“What kind of milk do you want?” the young woman’s voice asked through the Starbucks drive-through intercom.
I glanced at the list of substitutes on the menu.
“I…don’t know,” I replied, choking back tears.
“Let’s just go with regular milk, then?” the intercom voice softened.
By the time I got to the window, I had thankfully pulled myself together after a quick but loud sobbing session. The girl at the window offered me my coffee silently, with a warm smile.
As you may have guessed, the Alt Milk Incident, which took place several months ago, wasn’t really about alt milk. Instead, it was the culmination of six months of me stressing over a life decision that was increasingly seeming impossible to make.
With a four-year-old and two-year-old at home, and my 30s coming to an end, my window to try for a third child was rapidly narrowing, while my indecisiveness was exponentially growing.
This wasn’t a decision I even expected to be considering at this point in my life.
After undergoing years of exhausting IVF cycles, the tacit agreement I had with myself was that after my second baby was born two and a half years ago, I would feel definitively “done.”
But, as it happens…that didn’t happen.
As my husband enthusiastically talked about moving past the baby phase of our lives, I nodded along but somewhere inside me, there was a seed of hope that I would hold a tiny newborn on my chest once again.
Over the past year, that seed had bloomed into me exploring the option in the real world. I expressed my desires out loud, to my husband, sisters and mom. And I waited for myself to be convinced not to want this.
But I also wasn’t convinced that I wanted it, either.
So I sought external guidance and influence. I went to therapy. I made lists of pros and cons. I read everything I could find on the topic. I asked random and unsuspecting women—mom peers at the gym, colleagues during Zoom calls, neighbours out walking their dogs, even contractors in my house—if and when they knew they were done having kids, if they had any regrets about the number of kids they’d had, and basically, if I should try for a third.
Every single one answered me graciously and thoughtfully. But still, no decisive answer came to me, and believe me, I spent every idle moment of the day thinking about it. It had really become the biggest question of my life. And one racked with not only stress but guilt (hello, old friend). Many people aren’t even able to have kids and here I was, bemoaning the fact that I had options?
Furthermore, there were such strong reasons to both try and not to try.
In the “go for it” camp was, primarily, my emotions.
Female hormones are the strongest drug in the world, because they can make you do the craziest things—like want another baby, even when there are a million sound reasons against.
But also speaking to me was the fact that it was physically and medically viable. Not only did we still have tiny, precious embryos stored away in frozen limbo, but my doctors were all supportive. In fact, when I told the fertility doctor about my anxiety over the decision, she replied: “Many of my patients would kill to be in your position.” (And cue the guilt.)
In the “you are crazy for even thinking about this” camp was the vague memory of having a newborn. Yes, babies truly infuse meaning, wonder and magic into every moment of every day. But they are exhausting and relentless in their needs. Could I really survive another newborn phase—the lack of sleep, the constant cocktail of post-partum/breastfeeding hormones coursing through my body? Especially with two tiny dependents already fighting for my attention? I honestly didn’t know.
Another strong argument made by me, to me, was that my life right now is amazing. My daughters are the light of my life AND they sleep through the night. I also feel SO close to having a workable balance between the career I love and still having enough time and energy to devote to my kids and husband (whom, I might add, is also happy with life as is). Would another baby throw everything off? Was it worth the risk?
Finally, towards the end of my anxiety-ridden road to emotional paralysis, a wise mom friend gently suggested I question if I really, truly wanted another baby or if I was just mourning the fact that my kids are growing. This triggered something. I increasingly feel like my life is moving too fast and Who The F are these tiny creatures in my house who are already way older than they should be? Maybe having another baby would just be an attempt for me to control something completely out of my control.
After the Alt Milk Incident, I read up on the idea of the “paradox of choice,” the modern psychological concept suggesting that the wealth of options in our modern lives can be more of a curse than a blessing. Yup, I felt that. Hard.
So, in the interest of my sanity, I made a call: not to go for it.
I know it was a sound, logical decision for my family, but even as I write this, I am fighting back tears. I don’t know when I’ll stop being sad.
But in the meantime, just having chosen a path has quieted my mind, allowing me to instead reflect on the cost of my “paradox of choice” to the generations of parents before me.
It was only about 60 years ago that my grandmother had to beg her religious small-town doctor for birth control (a new concept at the time). Only because she pushed so hard, he finally consented, and she was able to continue to run a business with my grandpa while still having time for the five daughters she already had.
A couple of decades later, my own mom went on to finish her university degree and start her own business after having five kids of her own. She did this not only to fulfill her own passions but to prove to herself and women everywhere that moms shouldn’t be limited in their choices.
So while I mourn my third baby that just wasn’t meant to be, I guess I am also, paradoxically, grateful to be burdened with the heartbreak that comes with the hard decisions that women before me pushed so hard for me to have.