“How old is the baby?” My daughter’s Sunday school teacher asked.

“The-there isn’t one…” I stuttered. 

“But… she said?” She was clearly confused.

“She pretends she has little sisters, but they’re just dolls,” I clarified.

“Oh…”

I held E’s hand in mine as we turned and walked away in silence. I tried to block the pain from stinging my heart, but it lingered nonetheless. I can’t blame her teacher for the hurt. The poor lady was trying to be friendly. She doesn’t know the situation or how long we’ve been trying. She doesn’t know how painful and disappointing each month can be or how E pretends to have little sisters.

If you argue with E that they are dolls, she will not flinch at correcting you, “No! They are real!” She tells everyone about her little sisters. She plays and cares for them daily. They’ve had their first words, steps, and birthdays multiple times. She forces me to hold them and help take care of them. She’ll be concerned about who will babysit them, if they’ve had breakfast, if their diapers were changed, and how they will be buckled into the car. I honestly don’t like to play this game of pretend, but how can I argue with her sweet innocence. The biggest mistake I made was telling her what we would name her little sisters (because we’re those people who have all our nonexistent children’s names picked out.). E named her dolls those names. My little princess longs to be a big sister.

Secondary infertility is one of the most misunderstood and overlooked areas of infertility. I didn’t even know it had a term until I joined a support group. MayoClinic defines secondary infertility as, “The inability to become pregnant or to carry a baby to term after previously giving birth to a baby. Secondary infertility shares many of the same causes of primary infertility.” About 12% of couples in the United State are diagnosed with secondary infertility, and it affects roughly half of all infertility cases. RESOLVE, the national infertility association, states that couples facing secondary infertility receive less social support than couples with primary infertility. Secondary infertility is a very isolating diagnosis. Many times couples feel like others can’t empathize with their pain and are reluctant to reach out. Couples often experience feelings of anxiety, sadness, failure, guilt, anger, and jealousy.

Secondary infertility doesn’t just impact the couple but also the child(ren) they already have. In the muck of the emotions, they do not only have to carry their own pain and disappointment but also that of their child. The couple has to explain to the child's little heart why they don’t have a baby sister or brother. Sometimes the child begs for a sibling, but they aren’t old enough to understand the severity of the situation, which leads the couple to more guilt.

People often say phrases such as: “when are you going to have another?” or “Don’t you want to give them a sibling?” If only they knew how badly we want to give siblings. "Just relax, don't worry, and it'll happen." It's hard to relax in the world of infertility with emotions, hormones, and schedules. Even so, relaxing won't take away the diagnosis. “At least you have one healthy child.” Couples never doubt how blessed and thankful they are for their child(ren), but that does not diminish the desire for more child and to provide siblings.

Secondary infertility does not mean pain takes second place. Each journey has its own can of worms. Whether primary or secondary, treatment or natural, adoption or foster care, we cannot compare our journeys of infertility. As women and couples struggling, we need to support each other despite the differences of our journey. As family and friends of those battling infertility, prayer and compassion are the greatest ways to contribute.  



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