Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our infertile years

I really enjoyed Jules' news item post about this article titled Our Infertile Years that appeared at Salon last week (yep, I'm behind...).  It's a good view of what the inside of infertility looks like, something I don't think the general public has any sense of.

My experience is a bit different because of two things: first, we knew what was wrong and second, we had a small child to parent at the same time.

Secondary infertility sucks in all the ways that primary infertility does, with the added rub that you can never avoid babies/children.  It's impossible to avoid them because children, once you have them, hang out with other children.  As a parent you get relegated to the kids' section of events where you inevitably end up talking about the only thing you have in common with other parents... kids.

Our TTC history has these year-long gaps between miscarriages in which there was this constant struggle between being cautiously hopeful that I'd get pregnant and scared that if/when I did, it would end too soon again (and then it did, twice).  After the second miscarriage I went off the deep end for a few months.  There was a lot of anger at everyone and everything, me most of all.  When you combine that with a terribly 2 year old, it's extra hard in a uniquely unpleasant way.  Then there's the big change in my life, and maybe someday that will get written, but not now.

When the kid started preschool at age 3, we went to orientation.  There were about 15 kids in her class with the two teachers.  One set of twins, one pair of boys very close in age, and the rest single kids with siblings.  Most had a younger sibling, several exactly the age of the baby we didn't have.  At least by then I was sad and not so angry anymore.  Eventually it happened that one of the other kids needed a ride to preschool, and I volunteered because I knew I was the only person with only one kid.  One other mom had only the preschooler at home most of the time but she lived on the opposite end of town too.

As a couple, oh my was it an agonizing thing to go through.  Playing the blame game because it's a dual problem for us, emotions and hormones for me that often win and I get extra unreasonable. We stared down splitting up several times and at least once I arranged an elsewhere to depart to if I decided it was time.  I never felt very satisfied with a conversation we had about the whole thing, very rarely felt heard or understood at all.

The Salon article closes with the author talking about the first year with her twin boys: "In their first year, we learned how to parent our children - and not each other."  I think that the extra bonus unpleasantness of secondary infertility is this part - that you're trying to parent each other (unsuccessfully) while also parenting a small person who keeps changing and demanding new things and creatively evading all your strategies at managing behavior.

I have lots to say about all the "just be grateful you have one" commentary from some people.  First, the obvious response: "Of course I am.  Being grateful for what I have doesn't mean I don't want her to be a sister.  Being grateful doesn't limit me to wanting nothing more."  Furthermore, it's a special kind of torture to have people rub it in.  Yes, if there was no desire for more children, I'd probably spend more time enjoying the one I have.  Or maybe I'd play video games or take up skiing instead.  There's no way to examine my life without that desire for a bigger family.  It isn't me, and it will never be me.  Perhaps in time that desire would change if we knew no more was an option, but it would never be gone unless we added to our family somehow.

I don't really know how to handle the reality that just might be mine, where we have two actual children after so much waiting and worry.  If I get to pick family size, I'd really like 4 children, but I'm not deeply attached to all of them being biologically mine.  If the spouse gets to pick, it's two or maybe three, and again, not so committed to all being biologically ours.  It hurts just to think that the roller coaster of infertility may not be over, that we might decide to try for another child at some point (assuming this goes well).  It hurts to know that it will never be easy or simple or pain-free.  If we decide to adopt, then it's a whole new set of craziness and emotional ugh to go through.

In the end, I'm not sure that the infertile years ever go away.  They shape who we are and how we live and that's forever.  Esperanza has a great post about the early part of secondary infertility and how much going through it is awful (several actually, but this one is so much my experience, I'm linking to it).  Go read that if you haven't and remember those secretly (perhaps more likely to be secret than those primary infertiles, perhaps not) infertile folks around you who are struggling for just one more child.


  1. I'm so jumping to write a post on this...It's on my list of things to don't worry about being late...I'm probably going to be a month late...

    As far as secondary vs primary? Sometimes I think secondary is harder. When you're able to conceive without difficulty the first time and then struggle, there are so many questions. It worked the first time, what changed? And this is coming from a primary IFer.

    1. I promise I'm not playing pain olympics! It's all awful and agonizing in its own special way.

      That said, at least we knew we probably had a struggle coming up since I was diagnosed with PCOS while pregnant (super timing, thanks doc). The not knowing why nothing works and waiting and constant disappointment is just awful and I'd say the worst part of all, and it's universal across the ALI realms... common, shared, and yet awful.

  2. Your comment above really sums up what I wanted to say... but oddly, so does Sarah's. I cannot imagine struggling for #2 with people being all "When are you going to have ANOTHER?!?!" up in my face and not really being able to understand why it wasn't happening, or wasn't easy/possible/etc. Even after going through primary, people assume that having a baby magically cures Diagnosis X, whatever it is. Even MFI! Magical vaginas!

    Sorry... I got off track. To me, and comment that includes "Just be..." or "At least..." is pretty much the most insensitive platitude you can offer a person who just told you they are struggling with something. I wrote a few months ago about how asking someone when they are going to have (another) baby is absolutely never your business, but if they bring it up, some things to consider. But mostly, to just be a friend.

    I also want to thank you for touching on how HARD this can be on a marriage. Often, we are not in the same places with our grief and anger at the same times, and it can be hard to find solace and support from the one person who can truly understand the depth of the situation. We have had several close calls as well, and it sucked. But, it's better now. I wouldn't say that it strengthened our marriage, but it did re-frame it.

  3. I went through primary IF to have my boy and now secondary IF again in attempt to have #2, and I am so dreading so much of what you're talking about. The moment in preschool when I realize my son is the only one without a sibling. I'm already dreading everyone with a kid my son's age starting to get pregnant around me.

    Great post

  4. Wow, thanks for the link to my post. A sorry I'm just reading and commenting now. I finally put you in my reader (that took way too long - sometimes iPhones are not a panacea).

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post and I especially felt myself nodding my head during the part about preschool and realizing your kid the only or one of the only ones without a sibling. Such a sad place to be. I think the years when they are 2-4 are the worst because that is when everyone else I adding to their families so you have to see it all the time.

    I also want a four kid family and I too don't care as much about biological connection. My guy does not have similar desires and money, unfortunately is a big limiter for us. I am just going to hope for two and walk away, though I think it will take a few years for my pipe dream of a third child to truly die.

    Thanks again for the link up. I look forward to following you.