NIAW: Busting a Myth About Secondary Infertility

by Kathy on April 26, 2011 · 7 comments

in Abby, ALI Community, Background, Bob, Family, Fear, Healing, Hope, Infertility, Loss, Molly, NIAW, Pain, Quotes, Secondary Infertility, The Future

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) April 24 – 30 and today I am participating in the “Bust an Infertility Myth Blog Challenge.” I have chosen to “Bust a Myth” about Secondary Infertility, which my family and I dealt with for over five years. There is one secondary infertility myth listed on Resolve’s list of Busted Infertility Myths so far. It is an interesting and informative write up, that I recommend you read, especially if you are not familiar with some of the issues and statistics related to secondary infertility.

That said, I felt compelled to write my own infertility myth to bust, as I didn’t feel as much of a connection to that one, though Bob and I were surprised and not happy when we realized that getting and staying pregnant with number two was not going to be as easy (to put it lightly) as it was for us to have number one. Since I struggled the most during our journey through secondary infertility and loss with my feelings and emotions related to our experience, it made sense to me to try to “bust a myth” related to the emotional side of dealing with secondary infertility. So here is the myth I choose to share with you today.

Myth: “Secondary infertility is easier to cope with than primary infertility.”

Busted!: Though I think that all families struggling with secondary infertility would agree that we are incredibly grateful for the healthy living children that we have, I believe that does not preclude us from feeling a great void in our lives and our hearts when we are unable to conceive and sustain future pregnancies as we hoped and dreamed we would be able to.

Disclaimer: I also want to be very clear that I am not trying to start a debate here between those dealing with (or those who have dealt with) primary and/or secondary infertility. I have a great deal of empathy and compassion for anyone who has struggled with infertility, both those who have never been able to conceive or sustain pregnancies and those who did not experience infertility until after they gave birth to one or more children.

Through this “myth busting” exercise I am trying to call attention to the very real feelings and emotions that people struggling with secondary infertility and loss may experience. I know that those who face primary and secondary infertility do have a lot of things in common. However, I also recognize that there are some things about our experiences that are very different. Today I am hoping to be able to help those in the “fertile world” to get an inside look at the experience of those dealing with secondary infertility.

In the introduction to Chapter 7 of Dr. Alice Domar’s book Conquering Infertility, which in part covers the topic of Secondary Infertility, Dr. Domar says:

Women with secondary infertility are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of infertility–they get no respect.  Other infertile women can’t stand them. After all, they’ve got one child–isn’t that enough? Family members don’t understand them. They got pregnant once, why can’t they do it again?

Dr. Domar goes on to explain later in the chapter that:

Statistically, secondary infertility–the inability to conceive and deliver a second child– is actually more common than primarily infertility….Even though they already have a child, women with secondary (infertility) report just as much depression and anxiety as do those with primary infertility. This feels counterintuitive. You would think that a woman who already has a child wouldn’t feel so depressed. You would think she’d be even less likely to be depressed if she went through infertility the first time around–that she’d be so happy just to have one child that she would be much better off psychologically than a woman with primary infertility. But that’s not the case, because women with secondary infertility have a range of other secondary-only issues to deal with in addition to all of the usual problems of infertility.

These “secondary-only issues” include the pressure many of us feel and the stress we experience with the expectation of wanting our children to be close in age (many people aim for a two to four year age difference between their children). The feelings and emotions connected to this issue often get worse with each passing month that we are unable to conceive or sustain another pregnancy.

I know this issue was a huge one for me, as my husband and I hoped for and dreamed of having a big family with children close in age. I recall during one of my first therapy sessions in the Fall of 2006, after we had been dealing with secondary infertility and loss for over two years, talking with my therapist about how hard it was for me to accept each time another month came and went that we were still not pregnant.

My therapist quickly picked up on the fact that the growing potential age difference between our son and any future siblings was really stressing me out. She did a great job of helping me to work through my feelings and especially my fears related to how far a part in age our children might be if we were ever able to bring another son or daughter into the world, no matter how long it took to get there. My therapist helped me to realize, as did some of my close friends at the time, that my biggest fear about our children not being close in age was that I believed that it meant they might not have a good sibling relationship in the years to come.

Other “secondary-only issues” that some of us face and that Dr. Domar talks about in her book include the logistics of going through infertility treatment when you are caring for another child and the problems that many secondary infertiles face related practicing “selective avoidance.”

Dr. Domar discusses the problem of “selective avoidance” for secondary infertiles in her book:

People with primary infertility can (for the most part) live solely in the adult sphere–they can avoid anything that has to do with children. But if you already have a child, you can’t escape. You have to walk into pre-school every day. You have to go into the toy store to buy presents for kids’ birthday parties. You have to hang out with other women who are pregnant with their second or third children. You can’t distance yourself from it.

Now please don’t get me wrong here. Of course I loved spending time with our son Sean and other children (both his friends and our young family members) when he was younger, before Molly was born and died and then Abby joined our family. However, I did find it difficult and even painful at times to interact with friends and family members who had at least one older child (Sean’s age or older) along with one or more children younger than Sean. I also found it bittersweet at times to be around the women in our life that were expecting #2 or #3. I especially had a hard time back then (and sometimes still, as many of the feelings related to our experiences with infertility don’t ever seem to go away) when friends and family members would announce their pregnancies publicly at social gatherings.

Over time some of our more sensitive loved ones learned to give me a private heads up that they were planning to make such an announcement ahead of the event. I didn’t want them to feel like they had to walk on egg shells around me and I tried to assure them that I could be happy for them and sad for me at the same time. However, those who chose to do this for me, made the experience so much easier for me to get through. By knowing ahead of time, I was able to prepare myself mentally for the event and the “big news” that was going to be shared. In this way I could work through my feelings of jealousy on my own and in my own time. Then when I arrived at the social gathering I was not caught off guard and in most cases was able to keep it together and show my genuine happiness for our loved ones who were expecting and sharing their wonderful news with others in our family and/or circle of friends.

Now that we are finally on the “other side” of secondary infertility and loss (since the birth of our daughter Abby 19 months ago), especially in light of our soft decision to likely be done trying to have or add any more children to our family, my feelings and emotions related to our experiences are not as strong as they once were. However, as my friend and prolific author/blogger Melissa Ford wrote about in her “myth-busting” post this week, we never fully get over having been infertile and/or having experienced loss.

So then the question becomes, as with so many life-changing experiences:

What are we going to do with what we have learned from this part our journey?

As Mel talked about in her post, it is a valid and reasonable option for those of us that have “crossed over” to our  “Promised Lands” to be content to live our lives and appreciate our children and our families for who and what we are now. That said, for those who want to give back and/or pay it forward, there are many opportunities to do so in effort to try to help those who are still in the trenches struggling with infertility and loss. One way is to participate in infertility awareness campaigns such as the one the National Infertility Association, known as Resolve, is spearheading this week and the reason why I chose to write this post. It is the same reason that I decided to “come out” about my blog earlier this year and I why still try to attend our local monthly perinatal bereavement support group regularly three years after the loss of our baby girl Molly.

Though I still get a lot out of sharing my experience and participating in our support group discussions, I now go to the meetings as much or more to try to be able to help those who are earlier on in their grief and healing, as those who came before did for me. Likewise, though the reasons why I blog have evolved over the past four years, I still believe it is worth my time and effort to write about my experiences both for myself and those I might be able to help through sharing and being able to connect here. My mom refers to this concept of ministering to others as being “wounded healers.”  I think that is such an apt and beautiful way to describe how those who have “been there” can help and support those who have just arrived and/or who are still there.

I strongly believe that the more people are aware of the realities associated with infertility and loss in our world, that hopefully the journeys for those trying to build their families will be at least a little easier to navigate. I respect that not everyone dealing with infertility and loss feels comfortable sharing so openly about their experiences, however I do think the more candid we can be about what we are going (or have been) through, the better equipped the “fertile world” and especially our loved ones can be to help support us.

I also think this goes for anyone facing difficult and uncertain experiences in their lives. I have previously shared here on my blog that one of the greatest lessons that I have learned through our five year journey through infertility and loss has been the ability to transfer the sensitivity and compassion I feel for infertiles and those who have experienced pregnancy and/or neonatal loss to be able to support loved ones through any challenging and trying times they might be facing in their lives. One of my favorites quotes that talks about this idea is:

Be kinder than necessary, everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. ~ T.H. Thompson & John Watson

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate the support that so many of you have shown me and my family throughout our five year journey through secondary infertility and loss, as well as your continued care and kindness since our daughter Abby joined our family. I hope and intend to do my best to give back as much care, kindness and support as I have received over the years on our journey in trying to help others still finding their way.

To learn more about infertility and gain a basic understanding of some of the key concepts, please check out this link: http://www.resolve.org/infertility101

To find out more about the background of Resolve’s National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), please click here: http://www.resolve.org/takecharge

If you haven’t already decided to join in, I encourage you to consider posting a myth buster on your blog or choosing another one of Resolve’s options for participating in their NIAW Challenge.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 HereWeGoAJen April 26, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Thank you for sharing all of that. I think secondary infertility is a lot harder for people to understand.

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2 Meghan April 26, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Thank you for explaining that so well. I'm a secondary-only as well, having had trouble both getting and staying pregnant while trying to conceive our second child (we were eventually successful, but it was a long and ugly road). I would add, as well, that the sense of overwhelming failure as a mother is very hard to deal with while enduring secondary. I didn't just want another child–I wanted my daughter to have a sibling, and my inability to provide her with that was almost unbearable. As it is, the age gap is big–about 5 years–but I got there. Thanks for helping to bust this myth!

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3 Knock knock - it's cancer! April 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Very informative Kathy.
I have to say, before reading your blog (I’ve never followed a blog about infertility before, though yours is so much more) I was pretty naive when it came to all this.
I can see how it’s painful all around, regardless if it’s a first or secondary infertility.
Thinking of you
Michelle

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4 Mr. Thompson and Me April 30, 2011 at 4:09 am

Myth busted! (and very well written.)

I'm your newest follower visiting from the Stirrup Queens. Can't wait to read more.

http://mrthompsonandme.blogspot.com

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5 jjiraffe April 30, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Thanks for this. I love the comparison to Rodney Dangerfield, and a lot of the information (about the rate of anxiety and depression being the same as those going through primary infertility, and how the social groups make it harder) was new to me but makes perfect sense.

Myth successfully busted 🙂

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6 blondie September 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I found this post very moving, probably because I understand so well that lack of respect towards secondary infertility! I got so tired of having to deal, not only with my emotions of failure on so many levels, but also making those feelings seem valid to those with primary if. I joined several infertility groups online over our 4.5 years, and always felt belittled by many of the members, which is sad…those groups are, or should be, about support and comfort from those who understand, not who hurts more. I cannot recall how many times I was given the line 'primary is more painful' and I honestly responded with, "I'm sorry…did you recently jump into my body and compare pain levels??" I cried every month, too. I hurt every time I miscarried. I hated going into public because pg women seemed to crawl out of the woodwork to taunt me. And when I finally did become pg (and stayed that way), I felt secretly ashamed that I might BE that taunting pg woman, causing some unknown IFer pain, just by being there. Even now, with my nearly 1 year old, I hope my smiling face and that of my beautiful son isn't hurting someone as we walk by.
If that isn't a deep scar from IF, I don't know what is.

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