My husband keeps condoms in his sock drawer.
As grown adults, you’d think we’d be past the point of needing to hide condoms. We don’t exactly fit the stereotype of teenagers socking away their secret birth control stash.
The person we’re hiding them from is our 5-year-old daughter. It’s not that we don’t want to talk to her about sex — granted, I am so not ready for that conversation — but we just don’t want to have to convince her that condoms are not, in fact, balloons.
Looking back nearly 2 years ago, I thought we’d never be using condoms again. I thought we’d be making a decision about permanent birth control after I gave birth to our twin sons. At the time, I was heavily, uncomfortably pregnant and looking forward to not having to worry about birth control ever again.
That changed suddenly when we received a heartbreaking shock. A routine ultrasound showed that one of our twins had died.
My story, which is also my family’s story, isn’t an easy one. But I also know that I’m not alone. By sharing this difficult journey and how I’ve thought about some of the toughest “family planning” decisions I’ve had to face, I hope to help other parents feel less alone, too.
I’m not a person who relishes in pregnancy. About 2 years ago, with a daughter at home already and twin sons on the way, I knew three kids was my absolute limit.
I was also looking forward to not needing to think about birth control. I can’t use hormonal birth control due to high blood pressure and kidney issues. This limits my options to barrier methods like condoms or a copper intrauterine device (IUD).
Those are fine choices, but I felt ready for something truly permanent.
I was planning to get my tubes tied and have my husband get a vasectomy. I told him so the moment the ultrasound tech informed me that we were having twins.
I lorded this fact over his head as only a miserable pregnant person can, bringing it up almost gleefully in conversation after spending all day with gut-churning nausea and heartburn.
My pregnancies have been challenging, to say the least. With my daughter, aside from constant nausea, I wound up being induced early due to preeclampsia.
My labor with her was nothing short of nightmarish for me: It involved magnesium sulfate, a drug used to prevent seizures for preeclampsia, along with 6 hours of pushing and a third-degree tear.
My twin pregnancy wasn’t any easier. I had severe nausea and vomiting, and I lost 15 pounds in 3 weeks. The thought of nearly any food made me gag.
Aside from the constant nausea, I developed gestational diabetes. My blood pressure crept upwards again, and I was hospitalized for preterm labor. I felt like the Little Engine that Couldn’t.
But despite my pregnancy difficulties, my sons looked perfect at each ultrasound, up until those final weeks.
Nothing could prepare me for the shock of my 32-week ultrasound. The tech grew quiet while doing my scan. She sent the student in the room to get a doctor.
“Jenna,” she said, “I’m so sorry. Baby A doesn’t have a heartbeat.”
My room suddenly filled with medical personnel. A doctor told me that there could be complications to my surviving son.
All at once, the life I had spent the past 8 months planning for as the mom of three, ended. My plans for our family shattered.
I spent the next week in the hospital with two babies in my belly: one alive, one not.
When I went into labor and the on-call surgeon wheeled me back into the operating room for my C-section, she asked if I still wanted to have a tubal ligation.
At that moment, I had no idea whether my surviving son would be OK. How was I supposed to make a decision about birth control then?
I didn’t feel I could decide whether I wanted to have more kids in the heat of that moment. I opted not to have my tubes tied.
It’s been nearly 2 years, and I still don’t know if I want more children.
Because of my medical history and the fact that I’m officially considered of “advanced maternal age,” my obstetrician is urging me to decide soon.
But I’m not ready to make a decision yet. Part of me still holds onto the image of the three-child family I spent 8 months preparing for.
Another large part of me knows that what I almost had will never be. Even if my husband and I do decide to try for one more baby, we will never have the family we almost did.
It would be a fluke to get pregnant with identical twin boys again. Only 3 to 4 out of every 1,000 pregnancies worldwide result in identical twins.
Beyond that, a new baby won’t fill the empty space left by my loss.
We spent 8 months preparing to welcome two babies into our lives. We brought home one baby and still have room set aside in our lives for another. Part of me feels this space in my family for a third child.
Then there’s the fact that the tragic end to my twin pregnancy robbed me of experiences that I wanted so much. I had to wait days to hold my newborn son. I didn’t get to cradle him right away and count his fingers and toes.
I never got to revel in his newness and the miracle of having this new perfect little person to love.
Instead, he was in the NICU attached to tubes and wires with an uncertain prognosis. I was mired by grief and postpartum depression, so I had trouble bonding with him.
That said, I question whether missing out on these moments with my son is a good reason to want to add to our family. I know all too well that these moments are not a guarantee, but pure luck.
After experiencing two nightmare pregnancies and enduring stillbirth, part of me feels a certain downright unluckiness when it comes to childbearing.
When I think about trying for another pregnancy, I also have to think: Is it worth it to risk getting preeclampsia or gestational diabetes again? Or the risk of having another stillborn baby? Can I survive another difficult pregnancy full of relentless nausea when I’d now also be terrified of losing another baby?
I don’t know the answers to these questions yet.
I’m waiting until I feel ready to make any permanent, life-changing decisions, one way or the other. Planning a family isn’t easy. And that means making choices about birth control also isn’t easy.
For me, these choices are weighty and emotional. I know they are for other parents, too.
Until we are ready to try for another baby or to close the childbearing chapter of our lives, my decision is to not decide. And my husband will keep hiding condoms in his sock drawer.
Jenna is the mom to an imaginative daughter who truly believes she’s a princess unicorn and that her younger brother is a dinosaur. Jenna’s other son was a perfect baby boy, born sleeping. Jenna writes extensively about health and wellness, parenting, and lifestyles. In a past life, Jenna worked as a certified personal trainer, Pilates and group fitness instructor, and dance teacher. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College.