This isn’t my usual post about homeschool mom things. I get pretty personal here and talk about my struggles with fertility. This may be hard for some readers.
Getting “the Look”
I have met many homeschool moms over the years. As you may have experienced, it is pretty normal, when introducing yourself to a new circle of moms, to include how many kids you have and their ages as part of your introduction. I should have a name tag or a button made.
Often, after I list the ages of my crew, I get a look from the moms I’ve just introduced myself to. I have seen the look many times over the years. The five-year gap between my first two kids raises eyebrows. I often feel like I have to point out that this gap wasn’t my idea. It is “just how it worked out.” I feel like I owe them an explanation or something.
Recently, in a comment to a social media post, someone wrote to me “You are so blessed” in reference to my three children. That well-intentioned comment brushed against a scar I carry. It reminded me of the days when I would say that exact phrase to other mothers I would meet. Mothers with two, or three, or five children. I complimented what I coveted. On the inside, I was green with envy over their obvious fertility successes. I’m fairly sure at least a few of them saw the pain that shone in my eyes.
Starting a Family
My first child was conceived with barely more thought than a Snickers bar thrown onto the conveyer belt during check out. It was so easy we were surprised to actually be pregnant. Thrilled, but surprised. I was blessedly ignorant of how hard this could have been.
So, when my first baby turned 2, and we thought we were ready to do that again, we decided to just not worry about preventing pregnancy. We’d soon have a second child. Right? We were young and healthy and the first came so easily. This is what you are supposed to do.
Eventually, we moved on to actually trying. It took 28 cycles before we got pregnant with our son. Twenty-eight. At twelve cycles they tell you that you are infertile. I was 27 years old and infertile.
I had secondary infertility, which is when you have had one or more children, and then you can’t get pregnant again. For no reason we could understand, everything worked the first time, and now didn’t. There was no answer for why. My uterus wasn’t like my car. I couldn’t take it to the shop for a tune-up. There were no spark plugs to change or other easy things to do to get things working again. My body simply wouldn’t do the miracle again. Every single month I wondered why I was broken now. Why couldn’t I do this?
I regretted not appreciating the first time more. I had never considered having an only child and just couldn’t imagine not having another baby.
Trying to get pregnant is awful
Trying to get pregnant is really awful. People who’ve never tried think it sounds fun. It is only fun for about 3 cycles. Then it becomes a project.
Books like Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler were inspiring (every woman should read it). But when the inspiration wanes and time creeps by, it becomes a science experiment. And eventually desperation sets in.
I had always known I wanted more than one child and being told to be happy with the child I had didn’t fill the void. Infertility broke parts of me that will never fit back to where they were before. I lost faith. I gave up on the religion I was raised in. Without getting into the theology too deeply, I can only say that my faith did not see me through my trials and really only made things worse.
My son is fourteen years old this year but I still can tell you it took twenty-eight cycles to conceive him. I used to wish that if I couldn’t get pregnant, that at least I could quit wanting him so badly. It was like missing someone I had never met. I didn’t even have good memories to hold onto in the depths of my despair. Only grief that my body continued to betray me, not holding in my womb this tiny life I longed to know.
Other parents would tell me to be happy with the child I had. I was happy with her. I loved her dearly. But my heart said that my family was not complete.
A book that helped
When this journey had taken me to a place in life where my sanity felt thin, I found a new book, The Infertility Cure by Randine Lewis. People ask me if they should read it. I tell them that if you’ve gotten to the point in your fertility journey that you’d willingly drink a cup of vinegar every day if it got you a baby, then yes, this is the book for you. I didn’t drink vinegar, but the commitment wasn’t that far off. The Infertility Cure combines Eastern and Western medicine for the truly desperate. Four months after reading the book and starting the plan it laid out for me, I was finally pregnant.
I worked my way through the long list of suggestions that were supposed to improve my fertility. And I mean worked. I changed my diet, took warm foot baths, and ate royal jelly. I also asked my doctor to prescribe the fertility medication the book thought would work best for me. The doctor I was seeing made a big deal the medication was “expensive.” Not only was the full price nothing I would have blinked at, but our insurance covered it. I paid $5 out of pocket. During the first month on the medication, I finally conceived my son.
It changed me
People think that once you hold your baby, you magically heal from the trauma of having your body betray you month after month. You don’t. You don’t magically feel like forgiving the unhelpful doctors, the neighbors who made rude comments, or the family members that didn’t understand. You don’t wake up and feel ready to go back to your old religion. You can’t go back to being the person you were before. That person is gone.
A philosophical person would say that this journey probably made me a better mother. More empathic. More compassionate. Kinder. More patient. I’d happily punch that philosophical person in the face.
In a shocking twist, my third child was a surprise. The best, very best, surprise ever. I don’t know if I could have ever tried again. Trying was too hard.
If you are struggling with infertility and waiting for a baby to fill your arms, I wish you peace. I wish you joy. And I hope that you will hold your healthy baby soon.
P.S. These are the books I mentioned above. I found them to be extremely helpful.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.
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1 thought on “Secondary Infertility: A Survivor’s Tale”
Thank you for sharing your story.