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Secondary Infertility

***This week’s post is written by a woman in our community that has chosen to remain anonymous. It is real and honest and may be triggering for some readers.***

Secondary infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children. The birth of the first child does not involve any assisted reproductive technologies or fertility medications.

I never imagined that I would be researching that definition. Achieving a pregnancy wasn’t a challenge for me before now. After all, I had muddled through sleepless nights nursing my second son to sleep for the umpteenth time, wishing for a full-night’s rest. I never envisioned myself meeting with doctors and nurses discussing my period regularity and intercourse frequency because after all I had already celebrated first steps milestones with my first born. Looking back on myself, as I remember watching the little pink test reveal a plus sign for the first time in my life, I never in my wildest imagination thought that I would be that person speeding my husband’s sperm sample up to the lab, hoping to make the cut off time. But here I am. Or here we are for that matter, because infertility affects us both.

I knew something was not right after only 6 months of trying to become pregnant with what I thought would be my third child. I’d started charting my temperature months in advance so I could pinpoint my ovulation down to a 24-hour window. I read all the books about getting pregnant and fertility leading up to when we wanted to start trying for that baby. Even though I’d gotten pregnant twice before so easily, I researched everything I could about getting pregnant. I was planning it all out in advance. I used coupon codes for free nursing covers and pillows, bought reusable breast pads, and started a ‘wish list’ on Amazon of all the baby gear we would need again. I broke down and finally looked at minivans on the weekends in preparation for our growing family. But when I didn’t get pregnant month after month, a voice in the back of my mind nagged at me. I chalked it up to being older. “Not everyone gets pregnant on the first or second try like I did with my two boys. Give it time,” I thought. But still the little voice in the back of my head kept at it. Something wasn’t right. Something was wrong with me, I had somehow become broken.

I never in my wildest imagination thought that I would be that person speeding my husband’s sperm sample up to the lab, hoping to make the cut off time. But here I am. Or here we are for that matter, because infertility affects us both.

As it turns out, it wasn’t me after all. After driving myself crazy for months, I Googled my husband’s medication with the word infertility attached to it and found my answer. The testosterone his doctor had prescribed for borderline low-T had wiped out his sperm counts. I knew what the results would be even before I called the doctor’s office requesting a sperm analysis. “No sperm to be counted” is what it actually said when I read through the results.  We were put in touch with a male factor infertility doctor and my husband was put on Clomid to help repair the damage that was done.

We went to countless appointments, we were referred to other doctors, medication was adjusted, sperm was analyzed, and almost three years later we were given a final word. They were out of ideas and we were at a crossroads. If we were ever going to have any more biological children we would have to do IVF and intracytoplasmic sperm injection, aka ICSI,  to the tune of a hefty penny. A hefty penny we don’t have. Could we get that penny? Probably, but it would greatly affect the kids we have already. We had to think about them and not just us and our desire for more children.

I didn’t choose to be “done at two.” We had always talked about more. We had talked about four.

Ranges of emotions still run through me today. I am angry at the doctor who carelessly gave my husband the drug that caused this to change our family plans, without telling us possible side effects of the medication. I feel a sense of relief because I know exactly where we stand and what we have to do if we choose to have more babies. And yet I feel confused. I am not infertile. I don’t deserve to wear that badge. I haven’t suffered enough. I already have children, I am not one of those women who cry and pray and work two jobs and sell their belongings saving up for IVF only to have it fail and then try again before finally welcoming the long awaited bundle of joy into their home. I am already a mother. But I don’t fit into the other category either. I didn’t choose to be “done at two.” We had always talked about more. We had talked about four.

I watched family members and friends announce their pregnancies, and I was so completely happy for them. I didn’t cry because they were pregnant and I wasn’t.  I didn’t feel jealousy. I already had kids, I’d already given birth. I’d already spent late nights rocking my tender souls, snuggling them a little longer than what they really needed, savoring the stillness, memorizing their sweetness, and listening to them as they sighed in their sleep.

“Done?” I thought, “Am I done? Will there really be no more tiny humans growing in my belly? Will I never nurse another baby? Am I done with diaper bags? Do I look like a woman who is done having babies?”

So why, when a family member commented about me being done having babies at a young age, catch me so off guard? “It must be so nice to be done having kids at such a young age! You probably love how easy it is to travel now that they are getting bigger and you don’t have any more diaper bags to carry around.” she’d said.  “Done?” I thought, “Am I done? Will there really be no more tiny humans growing in my belly? Will I never nurse another baby? Am I done with diaper bags? Do I look like a woman who is done having babies?”  I was so confused. I smiled and shrugged it off and admitted that a diaper bag free life was actually pretty sweet, but inside I felt heavy. It wasn’t my choice to be done. It wasn’t my husband’s choice. That choice was taken from us.

My husband has hard days sometimes too, he blames himself. I blame his doctor. People seem to always want to know who’s “fault” it is when a couple can’t conceive. We decided we would keep our infertility private. A select few friends know, but otherwise we have kept it to ourselves. We didn’t want advice, or input as to what to do with our infertility. We didn’t want people to tell us to just be grateful for the kids we already have. We didn’t want the sympathy either, if that is even possible to understand. We weren’t mourning, we were just living. Everyone who goes through infertility has such a vastly different journey. My experience is so very different from another woman’s journey. And no one can compare their suffering to another. My journey is my own, and I’ve found lessons along the way.

If I had known those moments were numbered and final, I might have tried to capture them, forever to look back on. It wasn’t my choice to journey down this path of secondary infertility, but I can choose to live my life in ways that bring me joy and happiness and that help me feel complete.

It has taught me to be more present. I used to get so caught up in what we will be, what we were going to become, that I didn’t realize what we were at that moment. I look at my boys in a new bright light. They are my only two opportunities to be a good mom, and to thoroughly, completely enjoy the humans that they are. Night time tickles with my seven year old are a little bit longer; conversations are deeper – as deep as a nine year old tornado-child can be. Family vacations are valued that much more, because this is my family right here and now.

I’m becoming more and more okay with “being done” it’s so much earlier than I expected, but I’m finding it easier to accept.  I’ll admit there is always a thought of “maybe it will still happen, maybe there will be a miracle” whispering in my head, but we are choosing to move on. For us, there will be no more babies. I will forever miss the opportunity to nurse another baby, it was my favorite thing to do. I even enjoyed pumping at work!  I will always wish for the chance to sit in another moonlit room watching my baby sleep. If I had known those moments were numbered and final, I might have tried to capture them, forever to look back on.

It wasn’t my choice to journey down this path of secondary infertility, but I can choose to live my life in ways that bring me joy and happiness and that help me feel complete.

By Melissa Nanes

Hello! I'm Melissa Nanes. I'm a Certified HypnoDoula, Placenta Encapsulation Specialist, and Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. I love working with families to create a supported and safe space for their children from pregnancy to early childhood. Please visit my website to learn more about the services I offer and to set up your free consultation.