Advice and Random Musings from a woman who has secondary infertility to another one younger in the struggle

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks of sharing some more about my experience with secondary infertility.  Perhaps some for myself and maybe in case there is another women going through it right now ….In no particular order, here are some things I have learned.  (I will add to this and modify it as I think of new things to add.)  I will entitle this essay…

“Advice and Random Musings from a Woman who has secondary infertility to another one younger in the struggle”  

  • I’m not sure what studies say exactly, but in my experience, secondary infertility seems to be very rare.  If you meet anyone with an even remotely similar experience to you, you are very lucky.  While you are in the infertility experience, you will realize that there are many kinds of infertility and that no one’s story is quite the same, and that it can be hard or frustrating to try to relate someone else’s story exactly to yours.  (Though all sympathy and empathy is appreciated.)  Secondarily infertility in the late 30s or early 40s is not like secondary infertility during prime child bearing age.  Having secondary infertility after having primary infertility is not the same as secondary infertility during prime child bearing age.  If you are a person of prime child bearing age who “easily” got pregnant the first time, and were completely blindsided and shocked to find that you could not have more, I’m sorry to say, but you are in misunderstood minority of women.  Most people will try to tell you that actually, you are wrong, you can have more!!  Because why couldn’t you?  You already had one!  Even after medical tests have revealed the severe unlikelihood of this possibility, people will still continue to make you feel like you should you not accept reality and should keep beating your head with a stick.  This will hurt.  This will hurt because its complicated.  People want the best for you and want you to be happy.  They don’t want to you to go through this, but somehow in doing so, they will make you feel like you should not accept your lot and that somehow you are unacceptable in your imperfections.  Then when you realize how excited you are about your hopeful future foster and/or adopted child, they will still tell you that you might get pregnant on your own.  Remind yourself that they mean well, but that the best child is the child that God wants to give you.  If possible, politely remind them of this.
  • Just 2 months ago, I finally met a person who experienced secondary infertility in the same way that I had…complete and utter shock after having a first child normally.  She had another child 5.5. years later, but being able to finally talk to someone who went through my exact experience was very meaningful and was a gift from God.
  • While you are going through infertility, you will realize that some of your friends are not really your friends, some are really awkward, and some are social unaware.  If you find even one person who is making an effort to be considerate or help you cope, consider yourself lucky!  Be prepared for the loss of friendships…This is normal.  In Matthew 24:12, it says love will grow cold in the end days, so one can conclude people going through suffering will have to go it alone more.  However, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28).
  • I was once in a group of women at church, where the conversation came to their children growing up too fast.  I was in the height of my secondary infertility struggle.  Most of these women had three or four children or were pregnant with their third or fourth and were complaining about their youngest growing up too fast.  It was shockingly insensitive and I’m sure I spent a bit crying afterwards.  I even tried to politely speak up and tried to say “yeah, imagine only being able to have one and then…” but the circumstances would have it that no one heard or they decided to ignore me.
  • One “friend” who I used to speak with regularly before my infertility started, never once asked me how I was doing or how I was coping for well over a year of my struggle, though I regularly asked her how she was and how a situation she was in was going.  (I even brought up infertility around her a couple times as bait to she if she could talk to me about it if she knew it was an okay topic and she never did.) We used to go on walks when our babies were in their strollers and talk…we had really enjoyable conversations.  I was looking forward to a dear friendship.  Luckily, she did nothing outrightly mean or insensitive, so I had time to grieve this friendship.  Though tears were shed week after week wondering how I was placed in such a place going through such a thing with such shockingly little support.
  • You will have other friends hurt you in such unique and specific ways that you won’t be able to share them in a blog…With only the strength and love of Christ, can you forgive them.  As I write this I cry, because the hurt by friends when going through infertility is so unique and painful that I am so grateful Christ has helped me forgive and bring me peace.
  • If anyone doesn’t give you the space to grieve or calls you ungrateful for being sad, know they are wrong.  They are either wrong because they are putting a level of spiritual perfection on you that you obviously don’t have, or they have a poor understanding of human emotion, or much worse.  Try to say something polite to them if you can, but with these people, you should probably put up huge boundaries if you keep talking to them at all.  If this person is your priest, perhaps find out if there is another nearby priest you can talk to instead.  Unless you are a Saint, infertility is a sad, hard and difficult thing to go through – if a priest is making you feel bad for grieving, I am sorry.  After going through much infertility, I finally found a priest who made me feel like a normal healthy person for having sadness…and of course this strengthened me and made me stronger!  If the non understanding person is your spouse, I am sorry.  Hopefully, in this case, you do have a priest who can advise you.
  • Eventually, secondary infertility may become a part of you in a similar way that you might hear a person speak regarding a disability.  Infertility is really a hidden disability of sorts.  Its a broken system of the body.  But like we hear people with disabilities saying they wouldn’t change themselves and that God made them that way for a reason, you might also find your own peace and these same thoughts might go through your head one day. Hopefully not to a point of pride, but at this point, I see my infertility as being touched by God physically.  I see all these women of varying lives, and different shapes and sizes getting pregnant and having babies like normal, but for some reason, God allowed something in my body to be broken for some reason so that I can’t.
  • But first grieve and schedule time to cry.  There was a time, when I would have a wonderful time with my son, he would take a nap, I would cry for two hours, and then he would wake up and we would have a great rest of the day.  If you have a young first kid, going through infertility is so hard because you have to spend time grieving, but even more time caring for your first (who might be a complete miracle.)
  • Society is at such a point in history that my infertility really is starting to seem like a very small problem.  Some Christian women in the Middle East are being tortured.
  • But don’t forget to grieve.  Rationally you may know women in other countries are being tortured, but the capability, or lack of capability, to reproduce children is something physically, spiritually, and mystically bound to you and sadness, lots of sadness, is NORMAL.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is is either unkind, doesn’t understand humans, may have a dissociative disorder, or is a well intentioned person who knows nothing about infertility.
  • People will continue to complain to you about the challenges of having multiple children, the busyness, the taking to school, the to and from sports.  This will be hurtful at first, but eventually you might see that these people just don’t understand…they have never been through infertility and honestly, may not value their children as much as you value your first and potential children, and so may not think having one child is a hardship.  This is a very important thing to learn and will save you much heartache…as hard as it is to fathom, some women who have multiple children and are busy, really think having one child would be nice.
  • Secondarily infertility will continue to rear its ugly head.  Its much harder to make friends.  Most women with one child go back to work earlier and send the child to day care.  Woman who are home with multiple children want playdates with families of multiple children.  Sometimes it really hurts when you are literally passed up as a potential friend because you just have one.
  • On a related note, after a while, you will find some peace that you have an only child.  God allowed you to have only one child, so in a way, you let Him help you shoulder the responsibility of having only one.  “God, you allowed me to have only one child, please help meet his needs!”   It hurts and is so painful to accept, but as we are open to God’s will, God will grant you and your child everything necessary for working out our salvation. That may be an eventual biological sibling, many foster siblings, an adopted sibling, or no siblings.  It helps greatly now that I feel less guilty for having an only child. I am counting on God to help me meet my sons needs, and also to meet them Himself.
  • Eventually you will start to enjoy the benefits of having only one…the special perks few women experience since few women stay home to raise one child even into the toddler years.  Want to go to lunch at Chipotle with your child?  Want to have a coffee date and color?  Want to do homeschool today at Starbucks?  Want to read a few board books at Panera? No problem!  Your child will become your inseparable buddy and eventually someone else’s large family will not be a source of jealously because you will see that your child is unique and uniquely in your family for a reason, and you will enjoy doing fun things together that some larger families don’t frequently experience.  (Though I’m sure hide and go seek is way more fun in a large family, this is a paragraph about the positives of having only one, the perks whether real or perceived : )
  •  “Give us this day our daily bread” as part of the Lord’s prayer has also become a plea for me to help meet our family’s need despite having only one, and also in these depraved times.  I am in thankfulness of how much God provides and fills our weeks with activities and random fun encounters at the park and things like that!  Just like when people experience financial poverty and see God at work through random giving, the poverty of infertility will also reveal God’s small everyday gifts in your life.
  • “Little Fur Family” by Margaret Wise Brown is a wonderful book about a cozy family of three that will be nice to read to your only child while you grieve.  Even if Margaret Wise Brown may have had some liberal reason for writing about families of three so often, its a cute cozy story suitable and comforting for the situation of secondary infertility.
Advertisements

More on Infertility and Suffering

2713904757_c3da9a6d6f_m

For most of my life, I don’t think I have really understood the suffering that Christ endured on the cross. I came to this realization a month or so ago when trying to comes to grips with our infertility situation, and to be frank, the lack of support we’ve received from our community. In trying to come to grips with this, I kept asking myself “why?”. Why are we going through this? And why it is also so lonely? Why are most people unwilling to grieve with us in our loss of control in growing our family? I came to one conclusion that perhaps most people see the end of the story. Perhaps they think that one day we will adopt or eventually get pregnant and our brief suffering will be over, or further on (or perhaps not) we will pass on to have eternal life in heaven where hopefully we are storing our treasures. And also that we should see the end of the story too, accept God’s will, and not be sad at all. After all, we have a great marriage and an amazing child (who, by the way, asked for a sibling a few weeks ago). And perhaps a lot of people are just super awkward around infertility situations, some people have too much of their own suffering, and some are too busy.

Then I realized I have almost always approached Jesus’s suffering on the cross that way. I thought He is God! He knows the end of the story! He knows everything! He even knew this would happen! Even having a better understanding of the incarnation as an Orthodox Christian, and a better understanding of the fact that Christ was both FULLY God and FULLY man, I still didn’t understand why I should feel super bad for him for the crucifixion because he was FULLY God as well and knew what He was getting into and did it willingly. I still don’t understand it completely. But I now know that I was approaching Christ the very same way people might be approaching our situation, only seeing the end of the story and not our current suffering. Somehow this round-a-bout thought process has helped me to better understand that Jesus was also FULLY human, that he suffered incredibly as a HUMAN and that His willingness to go through it was one of the things that made it amazing. I don’t think I would willingly go through this suffering, however minor it is in comparison. So I guess I have more sympathy now for what Jesus went through as a human being and how He really can be there for me in my suffering, and how he is especially there when it feels like no one else is.

At the top of this post I put an icon of St. Cosmas and St. Damian. Two brothers who traveled around helping people without accepting payment because they had the gift of healing. They are sometimes referred to as the Unmercenery Physicians St. Cosmas and Damian.  Because they were both people who healed people and were brothers, I think they would have a special understanding to help heal someone struggling with secondary infertility.  Please pray to God for us St. Cosmas and St. Damian!

Excerpt from My Life in Christ by Saint John of Kronstadt

This below quote by Saint John of Kronstadt has been encouraging and challenging to me as I continue the struggle of secondary infertility and try to take each day as it comes:

“If my life were prolonged only for a few moments – let us say ten – and five of these ten were moments of peace and quietness, and the remaining five moments of pain and torments, even then I ought undoubtedly to say,”Surely the Giver of Life is with me, and He will provide for me”;  likewise, I undoubtedly ought to say, “There is a being in the world who has the power of death, because the five unfavorable moments must proceed from the being that works against God, for the same cause cannot produce opposite actions.  And in me, sinner as I am, at least seventy parts of my spiritual life belong to God, and only thirty parts to the Devil.  How is it possible for me, then, not to see my Benefactor constantly before me, and how can I possibly waiver mentally in my lively faith in Him?” – Saint John of Kronstadt

Secondary Infertility, Pain & Suffering

Somewhere, somewhere, deep down inside I have a sense that God loves me and that what I am going through is for my good. It’s like a small flame inside me that glows while I kick and scream and throw a tantrum as my life goes in a direction that I never intended. For five days, I have been depressed. I have been depressed perhaps five times in my life of a kind called situational depression where as a normally contented and resilient person, external factors become too great to bear and I can’t fight off the dark cloud alone anymore. Another word for it might be difficulty coping with an objectively difficult situation. I imagine myself in a battle where, having thought better of myself than I should have, I went to fight an enemy that I was too weak to fight. I feel that right now this is where Christianity becomes a communal religion, because I feel like I can hardly lift my sword anymore and need the prayers and strength from others to continue. I need reinforcements.

Inside, I oscillate between thinking that what I am going through is “not that bad” and “too great to bear” all at the same time. And what is the issue? We have been trying to have a second child for a calendar year now – that momentous marker where the word “secondary infertility” comes to play and hopes are dashed of ever having a second child. (Not an “Orthodox year” yet, if you know what I mean, but a “calendar year” is still a long time.) I know there are plenty of people who would deal with this situation better than me, with enviable grace and dignity, or wouldn’t even feel like they were having a hardship, especially considering I already have a child. However, for some reason, things like this are hard for me and harder for me than they are for other people. Part of it is because of my intense INFJ personality type  where I experience the world through my emotional feelings and not my rational and objective brain.

I have this irrational thought inside my head that I have had enough suffering in my life and do not need or want more. I realize how insane and irrational that thought is for an Orthodox Christian, but it’s how I “feel” and with what I am struggling. Any struggle with infertility, or not being able to have a child exactly when one wants one, seems like it should be reserved for people who had wonderful childhoods and have intact families and need a good dose of reality. Though, I know this is not actually true. We are all sinners and have intense struggles with ourselves, other sinful people, passions, and health issues – we all just get a different mix and amount of suffering in life.

All that to say, I did have a difficult, painful childhood, and even early adulthood, which I won’t go into detail on, and still struggle deeply with why it happened. And since it did happen, I am struggling with letting go of the idea that I deserve a perfectly happy and large family after the fact, with children coming exactly at my desired intervals. Deep down inside, I believe that the sun shines and the rain pours on everyone and that I don’t actually deserve anything, but like I said, I am still in the mode of kicking and screaming and am working towards letting go.

I am struggling with the idea of never having another child, of having an only child, and what this means for my family. I used to wake up every morning filled with excitement at the coming day, believing this was precious time to spend with my son, before the next baby would inevitably come and change everything. Now, I am struggling with the idea of doing the same thing for sixteen more years (I plan on homeschooling). I am struggling with being the only mom that is never busy and always up for a play date while for my friends with large families, weeks go by, and they hardly notice. Struggling with the idea of my son being lonely and him wondering why God would not give him brothers and sisters. (What will I say to him? I’m sure by then, I might have an answer.) Struggling with why people who hardly want more children get pregnant on accident or at the first try, etc, etc. Struggling with how I have my MBA from a good school and could be earning a high salary and have a “nice worldly life”, but I gave it all up because I love being a mother and discovered how much I love children and that there is nothing else comparable or fulfilling to me – yet another child does not come.

There is one common thing some people say to someone struggling with secondary infertility and that is something to the effect of “at least you have one,” or “you should be grateful for one.” I realize that my life would be infinitely harder if I was completely barren and I am very grateful that through God’s mercy He did not have me endure that. I think my son is amazing. I am very grateful. On most days, I secretly feel like a princess I feel so blessed to have an amazing husband, an amazing son, a great place to live, and the ability to afford healthy food. Sometimes I feel very overwhelmed by how blessed I feel…honestly, I do. However, I am still quite sad. This is still a trial. Trials are hard, and they are sad, or it would not be a trial. And when people imply there is a lack of gratefulness all they are doing is negating the current trial, whether they intend to or not. If I have my left arm, I will still miss my right arm if it gets cut off. If I have ten cookies, I will still be sad when one drops, even if I still have the nine left. Trials are trials. Gratefulness is a tool and a valid coping mechanism, and ungratefulness is a sin, I believe, but being sad because of trials is not because of ungratefulness, it is because life is hard, sad, and full of pain and suffering. Of course my amount of gratefulness can improve, I am of course guilty of sinful discontentment and ungratefulness like anyone else, but that is not WHY I AM SAD and saying those things does not help, at all. It just shuts a door to a further conversation where the root of my pain could be addressed. I am sad because I WANT TO KNOW THAT GOD LOVES ME. I want to know for sure that even though this is so painful and that I am embarrassed of my inability to cope properly, that He will still love me. Because through all this pain and confusion, I am forgetting the theology I used to know. Because book knowledge is not enough when faced with a personal trial. It requires love and strength that is greater, other worldly and derived from heaven or from a heavenly interaction with another human being.

When I interact with my son, sometimes it does help me to have a small insight to how God might be parenting me. (Though, it’s not a perfect parallel since I can explain to my son why I do what I do but God cannot explain to me, at least not directly, or at least I need someone to explain to me how God explains things to us.) At lunch today, I told my son, if you want any of my apple, you need to finish your eggs. My son currently loves apples and they are a good, healthy thing, but somehow my instinct is to make him finish his eggs first, the thing he wants less…so he can learn patience and gratefulness. I realize that I have a huge weakness in that area of patience when it comes to trials that involve love, or perceived deprivation of love, while on earth (waiting to meet a husband, waiting for the first kid, waiting for the second kid if he or she ever comes). I acknowledge that this trial might be good for me. However, I am also honest in saying that I don’t like it, I don’t really want it, and I can’t wait for it to end, and I am struggling to “feel” the love. I am struggling to deal with this trial with peace, grace, and dignity, but somewhere beneath the tears, through enough prayers of others, it can be done or it would not have happened to me. I am struggling to find a coping strategy that is not sinful and that does not include mental exercises such as “Well, I will just have the best one child you ever saw and he will be way better than your ten kids!”

I told a friend today that I needed to process through my sadness and get my “second wind.” A year ago, I told another friend that I thought it would take a year to get pregnant. Well, it’s been a year and now I have to brace myself for trying for another two years or so before we can psychologically close the door on having more. The picture I had in my head of my son playing with his close in age sibling will never happen. I will not hear giggles and glee in my home as two siblings play in the backyard and stumble over each other. I will not have two highchairs and a messy snack time in my kitchen. I am my son’s only constant friend, all day, every day, and if we are lucky enough to have more, he will be old enough to help with diapers. (Which makes it harder to have a bad day, especially when coping with this – I am all he has so I better snap out of it).

Well, that’s all for now. As soon as I got the idea of writing about my feelings, I started to feel the cloud lift a little bit. I have always needed a writing outlet when faced with a hard time.