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I Was Supposed to Have Three Kids

My ghost-child popped up yesterday unexpectedly, like a solicitor ringing the door bell.  She came through a post that showed up in my feed reader.  How many kids should you have?

I took the quiz.

It’s complete silliness, equating a lack of care over your appearance and your home’s appearance as well as your general flexibility with the number of kids you should have.  I don’t fall prey to those Buzzfeed tests that tell you where you should live, or whether you’re a Ron or a Harry. (My G-d, everyone knows I’m a Narcissa, and she’s never one of the options.)  But I took that test.  And I took it to heart when it returned the result:

Congratulations!  Three is your magic number.  Four, if you count the drink you’ll need in your hand.


And just like that, my ghost-child was sitting on the floor next to my desk, playing with the twins’ old toys.

I just hadn’t expected to see her.

It would certainly take magic to create her, so it makes sense that three would be my magic number.  It would take a lot of money and someone else’s gametes and Lovenox.  Is that why the quiz wormed its way under my skin?  Because there is so much assumption in the fact that the quiz exists in the first place?  Sure, all people have the potential to make the decision of how many children they want.  But some people will find themselves much more in control of that number than others.  Those who get pregnant unexpectedly or who can’t have children without assistance need to contend sometimes with an imperfect fit.

I do think that we were meant to have a lot of kids.

Could I push my way to three kids?  Yes — that option is always in my control.  I own that; I remember that even as the quiz teases that I could maybe even have… four.  It doesn’t stop it from stinging though.

I let the ghost-child play next to me without comment for the rest of the day.  I left her at home when I picked up the kids from school and read them Harry Potter and dropped them at a class.  I didn’t think I’d deal with her again until after the kids were in bed.

I went to read at Starbucks while I waited for the twins.  A woman came with her brood of children — three of them — and three six-week-old puppies.  She cradled two in her arms while her son carried the third.  They sat down next to me outside and let the dogs explore the concrete by the table.  I stopped reading.  I watched them for a long time; especially when a little boy came over to gawk at the puppies, and he kept shrieking happily and running back to his mother.

In that moment, all I wanted was one of those dogs.  I wanted to pick up the kids with a puppy in tow.  It was the most irresponsible, rose-tinted decision about dog ownership that has ever existed.  I took the woman’s number, even knowing that the breed wasn’t a breed we were considering getting.  I just wanted something warm to hold.

We came home and had dinner.  Watched part of a movie and did tuck-in.  Most of the time, I can’t imagine our family any different.  I love our family just the way it is.

Whenever the ghost-child visits, she makes me sad.  And yet I also don’t want her to stay away.  I would be equally sad if she never returned as a reminder.  Even so, I said goodnight to her after I wrote this post.  Went upstairs to watch the Colbert Report, and left her on the other level, playing by herself.


1 JB { 04.02.14 at 8:30 am }

Mel, I don’t have any sort of response, but I wanted to say that this post quite literally took my breath away with its beauty and poignancy. Thank you.

2 Marianne { 04.02.14 at 8:38 am }

Ugh, so I had to take the quiz after reading your post. Of course it said 2 children, when I have one and it’s looking like we won’t be successful having another.

An interesting point is while reading this I was thinking, “Mel has 2 children, I am so jealous, I’d be so happy with 2.” When of course so many people would be so very happy to have been able to have just the one child I’ve been able to have.
Such is life I suppose.

3 Esperanza { 04.02.14 at 9:11 am }

Ahhhh! I just wrote a long comment and then swiped my screen wrong and it was gone!!!!

So the shortened version… I always wanted three kids, my husband only wanted one. I thought I might be able to convince him to have a third, but I also recognized that I might not. When we were told that the possibility of having a second child was very slim, I did a lot of walking down the path of acceptance about having one child. When we became pregnant, I felt such immense gratitude that we were going to have two children that the though of three just faded away. I am actually incredibly thankful for our secondary infertility journey because it gave me a real sense of closure about having two children. I think that, had I not been presented with the real possibility of only having one child, the desire to have a third, and the fight it probably would have caused, would have created real friction between us. Maybe even resentment. I honestly don’t know what it would have done to our marriage. Or to me.

Now, when I think of having three children, I take a small moment to mourn, and then dip back into that deep pool of gratitude that I even have two. And I feel thankful that we struggled to have our second, because I absolutely believe it kept my dream of a third from becoming a ghost that haunted me for the rest of my days.

4 LN { 04.02.14 at 9:22 am }

Beautiful post, Mel. I’m sorry that you don’t have three. I wasn’t going to respond, but I wanted to echo Marianne’s honest response. When I read it, there was a voice in the way back of my head that I’m not proud of. She sounded like me, but me when I haven’t slept, I’m hungry, and I feel myself sink deeper into self pity. She/I was/is envious of your two. It keeps coming up. “Only” one. “Only child.” In my group of friends and even in the much wider circle of most everyone I know, I’m the only one with only one. Of course I love him deeply, of course I’m immensely grateful, but. But.

5 fifi { 04.02.14 at 9:25 am }

When I did the quiz honestly, I was told that I should have two children. I guess since they’re ghosts I can pick one of each gender and go to fantasy ghost-places with them, which sounds like fun.
Then I answered with the least child-friendly options (my house is like a catalog, LOL!) and I was indeed told that I shouldn’t have any children, but the good news was that I would have more money and sex than my parent-friends. Hmm, what is that sucking sound from my bank account, could that be our doctor’s bills? Still, I guess that ghost children are cheaper in the long run and have the sense to sleep in on a Sunday morning.

6 a { 04.02.14 at 9:32 am }

Must be the week for this sort of thing. We had an appointment with a doctor for my daughter and had to discuss my pregnancy history, which I haven’t really said much about to her. It was rough hearing her shriek “You mean I could have had 2 siblings?!” Well, yes, and more than that, but none of it worked. Then, the inevitable follow-up discussions that led in weird directions. Fortunately, my dream child (the second child that I saw in my dreams, not my perfect child) hasn’t appeared, so that’s a small comfort.

I want a puppy.

7 Melody { 04.02.14 at 9:41 am }

I have one too. It hurts when she shows up. Usually it’s because of some comment my daughter makes about wishing for a playmate or how many children she’s planning to have when she grows up. It always feels like a reproach for not giving her a sibling. She shows up when my daughter reaches milestones too, and I’m confronted with the fact that I’ll never do this again with another child. I push my ghost child away in the same ways you do– thinking about what we can do and what we can give because she’s not here. She sticks around though. 🙁

8 Peg { 04.02.14 at 10:00 am }

lovely post. As my youngest gets older and reaches milestones I have the feeling of them being my “first lasts.” Pangs of what I thought our family was going to be laid bare before what our family is now.

9 K { 04.02.14 at 10:29 am }

Oh Mel. It’s so hard when mine shows up. I sit I a funk for days. And it’s so hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t really get it that it’s possible to love your family as it is and be sad for the one(s) that were lost or never came to be. Much love. And thank you for getting it.

10 {sue} { 04.02.14 at 10:31 am }

You took my breath away too.

11 Mrs T (missohkay) { 04.02.14 at 10:43 am }

Beautiful, heart-wrenching post.

12 Mona Darling { 04.02.14 at 11:01 am }

Beautiful post. As always. Lately D has been crying and asking for a sister. It started with the disappointment of finding out that daddy was simply a lil overweight. Not pregnant. It’s popped up a couple times since. Breaks my heart every time.

13 KeAnne { 04.02.14 at 11:14 am }

Beautiful post. My ghost child seems to be everywhere lately.

14 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.02.14 at 11:20 am }

Sending you so much love. <3 <3 <3

15 Orodemniades { 04.02.14 at 11:42 am }

I took the quiz too, because I am a glutton for punishment. It’s not been 2 years since I learned I’ll never have another child, and while I don’t cry about it any more (mostly), it still hurts. I think it’ll always hurt.

16 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 04.02.14 at 12:37 pm }

Goodnight Mel’s Ghost Child.

Ours cross my mind from time to time. I sort of think of the embryos that didn’t make it as being together, under the care of the one who made it furthest along, like lost boys in Never-Never Land, not growing up. They don’t concern me much these days – they seem happy there, have their own Wendy and everything.

But the embryos still in storage – they haunt me from time to time. The quiz says I can handle about two – I tend to agree my hands feel very full most days – but I feel they deserve a chance.

17 Catwoman73 { 04.02.14 at 12:59 pm }

Apparently, my magic number is three as well, though I would cut off my right arm just to have two. I know it won’t happen, though, and I’m trying to be ok with it. Most days, I’m fine, but I have days like this too- days when I feel haunted by what might have been. Sending love, Mel. I wonder if all this doubt ever stops…

Incidentally, my daughter’s imaginary friend is her ‘brother.’ She is constantly telling me stories about the funny things he does, or the mean things he does to her (as brothers sometimes do). I love her imagination, but every time she talks about him, it’s like a little stab to my heart. I hope she outgrows this phase soon.

18 Turia { 04.02.14 at 1:13 pm }

I can’t take that quiz right now.

I am still so desperately frightened that our second will be a ghost. I really feel like the one we lost in February was our best chance, and E. will never get to be a big brother. And while I am, always, so very grateful for him, it hurts so much to have people around me complete their families exactly as they want without any doubt (“Oh, I’ll just wean him at eighteen months so I can get pregnant again”, etc.)

Beautiful post, Mel. I’m sorry you have a ghost.

19 Eva { 04.02.14 at 1:40 pm }

Hi! I ended up here thanks to Google, looking for tips for Candy Crush Saga (I can’t pass level 350!!). After losing all of my 5 lives, I decided to come back to your blog and read some of your posts, while waiting for other lives to waste. I was very surprised to find out that your blog talks about infertility. You know, I’ve been reading blogs aboout IVF for years, everyday, but tonight I decided I wanted to relax… But I ended up in a blog that talks about infertility anyway :-)) It’s fate!
Anyway, my husband and I also have very serious fertility problems. We have done 4 IVF treatments. I’m finally pregnant. 5 weeks pregnant. Tomorrow I have my first scan and I’m really scared. I always dreamed of having more than one child. At least two, three would be wonderful. I could have never imagined that for us it would be so hard. Now I think that having one child would be a miracle. We have also applied for adoption, but it’s really hard here in Italy. I really hope that my child won’t become a ghost. I’ll keep following your blog. I also have a blog, but it’s in Italian! Greetings from Italy 🙂

20 Serenity { 04.02.14 at 1:40 pm }

And of course mine said two.

I have a ghost child too.

We did get a puppy when we didn’t have our second child; I had that very same feeling you did. I sat on it for what felt like eons until the marathon bombings, when I just needed to nurture and feel unconditional love of a little warm being.

And while he is wonderful and lovely and I am incredibly happy he’s part of our family, bringing him home did not at all make the hole in my heart go away.

I wish I could make peace with our ghost child, let him visit and play with Lucky’s old toys. But it hurts too much right now. I hope I’ll get there someday, because a ghost child is still better than no child.


21 loribeth { 04.02.14 at 1:58 pm }

Absolutely gorgeous (& heartbreaking), Mel. When I was a kid, I wanted 12 (!!), because there were so many names I liked and I wanted to use them all, lol. As I got older, I adjusted that figure downward considerably, lol. I always saw myself with at least two, possibly one or two more, depending on circumstances. (My mother assured me that she once thought she’d have four but after two, decided two was enough, lol.) Of course, by the end of our treatment rope, I was desperate for just one live child that I could raise. Not to be. 🙁

22 mrsdjrass { 04.02.14 at 3:23 pm }

It said I could handle two children…probably:-) I haven’t even been able to make one child, despite IUI, IVF, FET, Prayer, anger, and deals with the devil. My ghost son crept up on me Sunday. He almost gave me hope, then I realized it was my mind playing tricks on me again.

23 Knottedfingers { 04.02.14 at 4:38 pm }

Your ghost child posts always make me cry.
As you know I have a ghost child too, and she’s with me always. But sometimes I feel her so keenly that I feel like she’s sitting next to me tugging on my shirt and calling out forme.
Lots of love to you Mel

24 Justine { 04.02.14 at 4:53 pm }

Sending love, Mel. Your posts about your ghost-child strike a chord with me … though I miscarried multiple times, my second child was the one I felt I was meant to have … she visits me sometimes, too. A willowy, lovely, but serious shadow of a different past and future. She is older than my daughter, younger than my son. I carry her always, but sometimes she is more present than others. She will ride home with me today, I know.

25 chickenpig { 04.02.14 at 4:57 pm }

The ghost child. I think they are real, made up of all the hope and love, unused embryos and grief. So much money, time, pain, and love poured into something that never got bigger than a grape… it all has to go somewhere, doesn’t it? Your post is beautiful. I can almost see your ghost child.

26 Mina { 04.02.14 at 5:29 pm }

I would like to say something very nice, and thoughtful, and witty, and heartfelt, but you used all the words I could have used and wrote this post.
Hugs for you and your children, real and ghost ones. My ghost daughter is waiting for me to look at her, but I haven’t been able to in months. I just can’t. But it seems I talk a lot about a third child to anyone who would listen. I have to make my peace with her. But how van you make peace with someone whom you can’t look in the eyes?

27 Katherine A { 04.02.14 at 9:18 pm }

Beautiful post.

I always thought I’d have at least 2-3 kids, and these days, I’m not even always convinced we’re going to get 1. Is hard. And yeah, can totally relate to the puppy thing, and I always have to tell myself that now is not a good time for us to get a dog (or cat).

Thinking of you.

28 Brid { 04.03.14 at 12:09 am }

Oh Mel, I hear you… those days are so hard. I hate them and love them at the same time… those moments of getting lost in the possibility of hope. I do hope it helps that those not left on the other level at the end of the day, will always have each other. Dogs are a tough call, particularly when inspired such a day… Sweet dreams Mel.

29 St. Elsewhere { 04.03.14 at 12:37 am }

I have taken that quiz a while ago, and my magic number was 3 too.

My ghost-child never disappears anywhere. She is just there, and I let her be.

The number 3 reminds me of the three embryos we transferred in my womb in 2008. It also reminds me that they did not make it.

30 Battynurse { 04.03.14 at 1:03 am }

Beautiful post. I understand this so much. 99% of the time I’m good with my child free (not by choice) status. However every once in a while I find myself experiencing a bubble of sadness for what might have been and what I so desperately wanted. Often at work.

31 Ellen K. { 04.03.14 at 10:19 am }

I like to read about ghost children. They are some of my favorite posts from my own blog. So very often I think of your post from long ago, when one of the twins drew a picture with a third child. Mind-blowing, and very twin-ish, don’t you think?

My “actual” ghost child hasn’t appeared in years. But he/she would be certainly here if I had lost one of the twins, and probably if we had any remaining embryos or remaining desire for children. A friend whose identical twin was stillborn has told me that she very often feels someone ought to be there. And an elderly woman whose twin sister died at age 6 months (in the same cradle) once told me that her twin haunts her constantly — not in a frightening way, but she said her feelings seem sometimes twice as strong, or she is experiencing something for two.

Looking back, I realize that my ghost child showed up in two very vivid dreams I had during college — in the form of angel twin toddlers hanging out on the back deck, or playing in a closet. Extremely cool then and now; N. and I. love to hear about these dreams.

But what does haunt me now, like a sudden feeling of being watched, stopping me in my tracks for a moment, and all other senses hyperalert, is the knowledge that it didn’t have to happen this way, not at all; odds were against this reality, and what if it is taken from me? It’s gratitude and shock and a bit of terror. I think this is how infertility most affects me in parenting. I don’t think I’m an overly protective parent, but once you sense something different in your house, you’re forever more watchful.

32 Tiara { 04.03.14 at 11:11 am }

Sending hugs. I wish I had some very eloquent words…but all I have is to say that this post made my heart hurt…for you & for me.

33 Shelby { 04.03.14 at 11:12 am }

Fighting tears and the overwhelming ache in my chest after reading your words. I will echo many others who also claimed having a ghost child as mine is often present. She doesn’t come around every day, but when she does, her presence is nearly that of any ‘real’ person. And, like you, I don’t want to keep her away all the time. She belongs to me, no matter how imaginary she might be. She is part of my dreams and while I never may be able to meet her in person, she is an important part of me. Now I realize very well that after experiencing the incredible luck in having my son, infertility is truly the ‘gift’ that keeps on giving. :/

By the way, three was also my magic number on that quiz.

34 Kristin { 04.03.14 at 1:19 pm }

Oh Mel, I identify with so many of the feelings in this post.

35 Jess { 04.03.14 at 2:23 pm }

What a beautiful post. And of course, I can relate so much…

36 Clare { 04.03.14 at 3:02 pm }

Beautiful, poignant… this post has been with me since I read it when you posted it. I hope you get to have the ratio of visit v non-visit time from your ghost child that works best for you and your heart. Hugs.

37 It Is What It Is { 04.03.14 at 5:43 pm }

An utterly gorgeous and compassionate and heartrending post, Mel. As I settle in to life as a mother of two, I’m almost afraid to take the stupid quiz but the desire for a third is palpable some times and s/he will never ever be. And, if it says three, then what. But, now I must take the damn thing just to see because I have no willpower.

38 It Is What It Is { 04.03.14 at 5:49 pm }

As luck would have it I got two, ‘probably’.

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