There is much written about the journey of infertility and the emotional roller-coaster that one goes through. There is also a lot of literature and support available, whether it be on-line or from friends and family. There is empathy – albeit it often misplaced and unintentionally wrongly communicated. However, there is very little written and limited support for another type of infertility – secondary infertility.
Once you have had one child the expectation is that you will have no problem conceiving in the future. However, this is not always the case, and secondary infertility is a common problem.
When one looks at infertility in general, it causes a myriad of psychological consequences such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. These all have an effect on our daily lives, our relationships and the way we view ourselves. When we are faced with secondary infertility, the emotional impact is sometimes worse. Firstly, there is very little empathy from others. They believe we are being selfish as we already have a child and should be satisfied. This makes us feel guilty in communicating this sense of loss with others. So, we keep it to ourselves and the result is an acute feeling of isolation. We feel guilty for wanting a second and we feel resentment that others have more than one child but expect us to be satisfied with our only child.
The fact that we have “been there” and had a pregnancy and a child makes the experience of infertility bittersweet. We have experienced the joy, the feeling of being parents and loving unconditionally; and now we can’t have it again. It makes each day and each experience with our child seem like it may be the last. We long for those simple experiences again and feel like we are in a constant mourning process as each new developmental milestone is met with feelings of “this may be the last time…” It puts pressure on us to actively enjoy each day with our child but this is difficult when going through the depression and anxiety that infertility causes. Each day is met with thoughts of having to enjoy the time but longing for something more.
This leads to yet another consequence – guilt. We feel guilty towards our child. We feel they may pick up that we are unsatisfied with them. We feel guilty that we may make them feel like they are not enough. Some older children have verbalised this when they have seen the sadness associated with their mother’s longing for another child. The other guilt is towards the child itself, and the inability to produce a sibling for the existing child. Even when the child is young, one worries about a playmate into the future. When the child is older and asking for a sibling, there is a constant sadness for the child.
So how do we manage it?
Understand that you are entitled to feel the way you do. Just because you have had the joy of pregnancy and parenthood does not mean you are not entitled to experience it again. Acknowledge that the journey of secondary infertility may be worse in some ways, and easier in others. When you do not have children, you are able to avoid certain environments in which you feel worse such as children’s parties and school functions. When you have a child already, it is very difficult to avoid these situations. So you are constantly faced with your ‘fertility triggers’. Understand that those around you will not necessarily understand your loss. It is not because they are hard, selfish individuals, but they often say the wrong thing because they are really trying to say the right thing and to make you feel better. They haven’t been through the process.
In terms of your child, do not share too much of your journey with them. You can let them know you have tried to have another child when they are a bit older, but try not to let them take on your sadness. If it never happens, they will be okay. They will have a life that will still be rich and fulfilling as only children.
Finally, secondary infertility is a topic frequently misunderstood. There are counselors, therapists and medical specialists who are available to talk to. Make use of them if you are battling. Don’t be afraid to chat to a fertility doctor, and discuss the options for assisted conception. Even though they may not be able to change the outcome, you needn’t be alone on the journey.