I had never even heard of secondary infertility until I was in the middle of it. It is defined as the inability to become pregnant or to carry a pregnancy to term following the birth of one or more biological children. Secondary infertility brings its own unique grief to a couple trying to conceive.
When our daughter turned one, we started trying for our second child. I always wanted my children to be close in age. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur right away and after six months, I started to become impatient. A few more months passed and I went to see my family doctor. She reassured me that everything was fine and at the same time she proactively made a referral to the fertility clinic. I kept telling myself that it would happen. Still, if it happened once so easily without any intervention, why was it not happening again?
As time passed without any success, I became emotionally fragile to say the least. I felt as if each passing month was a roller coaster ride. In the first two weeks of the month, we were at the top of the ride and then after ovulation, with every passing day, we plunged to the bottom. The ups and downs were inevitable and I became dizzy. I began to isolate myself from the people around me because I felt so terrible about myself and situation. I felt defective, as if something was wrong with me and that my friends were going to find out. The shame became too much to bear.
The realty is that unless you have been on the infertility path, you cannot possibly grasp the enormity of the pain suffered by women who face this battle every day from period to period. In fact, while there is much sadness about anyone who is confronted with a diagnosis as a result of an illness, however serious, there is a much more open expression of other diseases than there is about infertility. The inability to become pregnant is just not a topic for conversation even between close friends. Thus, silence reigns.
As tough as the stigma of infertility is, starting fertility treatment was equally as painful. It was like another mini roller coaster, but a bigger one. My husband and I went through all the fertility testing and eventually discovered that we were dealing primarily with male factor infertility. I had a number of sub-optimal factors including a heart shaped uterus and mild immune issues.
Even though I felt a slight comfort when the fertility doctor explained that we were likely not getting pregnant due to male factor issue, that fact really was of little help in the big picture and it certainly was a huge hit to my husband. For me, it was as if my identity was tied to fertility and my being fertile was so important to me and indeed most women. I kept thinking: I am a woman and this is my right, a belief deeply embedded in our culture.
Three intrauterine inseminations followed and still no pregnancy. Time was passing and my patience, tolerance and relationships were being tested. And then it happened. I will never forget the day. I went for my day three ultrasounds to start a new treatment cycle and the doctor advised that he felt our best route would be in vitro fertilization (IVF). I couldn’t believe it. We went from naturally conceiving to needing this major intervention. I felt so sad that day, as if I had fallen off the roller coaster right from the top.
In 2006, one month after the recommendation to pursue IVF, we did it. This was a long arduous process that took its toll on my mind and body. I remember thinking, if I get through this successfully, I am going to help others who are dealing with the very same problem. At the end of treatment, we had four embryos. We decided to transfer two, on day three. We were successful and ten months later I delivered twins.
Today I reap the benefits of the hardship I endured. The gratitude I have felt since the conception of our twins is like nothing I could ever put into words adequately. My patience and tolerance as a parent, my empathy and understanding for others who are struggling, my desire to live life to the fullest and make every day count have all been augmented. Even ten years later, I am so proud that we made it through.
I felt and still feel so grateful, I wanted to give back. When the twins turned two, I started to run a support group for women struggling with infertility. My intention was to support others who were going through the same challenges I went through. I wanted to share my story of hope with those deep in the throes of this horrible roller coaster ride. I wanted to help them enjoy the ride, looking at the horizon from both the ups and downs.
What I learned through all my pain and suffering was to manage my situation and cope with it, not to despair and not to be so immersed in my own problems that I could not enjoy each day in some way. I developed techniques to assist me and other women in this fight against infertility.
What I know for sure is that this experience, with all its travails, enriched my life.