Please Mind The Gap by Andrea Santo Felcone

mind the gapOn a recent trip to New York City, traveling by train, my little one was getting agitated. He doesn’t like to be told what to do. The automated announcer advising “be careful when exiting the train” and “please mind the gap” at every station stop was driving him crazy. Finally, he yelled, “We know already!” as if the announcer could hear him. I had to laugh. I, too, had my frustrations about “the gap”. But, my frustrations were with people commenting on the gap in years between my two children.

Mind the Gap: Mind Your Manners:

It was difficult for me to have children. The wait for the firstborn seemed endless, but was nothing compared to the wait for the second. When our first child was about 2 years old, we were ready to expand our family. It took four years for that dream to materialize. I was surprised to learn that when you have your second child after a significant “gap” of time, most people assume this child was unplanned. At the time, I was shocked by the number of people who asked if my little bundle of joy was “an accident.”

However, the most notable “gap-minding” story I have, happened only once. I was at a holiday party. A woman asked how many children I had. I answered: “Two boys; one is 10 and the other is 3”. Her response: “I see you took a little vacation there in the middle.” At the time, I wanted to spew back at her everything I had endured on my “vacation”: three miscarriages in four years; each uniquely painful in its own way. The first happened early. The second was possibly ectopic. It was never conclusive, but once you’ve been told you may have had an ectopic pregnancy, you feel a bit like you’ve had one–emotionally—which really increases the fear in having another baby. The odds were against having a future ectopic pregnancy, and time was of the essence, so we continued.

Then, finally, another conception. We were at our 13th -week ultrasound, when the wand waved over a silent heart. I knew there was something wrong (no “swish-swishing”), but foolishly, never imagined myself discovering a miscarriage through ultrasound.

That was very hard.

These memories flooded through me as this stranger’s “vacation” remark hung in the air. All I could think, was, “No, not so much a vacation getaway but more a staycation: a “stay in the place you’ve been stuck” wallowing in your own misery. Endless, intrusive, uncomfortable, medical tests. An emotional rollercoaster of anxiety, fear, and self-loathing. But, how do you explain this to a stranger, over finger food?

Mind The Ever-Widening Gap:

As the years went by (I wasn’t worrying about “the gap” because I wasn’t convinced there would be a second child), I tried to “will” my body to produce, like an athlete. (I am no athlete). I ate better. I exercised. I controlled the things I could. Secondary infertility is tricky. You feel all the feelings you felt when it was hard to get pregnant the first time, but those feelings are compounded by feelings of greediness (many people can’t have babies at all, who am I to want more?); and confusion, (why do I feel there’s another child waiting—I don’t want my first child to think I’m sad because he isn’t enough). And frustration: You’ve already reproduced–yet you can’t re-reproduce.

In that gap, I sat in my obstetrician’s exam room, waiting to be seen for the second miscarriage, while Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” played in the background. (Really? I get it.) And in that ever-widening gap, I watched a woman “lose it” on line at CVS. She needed the medication you need when you’re pregnant and the baby’s blood type doesn’t match your own. I know this, because she was screaming. I was on that same line, picking up the medication I needed to treat the ectopic miscarriage. So, you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life (unless of course they are screaming it out at CVS; then you have a pretty good idea). It was hard in that moment, to feel empathy for her, but I’m sure she had valid concerns.

But, also in that gap, I had the support of my husband, family, and friends. I read books of encouragement: stories of women (older than I was), that after miscarriage, were able to carry to term. I had given myself until the age of 42. After that, if it wasn’t going to happen, it wasn’t meant to be. And miraculously, at the age of 41 ½, (the “½” shows how close I came to giving up), through no medical intervention, I conceived and carried to term–my second son.

Mind the Gap; Don’t Let It Swallow You Whole:

Those first months after my son’s birth were so physically and emotionally hard. Fielding “accident” comments in what should have been my reproductive victory lap. Never mind others’ comments; the gap, itself, was there to swallow me whole. Returning to those early parenting days was difficult when everything wasn’t as fresh in my mind. I had a nearly seven-year-old; I’d gotten used to a fair amount of sleep, but the newborn seemed unconcerned with that. My body wasn’t functioning well. Truth be told, I was a little worried about myself. Apparently, this wasn’t like riding a bike. I knew how very fortunate I was, but the gap tried to take me down—reminded me to stay humble.

Back on Track:

Today, I’m back on the train, listening to the automated announcer again. Just last week, a stranger asked the ages of my children, and when I answered, she let out an audible, “gasp.” But, I didn’t mind. I no longer “mind the gap,” because I’ve learned to respect the gap. This gap of mine, it may surprise you, but I’ve grown into it. This gap needed to be as long and as deep (and sometimes as painful) as it was—to teach me: patience, acceptance, empathy, humility. It may look like empty space to you, but this gap is filled with my history, my family, my story.

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