When my son was a year old my husband and I decided it was time for a sibling. So confident were we, we started looking at double buggies and planning out a nursery. Three years later we were still trying for a baby and along the way we were diagnosed with secondary infertility. The inability to have a child after a successful pregnancy. It was not something that we were even remotely aware off after conceiving our firstborn months after marriage. Infertility, I knew was heart-breaking yet I truly did not think it would be a part of our story. What followed our decision was three years of hopelessness, doctors appointments and failed rounds of IVF. It was just not happening for us and no one could tell us why. It broke me as a person and it nearly broke us as a family.
I had never heard of it, yet 15% of couples in the UK suffer with secondary infertility. It affects not only those with a child but those that have lost a pregnancy. Like primary fertility it can be caused by many issues from PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) to sperm production but unlike primary fertility, it can carry with it feelings of guilt. Often shot down with comments such as, “but you have one, just be grateful’, banish couples into silence. It can be isolating and leave you and your partner unable to talk freely to others about it. I was unbelievably grateful for my wonderful cheeky little boy. He was our world and I felt so guilty for talking about it as it felt like I was saying he was not enough which was not the case. We had a lot of love to give and we so desperately wanted to give him a brother or sister.
Throughout our journey, I felt guilt for not giving our child the sibling they desired whilst our fertility battle cast a shadow over family life. Whilst friends at baby groups would announce their pregnancies and give birth nine months later, I felt I was stuck on the hard shoulder of a motorway whilst others were whizzing by.
After a failed round of IVF there were complications which landed me in hospital. My husband insisted enough was enough as he could not watch me spiral into a hopeless cycle of despair any longer. Infertility was my beast and I shut down friends who became pregnant and felt a bitterness I did not recognise within myself. I was determined to stop at nothing to get there and buried my head in the sand at how I was tearing the seams out of my family. I had to plough on and we did. Eventually I became pregnant and I traumatically delivered my baby girl at 27 weeks. We embarked on another difficult journey but we made it and she is now nearly three.
The end of the journey with secondary infertility, or primary, does not often end in a neat resolution of a child. As many as 90% of couples suffering with any form of infertility, report a detrimental impact on their mental health. However, if this affects you, don’t suffer in silence as there are ways of feeling less alone.
- Reach out
One of the things that I learnt was to find someone, anyone who would listen. I closed myself off to many people but I found a friend who would listen to my distress month after month and went on the journey alongside me. I am forever grateful that she was by my side.
- Online groups
A couple may not have someone close to them who can truly understand and this is where online forums can be helpful. There are other people in your position and just connecting with them can make you feel less isolated.
- Start a diary
I blogged and kept a diary of my journey as it helped me to vent, without upsetting my partner. This gave me space and time to digest what was happening and how I was feeling.
- Agree how far you will go as a couple
Don’t be afraid to speak to doctors and have a plan. Infertility is difficult because you cannot control it. But you can equip yourself with knowledge and find limits as to how far you will go. Infertility can feel like a very long and unpredictable path but take one day at a time.
What treatments are there?
Like primary fertility there is not a one size fits all and it may take a long time, if at all, to find the reason for a couple’s problems. You can expect a variety of tests including:
- Blood tests to check whether a woman is ovulating
- An x-ray (HSG) of the uterus to look at the fallopian tubes and the inside of the uterus
- Sperm analysis
- Ovarian reserve testing to check the quantity of the woman’s eggs
- A laparascopy to identify scarring, endometriosis or any blockages
Treatments can include:
- Medicines to assist with ovulation
- Surgery to remove any scar tissue or any cause of blockage
- Assisted conception such as IVF
Infertility is not as simple as accepting what you have and moving on. It is not as simple as adopting or, even IVF. It is a private fight that is endured every day from every angle. An office announcement, a baby shower, a Facebook post and even a trip to the supermarket is a constant reminder. But by reaching out to others and taking care of yourself can make your journey a little easier.