The Empty Room

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times Won't Last But Tough People Will

Amanda ReCupido

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It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.
~Elbert Hubbard

One room in our house remained unfinished. Nearly three years after we traded a decade of city living for the suburbs, the empty bedroom still had its original green paint, and only contained a yoga mat and a discarded rocking chair.

“And this will be the baby’s room,” we’d say when we first gave family and friends the tour. That was, after all, what the move to the suburbs was for.

I was incredibly dramatic as I pulled my mother aside and let her know I had stopped taking birth control. I did the same to my sisters-in-law and was disappointed by their very matter-of-fact response. Didn’t they understand how big a deal this was?

For me, it was a big deal. I thought back to the time I announced at a college party, when the object of my affection was not paying sufficient attention to me, that I didn’t want to get married or have kids, ever. I thought I might live abroad, that I would never return to the familiar life of my upbringing.

I laughed at myself when I got married ahead of that guy I had liked, the one who told me I was “too independent and too much of a feminist to date.” I couldn’t wait to hear what all the people who thought I was “too much,” who probably thought I would never be fit to be a mother, would say.

I quickly became comfortable texting my mother updates on our progress, concerned if my husband was traveling while I was ovulating. I texted my closest friends about vaginal mucus, and I found meaning in every slight change in my body.

Months passed, and nothing happened. Still, I planned the momentous Facebook post in which I would announce my pregnancy. I mulled over the gender-neutral color we would choose when we repainted that empty room, and I chose the quote we would stencil onto the wall. I identified a doula. I read books about birth plans. All of it seemed so far away until it suddenly started to feel like we were behind.

“Just one more month,” we kept telling ourselves. Our friends had their second kids, their third, their vasectomies. A lesbian couple we knew got pregnant. Another had their second successful adoption. I lost myself in Google rabbit holes. I took supplements, tried acupuncture, and talked to everyone I knew. “Relax,” they’d say. “Give it time.” Every day, I’d go to a different extreme—adoption, eschewing parenthood altogether, selling the house and moving halfway across the country, across the world. I just wanted to know, one way or another. Was something wrong?

People have children for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, it’s to save them from themselves. I viewed having kids, or at least being pregnant, as a way to motivate myself to do what I knew I should do—quit drinking, eat healthier, write more.

I talked to other couples who were having difficulty conceiving, I’d hear the woman say she wanted kids more than anything. I wanted kids, sure, but more than anything? I told my husband I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do IVF—pumping my body with chemicals, not knowing the long-term effects. There were too many horror stories about births gone wrong, too. We even knew someone who died of complications from giving birth.

It felt as if some intuitive truth was trying to break free from deep inside me: Was this what I really wanted or just what I thought I was supposed to do?

We finally made an appointment. I got blood work done and had my first ultrasound. I felt relaxed looking at the screen, even though there was nothing there. We made the jokes about my husband doing his part. We told our families we were finally looking into what was taking so long. Then we waited.

The first doctor told us our only option was IVF. I cried. My husband and I tried not to blame each other, but of course we did a little bit. I stressed out as the woman from the doctor’s office kept calling to ask when we wanted to start the process even though she often couldn’t remember my name or what tests we had already done. Was this how I wanted to bring new life into the world? Would they implant the wrong embryo? My gut feeling was that this wasn’t right for us.

We stopped.

“This is working so far,” my husband said one day, motioning at just the two of us. We joked that we hadn’t really fought yet as a married couple because we didn’t have kids. We busied ourselves with other activities. I started writing and teaching spin class on the side. I stopped drinking. Maybe I didn’t need a baby as an excuse to make changes. I deflected concerned co-workers’ and friends’ questions about how everything was going. “The same,” I’d say.

Then, we heard of friends in our situation who didn’t have to go as far, so we made another call, another appointment. We were given better news, less invasive options. We celebrated and then dove immediately into our new routine.

I took hormones, did four intra-uterine inseminations (IUIs), and had surgery. Each step felt like increasing the water temperature while the frog slowly boiled alive inside the pot. I started having panic attacks—once with the ultrasound wand inside me. The doctor recommended we take a break. We knew this “easier” solution was no longer working, and IVF would be the next step. It was time to make a choice, but we would give ourselves a year off first to reevaluate how we felt.

The year was 2020. “What if we just… don’t?” I ventured. We felt relief, and then, immediately, guilt. We asked ourselves whether we felt anything was missing. We questioned how we might feel in five, ten, and twenty years. We felt thankful for our quiet, clean house as we worked from home for a year during the pandemic. In this one area of our lives, in this unpredictable time, we felt oddly at peace.

Decisions are always easier when they’re made for you. The ability to choose is our great freedom and, also, a curse. Still, I live with the haunting question: What if I make the wrong choice?

Typically, you only hear these stories once a couple is at a happy ending with a baby, where they say it was all worth it. But we never talk about this part: the waiting, the questioning. The other decision. And that’s why I share this. I know there is someone out there at this part, holding back tears, but not quite sure why.

— Amanda ReCupido —

Reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC 2022. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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