The Unexpected Path: Living with Secondary Infertility

Written by a RESOLVE New England member and volunteer.

My husband and I were once fertile. We were that couple envied by so many. With our first child, we got pregnant on our first try. Two years later, when I was 34, we got pregnant with our second child – this time on the second try. While I always wanted three children, my husband did not join me in that desire until just after our second child was born. It was decided – we would be a family of five.

However, we wanted to wait a bit. Our oldest had just been diagnosed with a number of neurodevelopmental issues and would require additional attention, and his most important therapies were not being covered by insurance. We wanted to tend to his needs and stabilize a bit financially, and then we would conceive our third child.

I had talked it over with my OB who felt that waiting a year would not make too much of a difference. It might just take us a little longer to conceive. We had a plan.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we would deal with infertility.

Empty Crib and the Pain of Secondary Infertility

So, at the age of 37, we started trying. A good friend and my sister were both trying at the same time – how fun to all be pregnant together! I used ovulation predictor kits for the first time to really help us along. Five months and six cycles later (with both my friend and sister pregnant), I went to my OB. Something was going on.

We went to an RE for a consult and heard the happy news, “We shouldn’t have any problem getting you pregnant.” With such optimism and a lot of naiveté, we kept trying on our own, and delayed our first IUI until my husband’s travel season ended and my busy season at work ended. At the age of 38, after almost a year of trying on our own, we began our first cycle.

As each failed cycle passed, our RE’s optimism waned. I had poor ovarian response, AMA, and high FSH. He started talking about donor egg. We were ambivalent about even IVF. By this time, I had found an online bulletin board and was becoming a much more savvy consumer. I added acupuncture, herbs, and as much meditation and yoga a working mother of two children could fit into her schedule. I ate as organically as our budget would allow. I advocated for more aggressive treatment. I sought a second opinion in the face of my original RE’s resistance and his clinic’s insurance errors that almost ended treatment for us.

At the age of 40, after more than two years of trying and one year of treatment that included six failed IUI’s, two failed IVF’s, a failed CCT followed by a passed CCT, we switched REs and insurance companies and began our third and final IVF attempt. Incredibly, we were successful.

Secondary infertility has many unique challenges. I went to all my treatment appointments alone, as my husband needed to stay with our children. He would do his part, drive home, and I would leave for mine. We needed to arrange childcare for my retrievals, but I went to all monitoring appointments, IUI’s, and transfers alone. I remember vividly, during my final cycle, dropping my youngest off for her first day of kindergarten, racing to my former RE’s to pick up the one frozen embryo we had, and racing back to pick my daughter up at school. I drove her and her potential future sibling to my new RE’s lab to drop off our frostie for my transfer the next day. Then we had to race back to school to pick up my son.

Secondary infertility produced many logistical challenges.

As a parent, I live in the world of children and parents – it was impossible to isolate myself from other expanding families. We endured unintentional hurts such as the comment from my child’s first grade teacher, “You have such incredible children, you should have another.” If only she knew how hard we were trying.

It was wonderful to find the online bulletin boards, but even there, out of the pain of primary infertility came hurtful statements such as, “You should be grateful for what you have.” I was grateful, I had been incredibly blessed, and I knew exactly how much I was missing, having had children. I had a crib sitting empty in my nursery for three long years, an attic full of baby clothes, a basement filled with infant toys, and an aching, longing heart – all waiting and waiting for our child to join us. Fortunately, I found a group of women who welcomed and embraced me, willing to support me in my pain, despite my status as a former fertile. Without them, I truly believe our youngest would not be with us today.

I had to grieve on my journey through secondary infertility. I had to mourn the family of my dreams. I wanted children close in age and I cried on my youngest’s fifth birthday. If we ever had our child, there would be such a gap. I needed to grieve each failed cycle. Every Christmas, I grieved as I set up two Christmas stockings embroidered with my children’s names and packed away the coordinating, unnamed third stocking, wondering if I would ever be able to hang it by the fireplace.

While my family is not the one that I had envisioned, I would not trade them for the world. We have so much to be grateful for: insurance coverage – without which we would never have been able to pursue treatment; our second RE who was willing to take a chance on a couple with an abysmal track record; the friends we made along the way, and most of all, our incredible children. My oldest child, who never knew about our struggles with SIF, said to me one day recently, “Mom, we sure are lucky we have our baby, aren’t we.”

My response, “We are the luckiest family in the world.”

This article originally appeared in the RESOLVE New England Fall 2007 Newsletter.

Comments

  1. I appreciate this post. My experience with Secondary Infertility has finally been resolved, having taken 9.5 years (collectively) to finally complete my family. So little is said about the pain of Secondary Infertility, and that’s a shame. I wish that people were more open about Secondary Infertility struggles. Hopefully posts like this will help people realize that their pain is real and deserves recognition, too. Thank you.

  2. Come along to the Secondary Infertility Support group in Waltham MA. It will make all the difference to feel part of a community of couples who have gone through this experience, and can share their tips on how to survive in the most positive way.
    You aren’t the only ones going through this, even though that is what it feels like, and you don’t have to remain alone. I did it the hard way at the time, and certainly don’t recommend it!

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