The road to parenthood for some is paved with frustration and grief. The thing that has struck me most about this journey so far is just how unfair it is. Nothing in life is fair, but there just seems to be a great injustice that good people who would make wonderful parents can spend years (or perhaps forever) without a child to love.
We were blessed with a daughter in 2015, though her conception wasn’t a complete walk in the park. Prior to that, I would say we experienced ‘social’ or ‘situational’ infertility for several years – as much as I was desperate to start a family, there was just no way we would have been able to make it work. I can honestly say that the emotions I experienced during that time were very similar to the ones I experience now, though without the same degree of grief and emptiness.
The pregnancy, birth and recovery was relatively straightforward, and I knew how lucky we were. When she was 18mo, baby fever had hit again. We fell pregnant much quicker this time, but miscarried at 4.5 weeks. Another couple of months, another miscarriage at 7.5 weeks. And yet another a few months later at 5 weeks.
Three in a row doesn’t tend to happen by accident, and we embarked on initial tests to see if there was something my obstetrician could treat in-house that was causing this issue. Everything came back clear. We were referred to a fertility clinic, and continued to try in the meantime. By the time we attended our first appointment, we had been trying for a further 8 months after our losses without so much as a hint of a second line.
Today, we are 18 months down the line and no further ahead in our journey to create a sibling for our now 3yo daughter, other than both of us being poked and prodded a lot, with a ban on trying again for the rest of the year and a view to starting IVF in the future. Not only have we suffered loss, we are now officially infertile.
It’s a strange place to be, to be infertile after having had a child without a huge struggle. There are all the emotions you would expect: grief, anger, self-blame. But we don’t belong to the group of people who have primary infertility. We have a child. And so you suffer guilt because you are sad for being infertile but there are people who have no children at all, and you feel like you don’t have the right to be sad.
If I had a dollar for all the times I have been told to be grateful for the child I have, I’d retire tomorrow. Gratefulness and grief are emotions that CAN be felt simultaneously. In fact, that we have a child and know how wonderful it is and how lucky we are only seems to heighten the grief because we are now so aware of how much we are missing out on. There is guilt because your 3yo tells you she wants a sibling and you can’t deliver. There is guilt because people imply that you have nothing to complain about because you have a child. There is guilt that maybe you are being greedy, or that you have done something wrong that you are unaware of and are being punished.
One of the tough things about secondary infertility and loss is that, depending on the age of your child, you are constantly exposed to other mums who are seemingly having no trouble procreating. Certain activities with my 3yo have become almost torturous as I am the only mother in the group who isn’t pregnant or wheeling a pram with a newborn, which is a weekly reminder of how inadequate I feel. The feeling of being one of the first in your mothers’ group to get pregnant, and are now the only one left with a single child, is heartbreaking. You don’t belong in this group either, the group of parents who have multiple children (if they want them), who can have babies whenever they feel like expanding their family, who cannot understand what it feels like to struggle like this.
Whilst I have been lucky to have been surrounded by many, many people who have offered their support, have checked in regularly and who are sensitive to the extremes of emotions, I have also been privy to insensitivity. Those who ask when you are going to have another baby (I don’t hold back from our struggles; I am not ashamed to admit that we have suffered loss and are trying our best. If you don’t want to hear an honest answer, don’t ask this question). Those who complain about how hard TTC is when they had to try for 2 months only before a successful pregnancy. Those who think you should be ‘over it’ by now, and don’t understand why you would grieve babies you never met. Those who don’t understand why you would consider IVF when you already have a child who didn’t require it.
I hope our story has a happy ending, that one day we get to meet our rainbow baby, that our daughter gets her sibling. I wish I had a crystal ball, but in the meantime, I’ll just be the grateful mum with a single daughter, trying to pretend I fit in somewhere.