Most people wouldn’t associate the word “infertility” with a moms blog. Infertility – that’s when you can’t have kids, right? But you’re a mom. So … you adopted? But you’re still infertile? Is that it?
Well, no, at least not in my case. There are actually several kinds of infertility, none of which are incompatible with parenthood. First, infertility can be male (30%), female (30%), both, or undetermined.
Then it can also be primary or secondary. Primary infertility is the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of trying. Secondary infertility, on the other hand, is the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children where the birth of the first child does not involve any ARTs (assisted reproductive technologies) or fertility medications.
So you can see how infertility can affect lots of moms – whether they have never been able to conceive but have become moms through the miracle of adoption or marriage; or they have conceived and given birth through the wonders of ARTs; or they have been able to conceive and birth at least one child without such assistance, but have not been able to again.
My story includes both primary and secondary infertility. My husband and I married when I was 32 and after two years, we decided it was time to try to grow our family. But it would be another three years of trying, and doctor’s appointments, and misdiagnoses before we finally conceived our daughter (ironically, without any assistance after all that time). I lived the frustration of primary infertility for three years before entering the joy of being a mom at last, at the age of 37.
When my daughter was ten months old, we found out we were expecting again. I was thrilled – in my mind, that was confirmation that our “infertile” days were behind us. But then our unborn daughter Naomi died, for reasons completely unrelated to pregnancy, in my nineteenth week. We were hopeful that we could conceive again, and we did – but then that baby was also lost, this time in a first trimester miscarriage. And so was the next. We had entered the world of secondary infertility.
It would be another year before we finally conceived our son, and endured a nail-biting nine months of waiting to see if he would join us on earth or his siblings in Heaven. He was born alive and well, and once again, I knew the joy of motherhood. Two years later, I got another positive pregnancy test and, once again, felt that our days of infertility and loss were behind us – only to lose that baby, and another several months later, in early miscarriages.
My children are now nine and five, and it has been over two years since our last pregnancy (and our last loss). We are once again firmly in the camp of secondary infertility. On the good days, I rejoice in the children I have on Earth. On the bad, I run a gamut of emotions that, I have learned, are perfectly normal. If you are in this camp, perhaps you will find them normal to you, too.
Frustrated, because getting pregnant is so easy for so many, and it isn’t for you. And that’s not fair.
Angry, because you deserve another child just as much as your sister, or your best friend, or your co-worker, or….
Guilty, part one, because you have at least one beautiful child, and you know there are women who don’t have any, so maybe you should just be satisfied with what you have and quit complaining.
Guilty, part two, because what if it’s your “fault?” Why can’t your body just do what it’s supposed to? Is it something you ate, or did, or felt? Are you being punished?
Lonely, because you’re not sure if anyone around you understands, even your friends with just one child. After all, maybe they are okay with “one and done.” And it’s hard to ask and suggest otherwise and maybe be wrong.
Weary, from trying and not succeeding, from watching your cycle so terribly closely, or from scheduling medical appointments. There are so many other things worth your time and energy, but this one thing takes priority and it’s tiring, isn’t it?
Fearful, because you could stop trying. You could get off the treadmill and cast off the weariness and focus on other things, but … what if? What if you are meant to have another baby and you give up?
Sad, because infertility is a loss. Even if you have a child eventually, the journey itself is filled with loss – loss of imagined sibling relationships, loss of time, loss of opportunities to do other things. Former First Lady Laura Bush captures the essence of this loss when she wrote in her memoir, “The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence… For someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like slant, ephemeral shadows over their lives. Who can describe the feel of a tiny hand that is never held?”
Hurt, when friends announce pregnancies, or when you get invited to a baby shower, or when your only, or youngest, child reaches a new milestone and there is no little one following behind, or when you’re asked to help with a friend’s baby and merely holding an infant is at once comforting and painful.
Hopeful, because for some, every month it starts all over again – the possibility that this time, this month, the answer will be different. And because you know the stories of others in your situation who have gone on to have more children, and so it is always out there, beckoning you to keep trying.
Fellow mom, if this is you, please hear me – you are not abnormal. All of these emotions and more are part of the journey, and you are not alone. Whether your journey ends with a newborn in your arms, or your desires for another child fulfilled in some other way, or a final fork in the road that leads in another direction all together – you are not alone, and I am willing to bet that if you let others see a bit of the road you are on, you will find a community of other women, also wondering if they are alone.
Women like me. And women like you. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Because we are stronger together, whatever lies ahead.