No matter how many children you plan to have, if you even have a plan at all, no one plans for their family size to grow smaller.
We aren’t designed to plan for a shrinking family. We only know to expect to grow or stay steady. But never do we plan to go backward.
And we certainly don’t know how to go backward.
Many years ago, a friend said, “I see you guys having five or six kids.” It was a response to sharing about a new pregnancy, one that would end a week later.
At the time, I swore she was off. I had no plans to have five, and certainly not six.
As the years went on, we had more pregnancies, more babies, and more loss. After a mix of loss and new life, we landed at five. Then we managed six temporarily with a respite foster child.
It dawned on me; we really could do six. But for the time being, we went back to five.
Then, we almost had six, but that pregnancy ended. Then a call, a sweet newborn foster son came. He stayed for seven weeks; then he suddenly passed away. Once again, we were back to five.
The Brain Cannot Comprehend A Shrinking Family
A flood of grief for the four miscarriages and the lost foster son. We had expected at some point he might return to his family – he had so many that loved him.
But we never expected to plan a memorial service for an infant.
When the dust settled, the calls, the investigation, the suffocating feeling of grief lightened just enough to breathe, going back to and staying at five didn’t make sense.
My brain couldn’t comprehend having only five.
I never expected five to feel too easy, too quiet. I never expected to be out and about and feel like someone was missing. I never expected, “You have quite the crew!” to feel like a gut punch because my crew had shrunk.
You Plan To Grow, You Never Plan To Shrink
And while you absolutely cannot replace a pregnancy, a child, any human, the thought of growing was easier than the thought of being smaller.
So, we tried something I never thought we would. We received two precious donor embryos — the results of a labor of love of two parents who wanted to grow their family.
Two parents who had the family they could but had two additional embryos they were graciously willing to share.
The first transfer took immediately. We were reassured all was well — five perfect scans. Then a sixth scan that took us back to five.
Her heart had stopped.
The sweet girl we hoped to welcome had Trisomy 21. While Down syndrome isn’t incompatible with life, in some cases of trisomy 21 the abnormalities are simply too much.
Four times we were or almost were a family with six kids. Just like my friend had predicted, we indeed had five or six. I never imagined her words could play out this way.
You plan to grow. You plan to be steady and raise whatever number of children you have.
But you never plan to go back. You never plan to have some children earthside and some waiting for you in heaven.
The Chance For Growth Is Worth The Risks
To some, it seems our grief could have been less if we hadn’t kept growing. Perhaps that’s true in some ways. But the chance for life and growth, in my experience, is worth it even when the risk of loss wins.
If you don’t try, you can never grow.
To some, the loss of a foster or a donor embryo is different. I won’t pretend I know the pain of carrying for nine months only to lose the baby weeks later. His sweet mama does, and I’m so profoundly grieved for her.
But I do know what it’s like to love a baby, just as much as my own blood, and say goodbye in life’s most tragic way.
Our sweet girl didn’t carry our DNA. I didn’t spend weeks injecting meds with terrible side effects and go through egg retrieval. But I did go through transfer prep and two months of daily injections.
I watched on scans the little blastocyst go from a blob to a little one with a teeny face, arms, and legs.
I watched and heard her heartbeat.
And then I saw the still scan and the lack of movement. I went to the appointments, the hospital, the OR. She wasn’t our DNA, but she was hope. She was growth. She was our fourth, almost six.
We have five children with us. The fortune of that will never be lost on me. But the grief, the “bad luck” and the impossible to reconcile shrinking family that happened to us many times, there is no fortune in that.
Families are meant to grow. They’re not expected to shrink. Yet this imperfect world allows for shrinking families. It allows for broken hearts.
Perhaps we’ll forever be a family of five kids with us, and we will learn to survive our shrinking. Being a family with five or six kids never meant what I thought it could.
I never imagined I’d be a woman who mothered or hoped to mother six beings who are not earthside.
A Unique Heavenly Family
I never imagined I’d be a woman with an embryo, another almost six, frozen and waiting. A woman who knows full well that the waiting might mean nothing more than a nearly sixth that never grows beyond an almost.
We are a family with five in our care. We are a family with four typical miscarriages, a foster son, and a donor-received-daughter all in heaven waiting.
I always imagined my earthside family would be unique. As an adoptee, I have a unique and beautifully messy family tree.
But for now, and maybe forever, it’s my family waiting in heaven that’s unique.