“At least you have one…”
That’s the most common phrase I hear when I talk about infertility and our journey to give my son a sibling. My husband and I struggled for two years to conceive our now five-year-old, and on the day he was born, we were already asking my doctor when we could give him a sibling. When we ventured back into the world of infertility, expectations were high now that we had ‘cracked the code’ and made a real life baby. We were unpleasantly surprised by failure after failure – almost as if we were experiencing infertility for the first time again. And even more surprisingly, I felt as if I couldn’t talk about it.
Because “at least I have one.”
Secondary infertility is surprisingly common and surprisingly undiscussed. Secondary infertility is the inability to become pregnant or to carry a baby to term after previously giving birth to a baby. Some experiencing secondary infertility may have experienced primary infertility as well, or it may be a completely unexpected experience.
Having experienced both primary and secondary infertility, one is not easier than the other. Each is consuming, devastating, and a rollercoaster of ups and downs. With secondary infertility, there is a comfort knowing that you are indeed lucky to be someone’s parent. But on the flip side, there are other, new challenges I didn’t anticipate.
New kinds of guilt: Like others fortunate enough to be mothers, I experience the regular level of “mom guilt.” But there are also brand new infertility-related things to feel guilty for: the mornings I miss with my son when I’m off to the fertility clinic; the focus I’ve lacked because my mind is often on my fertility struggles; the patience I can’t muster because of the hormones that have overtaken my body… But worst is the guilt because I can’t give him what I consider to be the greatest gift – a sibling. I feel like I’m failing him when he asks me why his friends have baby brothers and sisters and he doesn’t. And I feel sick when I think about him as an adult, all alone when my husband and I are no longer around.
Feeling dismissed: Doctors, friends, family… all are quick to remind me I should be grateful to have at least one child. Trust me, I’m grateful. But you can be grateful for your child, and long for the children you don’t have. They are not mutually exclusive. And by telling me that I should just be grateful, you’re telling me that I can’t be sad, or frustrated, or defeated. We spend our whole lives envisioning the families we will create. Being denied that vision is still heartbreaking, even if you make it part way.
So how do you deal?
Surviving secondary infertility is a juggling act. You’re balancing the needs of your current family with your desire/need for another child. What you have vs. what you want.
Be honest with yourself and your partner about what you’re willing to trade off – financially, time-wise, and emotionally. Fertility treatments feel like a gamble most of the time – there’s no certainty. Every action you take could result in the baby you’ve worked so hard for… or it may not. Be honest about what you feel is too much to sacrifice. Write it down. Revisit it, assess it, and change it if you want to. Everyone’s limit is different and it may evolve over time.
Release the guilt that goes hand-in-hand with the decisions you have to make. My doctor gave me some great advice: imagine your friend going through what you are going through. What would you say to her? Wouldn’t you say “You’re doing the best you can” ? Because you are.
Take the time to remember your gratitude. I’m the mom in Robert Munsch’s “Love You Forever.” I creep into my son’s room at night, gaze at his innocent, sleeping face, and remind myself how lucky I am. I never plan to stop. It’s such a beautiful way to end a difficult day.
By Vidya Ledsham