Are you one of those people that got pregnant quickly or perhaps unexpectedly? You’ve done the infant thing, with no sleeping at night and feeding every two hours. You’re an expert on how to get through the toddler years. Now you and your partner have decided to add another member to your family. You’ve talked it out and decided together that the time is right, or as right as it ever will be. But you’ve been trying for a few months with no BFP (Big Fat Positive for those of you not part of an online community). You’re starting to wonder if you’re going to have issues TTC (trying to conceive). You’ve been at it a few months and each time you get that negative test, your heart drops. You’re starting to wonder what’s going on.
At this point you’re probably googling to learn more about getting pregnant. If you’ve been trying to conceive for a few months, it’s a good idea to educate yourself. There are things you may want to do to understand your body better, such as researching ovulation and the logistics of getting pregnant, tracking your cycle, or taking your basal body temperature. Remember you only have about a 20% chance of conceiving each cycle, so likely everything is ok. But, if you’ve been trying for over a year, you may get diagnosed with secondary infertility.
What is secondary infertility?
Secondary infertility is defined as a disease or condition of the reproductive system often diagnosed after a couple has had one year of unprotected, well timed intercourse, or if the woman has had multiple miscarriages (Resolve.org) after the birth of a biological child who was not conceived with assisted reproductive technology or fertility medications. Secondary infertility is a medical problem affecting female and male reproductive systems equally. If you are experiencing difficulties, you should get checked out by your OB or a specialist.
Why is this so hard?
If you got pregnant easily the first time, you probably feel caught off guard, disappointed, or a bit lost that you haven’t conceived right away. Although secondary infertility is common, it’s not often talked about by people facing it or by physicians. If you’re going through it, you know that serious and unpredictable emotions may come out of nowhere. You could experience a gamete of uncomfortable feelings, including sadness, grief, anger, depression, anxiety, shame, guilt, isolation, self-blame, or loss of control. Powerlessness can take over, and leave people feeling hopeless that they will ever conceive. You might isolate yourself from family and friends for fear that they will ask you about having another child or because being around pregnant people or families with multiple children is devastating to you. When you see other happy families, you could feel pain and jealousy. You may also feel guilty about not giving your child a sibling, especially if you have strong opinions about what your family should look like or how it should be structured.
My friends try to help, but nothing makes me feel better. Why is that happening?
Research shows that couples with secondary infertility get less social support than couples with primary infertility because it goes unrecognized or acknowledged; the couple already has a child. Others tend to criticize couples or discount their pain because they “should be grateful for the child” they already have. There is a perception that it is nonsensical to go to extreme measures when you already have a child.
Hopefully your friends and family attempt to be supportive, but they likely have some misunderstandings and biases that influence what they say to you or how they try to support you. Infertility is still not talked about openly in most situations, so people are uncomfortable with it. They don’t know what to say, and they’re searching for a way to fix things for you. In reality, they can’t fix it. Some things people say will seem insensitive and hurtful. Don’t be afraid to tell them how what they said made you feel, how they can be helpful, and what kind of support you really need from them. This Cheat Sheet might be helpful to pass along to them.
How can I deal with this and still be a good parent to my child?
You’re going through a difficult time, but you still have a kiddo to take care of. This is a good opportunity to be a good model for your child about how to deal with problems and not push them aside or ignore them. Your child will likely pick up on your grief even if you don’t talk about it openly. If you keep it a secret, you kids may resort to filling in the blanks about what they see happening. For example, if they notice you are going to the doctor a lot, they may assume that you are really sick (this is called magical thinking). They could also interpret your actions (such as being stressed or crying) as being about them. Young children use egocentric thinking, and will internalize things becuase they don’t have the ability to see the world from others’ perspectives. Instead, you can talk to your child in an age appropriate way about what’s going on with you. You can also help them identify and express their feelings about the situation. While this may feel vulnerable to you, remember that vulnerability is an opportunity to get closer.
What do I do now?
There will be many things to consider as you’re going throughout the process. You’ll want to work with your partner (read post How to Weathering the Storm of Infertility Together) to understand the emotional turmoil and formulate a medical plan. You will be working closely with a medical professional about various options. And all of this while still being a parent to your child/children.
Get a support system in place. Work through your feelings and find the right people to help you through your journey. Join a support group. Find resources online at Resolve.org and other reliable websites. Start working with a therapist who specializes in infertility and can understand the complicated dynamics of what you’re going through.
Don’t go through this alone. You may think that there’s only one right way to do things, that there’s only one way to be a family. Grieving what may have been is not an easy task and it will take time. A professional can help you sort through your grief and help you make decisions of how to move forward. You may choose to utilize medical interventions, pursue third party reproductive options, or embrace the established family you have. Families come is all shapes, sizes, and configurations; and they’re all beautiful.
Infertility is a medical issue and medical decisions should be discussed with your doctor or medical professional. For more resources and information, please visit Resolve.org.
If you are struggling with getting pregnant or having been diagnosed with secondary (or primary) infertility, don’t hesitate to call me for a free phone consultation at (832) 827-3288. I would be happy to help you understand where you are in the process, work through your grief and pain, and find hope. Accept support and regain control of your life.