On (the possibility of) secondary infertility

I have been wanting to write about this for a while, but feared I might feel an impatient fool afterwards, as the last time I wrote an in-depth post (on a protected journal) lamenting the difficulty we were having getting pregnant, I was actually already a little bit pregnant without knowing. I felt ungrateful. My perspective changed. Caspar was only just 2 and we had been trying for 14 months. I know people try for years upon years and there I was, bitching about my period arriving yet AGAIN, after a little over a year of trying. But hey, maybe it’s like waiting for a bus that’s late – if you light up a cigarette (not that I smoke but bear with me!) the bus will arrive immediately. Maybe if I post this publicly my womb will suddenly divinely flourish with the beginnings of a baby and make me look like an impatient fool. I’m hoping so!

My late-bus second pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and although I don’t want that to be the focus of this post, it is worth mentioning that this is even more confusing to me. I mean, I did get pregnant. It took longer than average, but I did. Surely that’s a good thing? Of course it is. But they say that the point where you can get “help” with trying to conceive is, for women under 35, after you’ve been trying in earnest for a year. I’m 27. If I hadn’t had that failed pregnancy, would we have sought help sooner? Would we be already on our way to getting some answers? Would we be with more hope than we currently have (not a flicker, in all honesty)?

I have been going through my journey with a dear friend. In her early forties, she’s a little older than me, but we both have sons a similar age, and began our second pregnancies together after issues with questionable fertility – on my part – and certifiably compromised fertility on hers. We both became pregnant again, me as explained in the previous paragraph, and her on her second IVF journey. We both lost our babies around the same time. My heart ached for her as I knew how much she craved another baby – a sibling for her gorgeous boy. Happily she is pregnant again now, after her third (and most expensive) IVF journey, and we’re hoping she’ll have her happy ending after all the turmoil to get there.

She has taught me a lot about patience, but she also understands the heartbreak of every day passing and every day it not getting any easier not to be able to give your child the gift of a sibling. Our children are healthy and beautiful, and we thank the universe that we are lucky enough to have them on a daily basis, but we both know the struggle, the uncertainty, the stigma. “Are you going to have another?” “Is he your only one?” “Do you not want any more?” Sometimes it’s difficult not to break down every time someone unthinkingly asks something like this. What do you say? “I don’t know” is probably the most apt response. “I could be infertile” is a good one if you want to make them scuttle away quickly. “Maybe one day” is the one you tend to use so as not to make them uncomfortable. Because we wouldn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable with our potential inability to conceive another child. We allow them to assume we’re satisfied with our lot. (And yes, of course we are grateful for our healthy children, but that doesn’t mean our hearts don’t ache a bit, eyeing their Phil & Ted’s double buggies containing their perfect little pair of appropriately age-gapped children.) We allow them to assume that we are the so-called “selfish”, perfunctory parents who had a child for the sake of the experience and now that is done we won’t be having any more and he’ll be an only – and only children are “weird” don’t you know?* And poor Caspar – his behaviour is so terrible because he’s spoilt, you know, they won’t give him a sibling so that he can learn to share.

I know that many people don’t give it a second thought, because they appreciate that actually it is none of their business, they are just “making conversation”. But there’s always the looks. The snippets of conversation you overhear. The alpha mum with her brood of angelic, sharing children saying “Better get him a little brother!” as she gaily laughs and removes little Tarquin from Caspar’s firing line of fury over a play-doh rolling pin (don’t worry, I appreciate she probably mainlines gin like the rest of us), as though I could just go and pick one up from the supermarket.**

But the truth is the most apt response. We don’t know. We want to have another child, but we just don’t know if that’s possible. Our bodies, or our partners’ bodies, aren’t playing ball (no pun intended). And when you realise that you have been trying to have another baby for two years, with no success, you start to feel the need to look for answers.

I spoke to my lovely friend about this, and as our relationship is of the TMI variety (any woman who has had to inspect their cervical mucus in detail regularly, in an effort to conceive a baby, tend to have less shame than most) she volunteered some information in response to my question “How long did it all take?”.

Well, it all took about 6 years, in truth. But from the point of referral to fertility testing, to diagnosis, to actually embarking on IVF treatment, it took 2 years. Two years of gruelling tests, difficult decisions, relationship turbulence and ultimately, the discovery that one of them wasn’t quite up to scratch when it came to baby-makin’. Not exactly honeymoon content.

That’s where we are now. We are at the beginning of our journey into finding out why it hasn’t been so easy for us. If you read my Twitter you’ll have seen the “wank in a cup” tweets. I’m making light of it because I have to. Hell, I live-tweeted my miscarriage – I basically need the support of my Twitter pals to get through this (isn’t Twitter amazing?). But although I am jovial when tweeting about it, it’s actually a really difficult time for Julian and I. We are having to make decisions we never thought we’d have to make. Sure, life could be worse, but it’s rocking our boat more than we’re sure we can cope with.

But cope we will, because we both have the same aim: we want a sibling for Caspar. We believe it would be good for him. We both have brothers and sisters close in age, and we believe that having a sibling is a gift (well, we believe this as adults – when my brother was pulling my hair out as a kid I believed he was sent from Lucifer’s Lair to ruin my life). We appreciate that having a sibling gives you a connection, a shared history; someone to compare therapy notes with. Someone to share the burden of us in our elderly years. Someone who, hopefully, will be a friend for life.

We didn’t even have to try for Caspar. We are lucky in that respect. I had just been told I may have reduced fertility after a gynaecological condition. We hadn’t really discussed having children. Two months later: BANG. Pregnant. He was a happy accident but still, after everything, we knew we were lucky at the time. Our amazing happy accident will be 3 in January. We have been trying since November 2011 to get pregnant again. Now approaching 2014, it feels like time is slipping away from us. It is heartbreaking, as he gets older, seeing how much he loves playing with babies (especially ones young enough to be his sibling of the age gap we’d have had, had the second pregnancy succeeded) – I mean it’s lovely, but he’d be such a fantastic big brother, it makes me feel wretched.

And as everyone around gets pregnant with, and gives birth to their second babies with their lovely ideal age gaps, there I am, with my lovely boy, feeling like I’m on the outside looking in. I know I’m lucky to have him. I’m the luckiest person in the world. Most days I would die happy, having spent another day marvelling at his wonder, his curiosity, his love and sweetness. Most days I kick myself for feeling like it’s not enough. Some days I simply want for it to be as easy as it seems for everyone else. But I know it isn’t always as easy as it appears on the surface. I’m testament to that with my “maybe one day”s. If you’ve got to work hard for something, it will be all the more rewarding when you finally get it. That’s what I keep telling myself. That, and just keep being thankful. Thankful for Caspar, my husband (whose part in this has been spectacularly over-shared on my Twitter – sorry about that Joolz!), my dear friend’s support and inspiration, the support of my Twitter pals for sharing their empathy and experiences and making me feel less alone in this whole debacle, and also, thankful for wine, which I wouldn’t be able to have if I was pregnant (and shouldn’t be having if I am to be at my optimum for baby cooking, but fuck it, it helps occasionally).

*┬áThis isn’t representative of my view of only children/parents of only children, it’s just a stereotype I have come across over the years. Your choice is no one else’s business, parents of only children aren’t selfish and only kids aren’t weird. Hell, I’m tempted to stick at one when Caspar is being a demon in disguise.

**┬áThis actually happened. But no, he wasn’t called Tarquin. I’m just being a bitch.

4 thoughts on “On (the possibility of) secondary infertility

  1. Only ‘met’ you recently so feel like I’m intruding commenting on your post almost but just wanted to wish you all the best. Having felt the pain of miscarriage I can’t imagine the next level of not knowing if/when conception would happen again. Keep trying, keep writing.

    • You can’t be intruding, it’s all out there for the world to see ;)

      Thanks for your comment. I think we never know, do we? It’s all a big gamble. The waiting/lack of control is the hardest part in a way but hopefully we’ll start to get some answers, and hopefully things won’t be as bad as we fear :)

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