I have one amazing daughter who I would not trade for anything in the world. She is absolutely my favourite person on the entire planet and my life is so much better in every way because she’s in it. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the fact that I was never able to give her a sibling breaks my heart. And I’ve never been able to because I deal with unexplained secondary infertility, which in a nutshell means I was able to have one baby but for reasons unknown I have never been able to have another.
For a really long time I didn’t admit this to anyone. I think I was ashamed and embarrassed by it. I had assumed it would be easy to get pregnant again. I got pregnant accidentally – while on birth control even! – with my daughter after all, and during a very unhealthy period of my life. So why shouldn’t it be easy to do it again? If I’m being honest now, I was almost cocky about the whole thing. I wanted a big family, and I didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t happen.
Then a couple years passed with no luck. And a couple more and now, 13 years later, I’m still a mother of only one.
I really shouldn’t say “only” as if it’s a bad thing. Like I said before, I would not trade this gangly, hilarious, incredible, artistic human for ANYTHING in the world. But I can’t deny that not having the big family I had hoped for breaks my heart. I can’t push from my memory the many times my daughter has asked for a sibling and I had no idea how to respond. I can’t stop looking at large families and not feeling bitter resentment. And for a very long time, I kept it all to myself.
One day I stopped keeping it bottled up inside, however. I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the first time – it wasn’t that significant of a life event to be stuck in my mind – but at some point I stopped smiling politely while awkwardly trying to change the subject when people asked when I was going to FINALLY have another baby and I just replied bluntly and honestly: “I would love to have more children, but I’ve been battling unexplained secondary infertility for years and haven’t been able to have another.”
Once I started being more open with my struggles – and started saying the name out loud – things shifted. I’m not going to say it made everything better. But it made it different. For one, people stopped asking me when I was going to have another – which is something people feel shockingly comfortable asking, even demanding sometimes, as if they have some sort of special access pass to the inner workings of my uterus simply because they…know me? I have legitimately had co-workers tell me “You have to have another! You can’t just have one! She needs a sibling!” without knowing just how much those words were killing me at that moment. So I decided to start telling them.
As you might imagine, some people didn’t like this very much because it makes them feel uncomfortable. But here’s the thing: I don’t care. I don’t go out of my way to bring it up but I don’t shy away from it either if it’s actually relevant to the conversation and I don’t care if I make someone uncomfortable by being honest about my circumstances when they start prying into the details of my life (a complaint I have actually dealt with a handful of times, and which makes me laugh because if you don’t want to risk hearing a potentially awkward response, mind your own damn business.)
One of the best parts about opening up about this part of my life, is that I didn’t feel as alone in it anymore. That’s one of the interesting things about infertility, it’s a LOT more common than we think, but we don’t talk about it as much as maybe we should. When I started talking openly about my infertility – even just letting it drop casually in relevant conversation – I noticed other women I know would start to approach me to share their experiences as well. In many cases, I was the ONLY PERSON (other than their partner and doctor) that they had ever told and as cheesey as it sounds, it feels nice to know I can help someone else feel like it’s something they don’t have to keep a secret. It’s nice to be someone they can confess their feelings too without worrying they’d be judged, because they know I understand. There’s something really meaningful about that for me.
Opening up about infertility struggles does in a lot of cases open you up to a whole host of other questions sometimes – Have you tried IVF? Have you considered adoption? – and a lot of weird advice and quasi-reassuring stories of people they know who went through the same thing and went on to have twins or more! (thanks…?) which can all be annoying in it’s own way, of course. I haven’t found the best way to deal with those yet.
If you figure it out, let me know.