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When second choice, isn’t second best

Sometimes when the first plan for family building isn’t working out, plan B can be perceived by some a bit like a “consolation prize” or a less optimal choice.  Recently I was thinking about how so many of us in infertility land go through the pain of losing one dream and finding a new one – and how after the new one comes to fruition we just can’t imagine it ever being different.  In family building, that alternate plan is often some sort of fertility treatments such as IUI, IVF, or using donor eggs or donor sperm; or it may include surrogacy, adoption, or any other family building option. 

And even if it wasn’t a first choice, the child who comes to you most certainly isn’t a lesser choice or a consolation prize.  It isn’t that any of the choices are better or worse- it is that they are a different choice.   And what may be a good choice for some, may not be right for others. 

Going through our own fertility struggles, we often deal with myraid losses.  And at some point I believe it really comes down to whether the heart’s desire is about experiencing pregnancy or a genetic connection or about being a parent or someone’s mommy (or mommy to an additional child).  Some people are at peace with not being pregnant or passing along their own genes, but simply cannot fathom the idea of not parenting, or not being someone’s “mommy”.  For others, they long for the experience of pregnancy and birth.  As I often say, there is no one right answer – just the one that is right for you.  And we can be thankful that so many options are available to us with today’s technology and social environment.

Someone wrote a blog post recently that resonated with me.  It  was about how making a different plan isn’t a consolation prize – not second best even though it might not have been a first choice or the first thing we tried in our family building.   I know this analogy/story has been used to talk about accepting the challenges that come with special needs children – but I think you can substitute fertility treatments, egg/sperm donors, adoption, or surrogacy, it applies just as well.  It is about when the path to get what you want isn’t what you originally planned.   It doesn’t mean the new path is bad or wrong – just different, and there is no shame in mourning the loss of what you had originally planned.  

Welcome to Holland

When you are going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, Michelangelo’s David, a gondola ride in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there has been a change in the flightplan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It’s just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It is just a different place. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills; Holland has tulips; Holland even has Rembrandts.

Everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

The pain of that will never ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely, things about Holland.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley.

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2 Responses to When second choice, isn’t second best

  1. Kim says:

    Hi! I stumbled on your blog from a friend. “welcome to Holland” is a piece that is well-circulated amongst parents of special needs children, namely autistic children. Having suffered from infertility and having a child (conceived via IVF) with autism, I can see how this parallels across both communities. Thanks for posting.

    • Sue says:

      Thanks Kim – yes, I have seen this work related to other challenging situations – I think I first saw it related to Down’s Syndrome. I hope no one is offended that I have extended it to infertility. I do think it fits for a variety of different situations where what we expected isn’t exactly where we find ourselves. Thanks for stopping by.