Last week I talked about what we went through the last four years in dealing with secondary infertility. Today I’d like to share a bit about the emotional side of it, and some unexpected challenges with regards specifically to secondary infertility. For a little more background if you’re new, read the first post and then the second.
For me, what has been most difficult about secondary infertility, ironically, has been being a mother…
PS This will be my last post about this topic, thank you for indulging me a bit and allowing myself to use this space to share and express my feelings on our struggle. It’s been something that has bottled up and spilled over into the blog and I feel a huge sense of relief for letting it all out! Sending those of you struggling to conceive happy thoughts of hope, love, support, and continued stamina for you in this difficult and painful journey.
(Image above is our 5 1/2 year old, Henry, when he was a week or so old)
When Henry was born our lives were turned upside down. We weren’t able to drop everything and go out to eat or travel and I stopped working at a 9 to 5 job outside of the home. It was a huge life change, as it often is for many people’s first child. My friends were suddenly all moms, and my activities during the day were planned around my son and his schedule and needs. All of a sudden everything revolved around being a mother. I was happy and satisfied in that new role, it felt natural and wonderful!
The difficulty for me was once we started struggling to conceive again all of those experiences, those normal day to day parenting duties I was thrown into became constant reminders of not being able to grow our family. The group of women that I relied on for emotional support and strength started to become painful reminders of our struggle to conceive, especially since everyone else seemed to be growing their families effortlessly and I was in that world so completely now. It was impossible to escape or avoid! I’m a mom now: playdates and preschool, parks and birthday parties, potty training and sippy cups. Beyond this blog work, that’s the life I had. The painful reminder was intrinsically woven into every thread of my day to day life.
I remember a year or so ago when my last good friend who has a child Henry’s age had a second baby and I realized looking around his school, the playground, at church, that he was the only one I knew his age without a sibling. It was a sad, lonely, and desperate moment for me. I tried not to wonder if he looked around and realized that same thing- certainly he must have. And was it a sad realization for him too?? We talked about our struggle pretty openly with him (“for some people it’s easy to have babies, but for us it’s hard”), but my heart still pained for his perceived loneliness.
Behind that pain was one main underlying issue that I just couldn’t come to terms with in our struggle: I didn’t want Henry to be an only child. My husband and I both come from large families with siblings pretty close in age (I’m one of 6, he’s one of 8) which we both loved and I felt so much guilt for not being able to give Henry something that I knew not only he would love, but something that would be so good for him too. Something I felt he needed as a child. I know many people are perfectly happy as only children and having one child, but as hard as I tried to be okay with is, it was just so outside our experiences that I couldn’t come to terms with is as our family’s path. When I went to see a therapist on this issue she surprisingly came back with, “You don’t need to accept it. It won’t be your path. You’ll figure out a way to grow your family one way or another”.
As each birthday passes, I become more and more desperate watching my little boy grow older without a sibling. What should have been happy milestones started to become grief filled moments of panic. Christmases the last couple of years became a painful reminder of the hope from the Christmas the year before that we would have another stocking to hang by this time next year. The age gap widening between him and the possibility of a sibling for him was almost too much to bear at many times. It was something many people, even Jared, didn’t completely understand the deepness of my sadness about. It was truly the hardest part for me. Guilt (shouldn’t I be happy with one?) and grief for something intangible all tied up in a growing beautiful boy whom I loved more than anything.
The last issue that I think I really struggle with is feeling misunderstood from the outside community and even others suffering from infertility. Most people assumed that because we had a child we could have another if we wanted. “Wish we could” was a common short-answer response to questions people asked. It was lonely and isolating because not only was my support group (other mothers) a source of pain sometimes, but I couldn’t even find a infertility support group that I could join- and I live in a big city! I tried to join a couple but was turned away because I was dealing with secondary infertility and not primary (but we’re all grieving a lost dream for our family, right???). I understood the need to separate the two groups but it was certainly a painful reminder of this weird limbo state we were stuck in, and how truly isolating this condition was we were struggling with.
I know everyone struggles with different aspects of this. For some the up and down month after month (hope and then despair, hope and then despair) is the hardest part. At one point our doctor said the hardest part is my own stamina to keep moving forward. And I certainly felt that. But I’m curious for those of you out there dealing with or have dealt with secondary infertility or primary infertility, what is/was the hardest part for you emotionally? What was most helpful for you in dealing with it?
I felt like the most helpful thing for me was talking about it openly with friends and family so I wouldn’t feel pain and bitterness at their ability to grow their families and they wouldn’t feel awkwardness around the topic of babies and pregnancy. Those that echoed that same frustration, pain, and even anger sometimes were the friends I felt closest to. I had one friend who remembered the dates we would find out if procedures worked and would text me every single time, the morning of. She must have put it in her calendar to text me because she never ever forgot. Her response when it didn’t work was always exactly what I was feeling in the moment “WHAT THE S!*!&*(&)*!!!!” and I really appreciated someone echoing exactly what I was feeling, because anger and disbelief always came before the sadness in those failed attempts.
My heart goes out to those of you wishing and hoping for a child in this moment, I’m right there with you my friends. Thank you for sharing your beautiful stories here.