From the time that I was a little girl, I always wanted a big family. I wanted to get started young and have 6 kids. I married a man who was in no hurry and thought two kids was the perfect number. About a year after we were married, I started asking him when he wanted to start trying for a baby. We ended up compromising and made a deal that if he was allowed to buy a motorcycle, I could have a baby. He got a Harley and about 2 months later, we found out I was pregnant. I had a perfect, uncomplicated pregnancy and delivered a full-term healthy little boy. We ended up selling the motorcycle a few years later, but I got to keep the kid!
We knew we wanted to have another baby eventually, and I did not like the side effects of birth control, so we decided we would just have another child sooner than we had originally planned. That was the start of the longest and most soul-crushing three years of my life. Despite all the ovulation tracking, blood work, ultrasounds, pills, shots, invasive testing, exploratory surgery, intrauterine inseminations (IUIs)–all of which were expensive and not covered by insurance, we were still unable to become pregnant. Finally, I was diagnosed with “unexplained infertility.” As someone who was used to working hard for what I wanted and being able to control my environment, this was especially hard for me to understand.
At first I was quiet about it. I figured it was nobody’s business when and how I became pregnant, so I just didn’t talk about it. But there is only so many times you can hear, “It’s about time you had another one!” before you snap. I’d hear it from friends, co-workers, random cashiers at the grocery store, and of course well-meaning old people. At one point I went to the doctor because I was having insomnia and I told her that I thought it was related to being stressed out about my infertility. She threw her hands up and replied, “I don’t know why people get so worked up about not being able to get pregnant. It’s not that big of a deal!” I was stunned.
I realize no one meant anything malicious by their comments, but nonetheless, one day I did snap. It was right after a failed IUI, and I was asked by a co-worker (for seemingly the millionth time) when I was going to give my son a sibling. I cut my eyes at her and said, “Did it ever occur to you that we have been trying to for the last 2 years?” As the awkward silence set in, that person said what was soon to become the most hated phrase in my entire infertility journey:
At least you have the one.
It may seem like an encouraging enough response to help someone who is in the trenches of infertility to “look on the bright side,” but really all that phrase did was imply that I somehow wasn’t grateful for the child that I already had.
As if I could possibly not appreciate the biggest gift ever given to me! The beauty of that first desperate cry, that chubby fist that clutched his lovey everywhere he went, how he slept with his legs tucked under him and his butt up in the air, the way he would panic if he lost sight of me and then come running towards me, arms outstretched yelling, “Momma!” as if he hadn’t seen me in years. Those were the moments I lived for, moments that seemed to be passing too quickly.
And maybe it was selfish of me, but those were the moments that I wanted to be able to relive. As he reached each new milestone, there was a part of me that grieved, wondering if that was the last time that I would get to experience it.
I believe we go through trials so that we can gain insight and have empathy for others. Although my husband and I are now on the “other side” of infertility (having completed our family with a surprise twin pregnancy while we were trying to adopt through foster care and then a son that came to us through embryo adoption), the feelings and memories of those years are still there. So, on behalf of the thousands of women who are experiencing secondary infertility, please do not assume that they have control over their fertility and do not ask them questions that they may not feel comfortable answering. And if you find out that they are having trouble conceiving, please, for the love of God, do not try to make them feel better with pithy sayings or by downplaying their grief. Just be there for them, listen to them, allow them to open up to you as they feel ready to. Just be a friend.
*this article was originally published in April 2019*