”  I’m jealous of friends with new babies, especially if they have an older child Andrew’s age, who I can watch play with the infant.  Who is this baby-crazy person I’ve become?  And what am I going to do about it?

As I waited the one hundred and twenty seconds in the grocery store bathroom, I came up with three hundred and forty-seven reasons why I should not want to be pregnant.  “Who knew what the baby would do to my heart,” I made myself think, along with, “And all the medications I’ve taken would probably mean that I’d have a mutant anyway,” and “My doctors will positively kill me.”  Then I recounted to myself how very unlikely it was that I was even pregnant.  In addition to Jay’s and my aforementioned responsibility, there’s the fact that we are parents to a three-and-a-half year old – which means that we live in a state of perpetual, gnawing fatigue and that we often have a small, sweaty boy appear in our bed in the wee hours of the night.  Let’s just say that none of this is conducive to romance.  If I were pregnant, it wouldn’t have to be an immaculate conception, but fairly darn close to it.

Beneath my busy brain telling me what to think and what to expect, however, I could hear my heart steadily thrumming that it wanted another baby.  My throat, my bones, my fingers, my breasts, my skin all sang out that they were ready to bring new life into the world.  I couldn’t help myself.  I just couldn’t.  I ended up praying in the dank, public stall for the test to register the magical “plus” sign.  “Please, God, let me be pregnant,” I whispered, before I stopped myself in horror.  Two minutes later, I unscrunched my eyes and looked at the test.  There were only two blue lines, one in the control box to indicate the test was valid, and a minus sign in the results box to signal my infecundity.  I tidied up after myself, flushed the toilet, and washed my hands.  I walked briskly out of the store and reported for my MRI only a couple of minutes late.

I know my brain is right.  I know that I shouldn’t overrule my doctors and conceive a baby when the risks to my health may be severe.  It’s that “may” that catches me up, though, and sets my blood boiling and my heart pounding.  Isn’t it possible that the pregnancy would go smoothly?  But, as Jay reminds me, “may” is too fine a reed to hang my life on.  And so I continue to be responsible, to ogle babies rather than make them, and to eat dark chocolate when my body starts humming electrically that it is ready, what are we waiting for?

I sometimes wonder if my desire to have another baby is so strong precisely because it’s been forbidden.  If having only one child wasn’t an imposed limitation, would I chafe against it so stridently?  Maybe not.  But the force of my body’s commands makes me think that this isn’t about me being stubborn and wanting to have my way, rather that this my heart’s true desire – but it is a desire, like many others, that illness has taken from me.  I know I sound self-pitying, and I know that I am fortunate to have borne one child and that he is healthy and happy.  I am aware of this, and I am thankful for the blessing that is Andrew.

It is just that Andrew is growing up far more quickly than I could ever have imagined.  I want the experience of nursing a baby again; I want the sensation of a baby’s brand-new skin touching mine, of brand-new eyes seeing the world and me for the first time, of sharing my blood and body.  I was so nervous with Andrew – partly because that is the way that all first-time parents are, but more because I was sick and terrified that I would die and leave him behind.  He was only three months old when I was diagnosed.  I’d like to think I did a fair job of keeping my illness from touching him.  I don’t think he’s traumatized.  But I do know that I lost many moments of his infancy and toddlerhood to my own anxiety.  I want them back.  I want to do it again – with a little more knowledge and a little more calm.  Plus, I want Andrew to have siblings.  Being an only child definitely has its advantages (for both him and us), but I think it must be a little lonely for him.  He would make a wonderful big brother (and, as an added bonus, another child would give him someone else, besides us, to boss).

“Why don’t you adopt a child?” I’m sure you’re thinking.  It’s a good idea, and it’s one that we’re trying.  We’ve started filling out the requisite paperwork for a domestic adoption.  We’ll have to let social workers come make sure we’d make fit parents.  Then we’ll have to write a profile of ourselves for birth mothers.  In Montana, the biological mothers quite rightly get to pick the parents for the baby they are sending away.  And here’s where it gets snarled.  It’s doubtful that we’ll even reach the part of the process where the biological mothers get to read our profile.  My medical condition will probably disqualify us from adopting in the U.S.  If the social worker does approve us, what mother would want to send her baby to someone who is chronically ill?  A foreign adoption might be easier in terms of my health, although I know for sure that China would not allow us to adopt a baby because of it.  But adopting a baby overseas is expensive – in the neighborhood of $20,000.  That’s a lot of money, and, to be honest, I can’t quite justify it.

Are my desires for a second child worth all this the dislocation, the anxiety, and the financial strain that adoption would necessitate? Perhaps the doctors are just being extra-cautious and covering their asses from potential lawsuits when they strongly recommend I don’t get pregnant.  So, should I just trust in fate (with the backstop of high-risk pregnancy monitoring) and just make another baby?  But, then, what am I thinking?  Shouldn’t I just let my brain win this one?  After all, we have Andrew.  Shouldn’t he be enough?  I can’t answer these questions, although I ponder them daily.  Some days I will come to one conclusion, only to completely reverse myself the next day.  As I turn the questions over in my head – and in my body – I’m all too aware of the thrumming and ticking within me.  I’m thirty-six.  There will soon come a point in time when biology overrides my hopes, when my age decides for me what to do.

Jay is usually more optimistic – and inclusive – than I am, so it surprised me when he told me that it was difficult for him even to consider adopting a child.  His reluctance turned out to have nothing to do with matters of patrimony.  He said he’d be happy to have a rainbow of children call him “Daddy.”  But for him, filing the official papers seeking adoption meant that my sarcoidosis had won yet another battle.  By not looking for a baby outside my body, he could avoid another recognition that we are utterly changed by my disease.  Trying for adoption became emblematic of defeat – another “can’t” to go along with can’t travel overseas, can’t go hiking with my wife, can’t count on the future, etc.  Once he figured all this out, he was ready to move forward with the adoption.

I never really understood his perspective until yesterday’s pregnancy test in the grocery store.  But then, as I stood locked behind the narrow stall’s metal door, I felt circumscribed.  It was as if the vastness of my heart, of my wishes, of my plans, of my hopes, were being squeezed behind that door, and caged in the steady, blue lines of the pregnancy test.  I tried to shake off this weird, jailed sensation after I dumped the firmly negative test into the trash.  But it followed me out into the parking lot, and down the road to the hospital.  It trailed me into the narrow MRI tube.  And today, I’ve seen the boxy bars out of the corner of my eyes.  I spend much of my effort resisting the limitations this illness has imposed on me.  I have vowed to refuse to let the sarcoidosis keep me from exploring the world with my son, from being the kind of mother of I want to be.  But all this refusing, resisting, and overcoming sometimes blinds me to the lines that bind me – the ones I cannot leap over, or around.

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