Below is an article that I wrote for the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada. You can find the original article on the IAAC web site by clicking here.
It can’t be possible…
Secondary infertility is extremely difficult to endure, mainly because it does not make any sense. I never thought this would be what I was dealing with, considering I became pregnant with my daughter Sammy a month after I got married. It was so simple: we had our wedding, moved into our new home and got pregnant. Sammy was a healthy baby and she filled our house with joy and laughter.
Flash forward three years, and there we were sitting quietly in a fertility clinic. Sammy was now two, and we had been trying religiously to conceive for a year. I remember the doctor saying, “Based on your history, I’d be shocked if you weren’t pregnant in six months.” His words were encouraging and he gave me hope. Yet, there was always a quiet voice inside me that said, “There is a bigger reason for all of this.” The doctor suggested we begin monitoring our monthly cycles at the clinic while at the same time begin investigating any potential problem that may be contributing to what he termed “secondary infertility.” This is the medical term used to describe the inability to achieve a pregnancy within a year of trying, once you have already had a successful pregnancy and, in fact, already have a child.
Let the games begin…
I felt a combination of depression and obsession. The early cycle-monitoring mornings were physically and mentally exhausting. I would have to be at the clinic by 6:30 a.m. The only thing I could do to cope with feeling so drained was to learn everything I could about the science of my situation. I immersed myself in literature and information about infertility, staying up late at the computer, and mining for the clue that would explain what I was going through.
My husband and I tried to maintain a positive outlook, but at the same time I wondered what happened to my fertility. When I looked in the mirror I suddenly felt inadequate. Was it me? Was it my husband? How could something that once worked so well, and so recently, not work anymore? As much as I felt so grateful for my little girl, the pain and uncertainty was very real and, at times, very challenging. I belonged to a mom’s group and many of them were already pregnant with their second child. I found this fact incredibly difficult, and stopped attending the group. It was too hard to hear my friends’ stories about their new children – and their “complete families.”
The questions played over and over in my mind, and always came back to this: was something wrong with me? Even though my daughter was just over two, she was already asking for a baby brother or sister. How could we explain “secondary infertility” to her? I have always envisioned my life with more than one child, but I was starting to accept the reality that a family of three could be my destiny. The thought of it made me feel lonely. At the same time, I felt a strong connection with the other patients at the clinic who were (mostly) women and were there for the same reason: to have a family. Some of these women had never conceived. This brought me pangs of guilt; the type of guilt you feel when you go to the table for a second helping when everyone else is still working on their first.
It’s all perspective…
One evening, I worked up the courage to attend a women’s infertility support group and my guilt quickly turned to shame as I listened to the other women’s stories. I was scared to open my mouth and share my experience, as I didn’t want to be judged for already having a child. These women had never known the incredible birth experience, and I had. It was only when the facilitator shared her story of secondary infertility that my shame lifted. She was able to normalize the grief and loss I was experiencing, different from the other women present, but no less painful. What had changed since my first pregnancy? What made me less of a woman?
At the clinic, our doctor performed a number of tests to determine if there was a reason for our secondary infertility. In the meantime, we pursued a couple of intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedures and continued to be hopeful. On the third month of our unsuccessful IUI, the doctor had some news. He found something that could be playing a role in the infertility. He had performed a DNA fragmentation test on my husband’s sperm and referred my husband to a urologist. In the back of my mind, I wondered if my daughter was a miracle child. Another sperm analysis and DNA fragmentation test confirmed that the sperm was a factor. I remember peeking at my chart while waiting for the doctor and the result page was staring at me. It read, “30% DNA Fragmentation, couple is a good candidate for in vitro fertilization.” My heart just about dropped out of my chest.
Riding the cycle…
I immersed myself in the world of sperm and everything anyone could ever know about sperm. We went to the urologist and discovered that my husband had a varicocele that may always have been there, and that might have become enlarged. This could have been, and most likely was, the reason for the compromised sperm. The urologist informed us of the statistics regarding IVF: there is only a 30% take-home rate for a baby. The urologist also told us that the DNA fragmentation might impact the sperm’s ability to penetrate the egg, explaining that ICSI would be our best option. We left that appointment at our lowest of low points. I felt like I needed a miracle to happen.
My husband was booked for surgery on his varicocele and we tried to decide whether to wait until after the surgery to try IVF, or proceed with it right away. At this point, I was ready to adopt a child. I felt so confused and scattered. I tried to ask my true, knowing self to speak louder and assure me that everything would be fine, but it only seemed to get quieter.
Looking for light…
After witnessing my anxiety for weeks on end, my close friends tried to help me in any way they could. They were not experts, but they could sense I was going through something extreme. They took me to special yoga classes, naturopaths and even an energy healer. I was skeptical. If science said we were not going to have another baby, what could I do about it? But after one particular session with the energy healer, I was walking down the street and I realized that there was something I could do. I could focus the power of my intention on the positive, on what I desired, as opposed to what was “wrong.” This seemingly simple realization changed my life. My friends and all of the different healers were like sign posts on my path. I am so thankful they pointed me in this direction, because with a grueling journey like secondary infertility, there are very few guides out there to help you find your way.
We proceeded with an in vitro fertilization cycle. I tried to visualize and connect with the process on a deeper level. We put back two embryos in my uterus and embraced the two-week wait. I tried to challenge the voice of fear and at times found myself yelling at it. I knew deep inside that if this attempt was unsuccessful, I would try again. I knew that I would never give up, even if that meant exploring other options. Acceptance of each moment during those two weeks got us through it. When we got the call from the clinic regarding our pregnancy test, I just about passed out. It was our doctor advising that the beta level in my blood work came back very high and that it was likely that both embryos implanted successfully.
On March 13, 2012 I delivered a boy/girl set of twins. I am so thankful and grateful that my experience ended as it did.
Now when I look back on this experience, I can only see how it has helped me, personally and professionally. I feel so grateful for my twins that the daily hustle and bustle isn’t stressful. It was never difficult for me to wake in the night to feed the babies, as I knew the preciousness of my gifts and the impermanence of the babies as babies. I was making spiritual connections all over the place. I finally understood that deeper feeling of being connected to something bigger. I gained awareness and consciousness about my ability to choose whether the glass is half full or still empty. I truly believe I now know my calling: to help others through their struggles around not being able to get pregnant. Secondary infertility is an extremely challenging journey, and, after traveling the path, I am now ready to guide.
Amira is a professional therapist with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Manitoba. In addition to working with individuals, couples and families providing therapy in a secure and safe setting, she is a member of the Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) and Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW). She also has formal training in Reiki and the relaxation response.