There is this strange cultural phenomenon that takes place when you become pregnant. When you walk around visibly carrying another human in your womb, a large subset of the population seems to think that you’ve completely given up your right to privacy and personal space. People stare at you, touch you, and ask you a whole bunch of unsolicited questions. Most of the questions tend to be pretty harmless, but it’s not uncommon for friends, family members, and even complete strangers to just strike up conversations about your future parenting choices, how you conceived your child, and even ask you very specific questions about parts of your anatomy.
When telling someone that I’m expecting my deceased husband’s baby (while there is generally a period of stunned silence), more often than not I’ve found that I’m inundated with even more questions. In the interest of transparency and simplicity I’ve created a list of actual questions that I’ve heard in one form or another from people with a lot of curiosity surrounding my very personal decision to pursue becoming a solo parent via ART (assistive reproductive technology), following the death of my husband. I’m considering getting an “everything you think you need or have the right to know about my pregnancy” pamphlet printed to distribute rather than repeating many of these answers, but for now the magic of the internet will have to suffice.
Now, I can’t stress this enough. It is perfectly ok to ask people not to touch your belly and decline to answer their questions about your cervix, nipple size, and whether or not you’re going to sleep train your infant. Got that pregnant people? A perfectly acceptable answer to all of these questions (or any other question you may encounter) is “it’s none of your damn business!” With that being said here is a list of questions that you may have wanted to ask about my very personal decision to have my dead husband‘s baby.
You’ve said that this is Travis’s baby, but I mean, is it really Travis’ baby?
Yes, this is really Travis’ baby. If I went on the Maury Povich show for a DNA test he would say without a doubt that Travis is the father. Conceiving this child was a three year process and Travis has been with me every step of the way, even after he physically left my side.
You seem to have waited a long time to tell people about this pregnancy, why the big secret?
There are a lot of reasons why I’ve kept my pregnancy pretty private up until this point (more than half way through). First and foremost, it’s a pretty complex situation and so I wanted to make sure that I was comfortable discussing everything before I let a lot of people into this part of my life. It’s just not as simple as “we’re expecting!” when half of the “we” isn’t there to revel in the news. Things were further complicated by the fact that in the beginning of this pregnancy there were initially two heartbeats that unfortunately became just one around week #10. When you couple that with a previous miscarriage that means that I have lost 2/3 of the babies that I’ve ever carried. Anyone who has experienced pregnancy loss knows how painful it is to un-tell people who have already started to love your baby right along with you, and so I became pretty apprehensive about sharing the news.
Consequently, it’s really taken this long for me to feel truly connected to this pregnancy. I liken it to Sandra Bullock’s character in Bird Box referring to her children as “girl and boy” until she feels like they’re safe. I love and want this child more than I’ve loved or wanted anything in my life, but until recently when I started to regularly feel them wiggling around I just wasn’t ready to let them be real. Now that I’m there, I am pretty excited to be sharing this news with the world. Also, no one was buying the “I ate a lot over the holidays” excuse anymore so I guess it’s time…
What are you having?
Well, I’m pretty sure it’s a human baby but Travis was pretty hairy so I guess part-bear-cub is also a strong possibility.
Ha ha… that’s funny, but seriously, what… what is it?
Oh, right, you and everyone else seem to be oddly curious about my child’s genitals. I’ve decided to be surprised, but rest assured that the doctor feels that whatever genitals this baby has are developing normally. I’ve also heard those ultrasounds can be pretty inaccurate anyways. I’ve had a few friends and family members who have been unexpectedly surprised in the delivery room, and a couple more who have told us all a few decades after their birth that we were dead wrong about their gender.
Aren’t fertility treatments expensive? How could you afford this, especially after the insanely high cost of your husband’s cancer care?
Fertility treatments are very expensive. We were fortunate enough to be eligible for assistance from Livestrong Fertility, a program that helps cancer patients and survivors become parents. Although, I’m pretty sure from reading the fine print that I’ll forever have to introduce this child as being “made possible in part by a grant from the Livestrong foundation…,” I am incredibly grateful to be starting my life as a parent without the financial burden that can come with pursing fertility treatments. After all, I’ve heard actual babies are pretty expensive, too.
Speaking of finances, at least you’ll be able to get social security benefits for your child on their late father’s behalf, right?
Unfortunately, it seems likely that will not be the case. Conceiving children after the death of one’s partner is not super common, but happens often enough that the Supreme Court has made a ruling to leave this decision up to the states. My state is among the few who have weighed in on the issue and have decided not to extend benefits to biological children conceived after the death of a parent. While I can certainly understand the argument from both sides I would of course appreciate being able to have this child benefit from the system that my husband paid into for 20+ years only to die before being able to benefit from it himself. With that being said, Travis was a very responsible guy and was able to provide some financial means for his wife and the child he hoped we would have. I’d love more stability, but I have so many more advantages than other solo parents starting out. I’m grateful for that and I think we’ll be ok.
Have you picked out names?
Travis and I picked out names together but I reserved the right to meet the child and make sure the name fits before officially signing any paperwork. This part will be a surprise as well.
Why didn’t you do this while Travis was alive?
That’s a tough one. We both wanted and expected children to be a part of our relationship. We experienced one miscarriage before his diagnosis and were unsuccessful in conceiving through the fertility program we worked with while he was still alive. Many people think fertility treatments are a slam dunk, especially given the financial investment most individuals/couples must make, but the reality is that it often takes many attempts to successfully conceive a child and success isn’t a guarantee. We tried, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out in time for his children to be a part of his life.
Have you had any cravings?
Not really cravings, but this kid has definitely made their voice heard when it comes to food preferences. I want raw vegetables and grilled fish about 90% of the time. I’ve tried to talk the kid into iced cream, cookies or a big juicy cheeseburger on numerous occasions, but thus far they just keep telling me to make us another kale salad and a bun-less salmon burger. I don’t think I started disappointing my parents for at least a few years after my birth, but this kid is really sucking the fun out of what I’ve heard are the more enjoyable parts of pregnancy. I guess it’s a good thing that Travis isn’t here for that part… he would be so disappointed to find that his kid, at least for the moment, seems to basically be a vegetarian.
I have a friend going through IVF right now. Any advice on how to make sure she’s successful?
Well, I had two failed embryo transfers before this one decided to grab on to my uterine lining and try to make it in the real world (there’s a lot more science behind it but I’ll leave it up to you to consult with Dr. Google for as much information on the process as you’re interested in acquiring). The only thing I did differently in preparation for the third one/only successful one was complete a marathon the day before the procedure. That’s right, 26.2 miles seems to be the ticket to a successful implantation for this sample size of one! And please let me know what your friend says when you tell her that’s all she has to do if she wants to conceive.
You’re 35, isn’t that a little old to be having a baby?
Well, medically speaking I am of “advanced maternal age,” and my pregnancy is classified as “geriatric.” But no, no I don’t think I’m too old. The baby is developing beautifully. And, I’m just not going to say any more about this one.
The other age question — You’re only 35, you’re so young! Isn’t this kind of a panic move? I mean, you really just freaked out and did this on a whim because you think you won’t meet someone that will want to have a family with you…
Well, what can I say… I did meet someone. As a couple we were a very happy family of two for more than a decade. We wanted children together. We tried to have children together, and then he died. Maybe I will meet another someone at some point and we’ll mutually want those things together as well, and maybe I won’t. Regardless, I am ready for this next step now and while it would never be my first choice I am ready to take on this challenge of solo-parenting.
And let me be clear when I say that nothing about this decision was done out of panic. There were doctors, counselors, faith leaders and trusted friends who helped me understand the gravity, timing, and preparation for this decision. My husband and I made the choice to go down this road knowing that he was terminal upon diagnosis, and that if we were successful in conceiving the most likely outcome was me raising our child as a single parent. I put my body through months of tests, medications and self-administered injections, and I can tell you that no one would be able to get through that experience on a whim. This process was at most a decade and at least three years in the making, and I’ve never been more confident in a decision than I am in this one.
And yes, a stranger on the internet actually said this to me when I was visiting an online chat group. Beware the trolls.
Why don’t you just adopt?
I’ve always wanted a big family and Travis and I often talked about adoption. I’m very open to a life with more children whether they’re biologically my own or someone else’s. With his cancer diagnosis we made the decision to preserve our ability to create children together. With a post-surgical break before beginning chemotherapy we had a window of opportunity to make those preparations before his contribution to the process would have become unviable (something not all cancer patients have the opportunity to do). We were then blessed to be given the financial means to complete that process (again, thank you Livestrong Fertility), and then among the lucky ones (less than 50% by most statistics) for whom assistive reproductive technology resulted in what has thus far been a healthy pregnancy. The stars aligned for me for this particular means of becoming a mother, and if they hadn’t I would likely be looking into alternative options including adoption.
Do you know what the Catholic church says about IVF?
I do. I was raised Catholic and my faith is a big part of my life. I was also raised to question, pray, and discern my own path. I’ve made choices in my life that are counter to the Church’s teaching, and the Church currently teaches many things that are counter to the beliefs that my prayerful discernment has led me to. So I’ll just say this: I am always grateful to have the guidance and wisdom of my faith behind me when I make a major decision in my life. I didn’t approach this decision lightly and have spent many hours reading and considering both scientific and faith based writings on in vitro fertilization and other assistive reproductive technologies. I am confident in the decision I have made, comfortable with the process I used to help create this pregnancy, and hopeful that the life I have been given the opportunity to develop, and God willing bring into this world, will be welcomed by the faith community in which I was raised.
Isn’t it kind of unfair to bring a baby into this world without a father?
Yes, it is completely unfair that this child will never have a chance to meet their father in person. But I hate to break this to you, literally every single person who was or will be born after February 6th, 2019 has been given a bit of a disadvantage in life because they will never have the opportunity to meet my amazing husband. But the world has kept on turning and presumably will continue to do so. I believe that there is so much good in this world and I am excited to have the opportunity to share that good as a parent. I will do everything in my power to help my child know the man who helped make them and who wanted so desperately to be their dad.
The magnitude of his absence was already quite palpable, but it has absolutely been compounded by his absence during this pregnancy. Travis would have loved this (and not just because my boobs are bigger than they’ve ever been). He loved taking care of me, and especially after years of being the patient he would have been thrilled to have the opportunity to support me through this experience. I would give anything to have him back in this world for me, for our child, for everyone who loved him, and for everyone who never had the chance to know him. Everything about this is unfair.
Aren’t you scared to do this on your own?
I wouldn’t say that I’m scared. I have no illusions that this will be easy but I’ve gotten pretty used to life being hard. If suddenly something was simple that’s probably when the fear would kick in. And I also wouldn’t say that I’m doing this alone. You’ve probably heard the saying that it “takes a village to raise a child.” And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all of the challenges that I’ve faced in the past 4 years, it’s that Travis and I have a pretty damned good village.