I am polyamorous, married and trying to conceive

  • My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant and I recently had a miscarriage.
  • It was a complicated but beautiful time, perhaps made more so by both of us because we are very amorous.
  • This is what it was like trying to get pregnant with my husband while dating other people.

I started with a fancy mezcal, a sparkling brie and our pen – treats that had felt limitless just a few days before. As much as I love these indulgences, though, that night they definitely caused mixed feelings. My husband and I were having an abortion party.

Over the last year, as Cole and I have been trying to get pregnant, I’ve often imagined how happy I would be when those two parallel lines on the test turned blue. Instead, when they finally showed up just a week before the party, I felt a sense of trepidation and ambivalence. I had called my doctor’s office while experiencing severe period pain that took my breath away. When the nurse suggested I take a pregnancy test, I laughed in confusion. After the home test came back positive, he told me to go to the ER.

Once we got to the hospital, I asked the doctor on call, “If I’m pregnant, why am I in so much pain and why is there so much blood?”

Cole and I spent four hours holding hands in the waiting room, watching “Parks and Recreation” as I was huddled and waiting for lab results to determine if the pregnancy was viable. The results were inconclusive, so the official diagnosis was essentially “wait and see.”

What followed was a week of pregnancy purgatory: debilitating cramps, countless blood tests, and uncertainty about every aspect of my life.

I feared for the health of the fetus and wondered what a painful pregnancy would mean for my career and my quality of life. I found myself almost hoping for a miscarriage, then berating myself for thinking, cycling through self-pity and self-deprecation.

To add to the complexity of the situation, Cole and I were considering another aspect of our relationship and how it intersected with our desire to become parents. Since we started dating six years ago, we have remained committed to an open relationship model, which we now describe as polyamorous.

Navigating polyamory while my husband and I were trying to conceive

Cole and I share a lifelong commitment to each other. we also embrace the possibility of love outside of our marriage. We wondered how our precarious pregnancy status would affect this aspect of our lives. While we’ve shut down our relationship at various points to focus on each other or our careers, we’ve decided to keep our relationship open—with lots of reassurances and honesty with other partners—while trying to get pregnant.

We were both thankful that we had decided to continue dating other people during this time, especially since the pregnancy took a while. I teased that as a sex educator, I’m pretty good at not getting pregnant, but it actually turned out to be a lot harder to get pregnant.

Lelia Gowland and her husband Cole.

Lelia Gowland and her husband Cole.

Courtesy Lelia Gowland

After months of trying to no avail, I decided to be proactive and began diligently entering period data into an app, taking my temperature daily, and peeing on an ovulation strip first thing every morning.

For as long as I could remember, my period had come with a sense of relief. Now my period was the enemy – a sign that despite my meticulous record keeping, I had failed yet again. Every month that I wasn’t pregnant, I felt like a failure, like I just had to put in more energy and effort. The achiever in me felt confident that I could get pregnant through willpower and organizational skills.

The beginnings of a new relationship amid uncertainty

As Cole and I were at an impasse regarding this long-awaited pregnancy, I was also a few weeks into a new relationship. In July, I had met a new partner in the lobby of a luxury convention center. We had both attended the conference welcome event and agreed that there were not enough appetizers to compensate for the large amount of cheap, spicy wine.

Tipsy, I described the challenges of being petite and slipped off my shoes to show it off. It was a never-ending struggle, I told him, finding heels that were high enough to bring me closer to the eye level of fellow conference attendees, but not so high that they made me walk like a baby giraffe. That made him laugh.

For the rest of the conference, my eyes followed him around the room. Chatting at the bar during the wild party on the last night, we discussed a famous pancake place we both wanted to try the next day and made plans to meet in the lobby at 10am.

The next morning, as we ate breakfast and walked around town together, I talked about the heartache of trying to get pregnant and shared that I was both queer and very erotic. Having seen my wedding ring, he had assumed I was flirtatious and friendly, nothing more. Now it bugged me that I needed to add a lighting feature to my ring, a feature that would spark conversation and open the door to letting potential suitors know I’m poly.

As we waited for our Lyft at the airport, I kissed him for the first time on the sidewalk of a quiet side street.

After we flew home in different directions, he sent me copies of his favorite books. We texted daily about everything from our favorite seven deadly sins and examples of toxic masculinity in nonfiction to our shared passion for Google Docs.

Weeks later, Cole and I were suspended by uncertainty — were we currently growing our family, or had I had a miscarriage and our pregnancy plans had been put on hold again? I was simultaneously navigating feelings of hope, guilt, and worry, magnified by the energy of my new, long-distance relationship.

Whether I was going through a viable pregnancy or a miscarriage, each path felt like a potential betrayal of one of my identities. If I were pregnant, I feared that my poly and queer identities would become invisible or inaccessible to me, subordinated to my mother identity. If I miscarried, I worried how that would affect our journey to parenthood.

My friend Krista Rae helped steady the ship, saying, “Either way, you’re going to embrace your truth. If you’re pregnant, your truth right now is to raise your family with Cole. If not, the truth is for you to explore an exciting new relationship.”

I was stuck in the gap, but plenty of support helped me up

In mid-August at home in New Orleans, the waiting game matched the temperature: uncomfortably intense, swampy and slow. My attempts to work were fruitless. I would have moments of focus before a blast of pain shot through me, a persistent reminder of my precarious state. I canceled non-urgent meetings and couldn’t skip them with a white-knuckle grip.

My friends gave me support and distraction during gaps in my schedule. I texted my new partner.

If every cramp was a reminder that something was wrong with my pregnancy, every time my phone vibrated it was a confirmation of something hopeful, delivering a rush of serotonin. However, I wondered about the morality of the situation. You can’t exactly Google, “When should I tell my brand new partner that I’m pregnant with my husband’s child but probably miscarrying?”

Lelia Gowland and her husband Cole.

Lelia Gowland and her husband Cole.

Courtesy Lelia Gowland

I thought he knew I was trying to get pregnant and the doctors told me we would probably know more by the end of the week. I decided to tell him as soon as I knew something specific. Meanwhile, Cole held space for the full range of my emotions. We laughed at the very odd dating dynamic while probably miscarrying. When the dissonance became too much for me, she reassured me that no matter the outcome of this pregnancy, we were in this together.

Our conversations came with a playfulness and honesty reminiscent of our wedding vows: “Come hell or high water, predator attack or zombie apocalypse, we’re in it to win it, no matter what.” What could have felt deeply lonely for me, instead I felt connected, both to Cole and to my larger community.

Finally, results — and learning to live my truth

The results came late Friday night, a week after the first positive test. I texted loved ones, inviting them to Cole and my miscarriage party the next night. I made it clear that we were not going to cry in a circle discussing my pregnancy loss. Instead, we were going to drink, smoke and dance. We would celebrate our friendships and the joy that can still exist, even in hardship.

What started in our living room with my favorite jazz pop music turned into a full blown dance party after we walked to Twelve Mile Limit, the dive bar owned and operated by Cole. Our friend Ann DJed. it was a sweaty, irreverent, joyous affair. I worked through my grief by dancing and singing to a soundtrack similar to that of “Dirty Dancing” and “The Big Chill.”

That night, people who loved us, knew how desperately we wanted to bring a child into our lives, and supported our multiple identities surrounded Cole and me. Days later, I shared the news of the miscarriage with my new partner, who was extremely sympathetic. even mail me a handwritten, tender note of support.

For many people, miscarriage comes with a soundtrack that’s less “The Big Chill” and more “It’s I Little.” Even though we try to believe it when doctors tell us we did nothing wrong, that inner voice persists, wondering if we caused it. It’s an experience we often keep secret, which can seriously isolate an individual or couple. I sought the opposite – a cheeky party surrounded by friends to overcome any shame, seek support and acknowledge grief.

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