January 10th, 2016
Parents World presents: The story of a forlorn mother abandoned by her husband all because she couldn’t give him another child.
‘I have never expected this to happen.’
“The night before my 40th birthday I decided to let go of my desire for a second baby. My first – and only – child had been born when I was 31, and I had spent much of the time since struggling to get pregnant again. But that night I promised myself that my longing for another child was not going to dominate the 10 years to come as it had overshadowed the decade just past.
At the start of that decade, infertility of any kind was the last thing I expected. Like many women, I assumed that having babies was a choice that my partner and I would be in total control of. As if to reinforce that view, I got pregnant easily, and Mark was born during our second year of marriage. I always knew I wanted at least two children. In fact, before I had one, I had hoped for four. The reality of a new baby made me rethink that in a hurry, but I never wanted an only child. I assumed that, just as there had been no problem conceiving Mark, I would easily fall pregnant a second time as well. But it didn’t happen. I was just 33 when we started trying, still young by modern standards. Most of my friends hadn’t even begun their families yet. My husband was a few years older, but still not so old as to make a difference to the likelihood of conception. After a year of leaving it to chance, we went to see our GP. She referred us for fertility tests that revealed there was nothing wrong with either of us. We were diagnosed with unexplained secondary infertility, the official term for the inability to conceive or carry to term a second or subsequent child.
Another year of trying and failing to get pregnant took its toll on my ability to put what we were doing into perspective. I felt a failure for not conceiving, but while I wanted to talk my feelings through, my husband withdrew from the entire conversation. To him, we would either have a baby or we wouldn’t. Outside of the practical choices about whether to continue with tests or treatment, what was there to talk about? At the time I resented this hugely. Now I look back and sympathise. I had become obsessive about getting pregnant, consulting every possible form of potential help. It seemed crazy to turn to something as drastic and invasive as IVF when we had conceived so easily before, so I tried every alternative I could think of, from hypnotherapy to reflexology, homeopathy to acupuncture, and EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) to vitamin supplements. In short, I behaved much like anyone in the grip of an obsession and, certainly, like the many women who have experienced primary infertility.
This, I think, explains a lot about why secondary infertility is so painful. Not many people really understand how much it hurts, or even that it exists at all, despite the fact that it accounts for more than half of all infertilities. My experience suggests that a lot of people assume that if you already have a child, then the misery of failing to conceive a second must be lessened. It is certainly not as life‐defining a loss.
Of course, objectively speaking, I agree. I would rather have my one, lovely son than no child at all. However, in some respects his existence heightened my sense of failure. Absolutely the worst part of not conceiving a second child, and the only thing all these years later that still gives me a twinge of regret, was that Mark would never have a brother or sister. He wanted a sibling himself. In fact, of all the many miserable moments during my long years of not getting pregnant, perhaps the saddest was when he gave me a piece of paper outlining in large, childish letters the names and ages of the brothers and sisters he so badly desired. Coming from a fairly small family myself, I desperately wanted him to be part of something bigger, to have at least one sibling who would be there beside him as he grew up and grew older.
The wider world didn’t help. I was told on more than one occasion by complete strangers who didn’t know my situation that I was being selfish to have an only child. Many others informed me, in a well‐meant observation that was as annoying as it was unhelpful, that if we would only stop stressing about conceiving, it would happen naturally.
If I could, I would have avoided all talk of kids and babies, just as many people suffering primary infertility try to do. But, of course, this option isn’t open to people who are already parents. During the seven years when I was hoping to conceive, I spent a huge amount of time at school gates and children’s birthday parties talking with pregnant women or watching mums and dads pick up older kids with babies and younger toddlers in tow. On top of that, almost all my friends were having children themselves. Every few weeks, it seemed, there were new announcements of first, then second and in some cases third pregnancies. I was pleased for them all, but also deeply, bitterly envious. After a while, we started to consider medical intervention. My husband and I did IUI, a kind of IVF‐lite involving “washed” sperm and the medical equivalent of a turkey baster. This didn’t work, so we finally visited a private clinic to talk about IVF. We saw a specialist, and I underwent yet more examinations. I was given drugs to take and specific times to take them.
The first cycle didn’t work, and we were told to go away and try again in another month or two. I was devastated. It was the summer and we were supposed to be going on holiday. I remember worrying about being away from home and missing the chance to start the next round of drugs. I could feel myself slipping into obsession again. This was the point at which I took a good look at my life.
I was trying to write fiction while freelancing as a journalist. Neither activity was going well. I knew, though I didn’t want to face it, that my relationship with my husband was in trouble and that I was desperately isolated from almost all my friends, with their growing families.
The only bright star in my life was Mark, my gorgeous little boy, who needed a mum focused on him, not on the possibility of potential siblings. We decided to stop IVF treatment and go back to leaving the decision to fate. Another couple of years passed and nothing changed. Not getting pregnant was defining who I was. I was writing, but still very far from getting a book published, and I was unhappily married, but unwilling to face up to the fact. And then the evening before my 40th birthday arrived and with it the awareness that I needed to move on.
I woke up the next morning with my son running into the bedroom to wish me Happy Birthday. And I knew straightaway that I was free, at last, from obsession. I put all my energies into working hard, determined to finish a book and get it published. I earn my living now as a freelance writer and I also volunteer at various Children’s homes; I’m now divorced from my husband – who is still a wonderful dad to our son – and I have been happily in a new relationship for the past four years. I have reconnected with many old friends and made new ones, too. Perhaps best of all, my gorgeous little boy has turned into a bright, loving teenager who might not have a sibling, but who is close to his cousins, to the rest of his family and to his friends.
I would never judge anyone for making a different decision, but, for me, letting go of my obsession for a baby has brought me a wonderful new life after all. Just not the one I was expecting.”
*Names changed to protect privacy.
To find out what Secondary Fertility is about, grab a copy of Parents World Mar-Apr issue.
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