Friday 17 January 2014

Family Balancing

A few months ago, a fellow infertile shared with her co-worker that she was going through an IVF cycle. After describing the process of her injections, retrieval and transfer process, the co-worker asked, 'Why are you putting yourself through all that torture? Why can't you just be happy with the fact that you have one baby?' It was the typical thought process from someone who has never experienced infertility. Little did the co-worker know what a struggle it was for them to conceive their first child. Nor did this woman know how close the infertile woman is with her siblings, and how much she wanted her progeny to have that same opportunity. However, what bothered me the most about her comment is the fact that society can't wait for fertiles to have more kids. As soon as the placenta is delivered, everyone is asking, "so when are you going to have another one?" If the second baby is the same gender as the first, then everyone wants to know "when are you going to try for a boy (or girl)?" Yet, for a couple who manages to survive infertility, her prevailing message was "shut up and don't be greedy infertile, you're lucky to have what you have."

It's a little hard for me to appreciate the experience of secondary infertility, as I'm still dealing with primary infertility, but also as our grand master plan has always been to have an only child. Even before we encountered our issues with infertility and recurrent loss, our intention was to have one and be done. I can imagine how much more frustrating this journey must be for couples who planned to have two or more kids. Just as it is so hard to see others' children and feel reminded about what you want, it must be even more difficult when you're looking at your own. I'm sure expectations are higher going through infertility treatments, as it worked once or twice already. I wonder if your resolve is different pursing baby # 2. It must be challenging to manage all the injections and monitoring while caring for a little one, and I'm sure financial constraints have adopted an entire new meaning.

Thus, 'at least we have one...' is not a bad consolation prize (biased perspective from an only child). It also somewhat alters the dynamics when relating to infertiles who are seeking their first baby. When I was a participant on the online infertility forum, one member tried to establish a special group for those who were over 35 and childless. She expressed that she wanted to interact with others who were facing challenges due to advancing maternal age, and she also noted that she found it hard to identify with women who already had two kids and felt their hearts were breaking for baby # 3. The group was shut down by an administrator who chastised the member for "perceiving your pain to be greater than others". I didn't think that was the case, but that member left the forum to establish her own blog, as did I. While I was involved with the forum, I took note of some members who were going through IVF after a tubal ligation or vasectomy reversal to conceive baby # 4 or even # 5. I know this will sound a little judgmental, but my first thought when reading these posting was shouldn't you be interacting with your kids rather than spending so much time online? Maybe I felt a little bitter as sure enough, many of them were first time IVF winners. They were able to get pregnant as they weren't ever infertile.

A little closer to home, Husband has become close with a fellow hockey umpire who lives on the east coast. When Husband shared our infertility struggles with him, he was surprised to hear that his friend went through IVF as well. The circumstances were a little different. T had two kids in his early 20s and then had a vasectomy. He was divorced by age 35 and in his early 40s, he remarried a woman in her mid 30s. Rather than attempt a vasectomy reversal, they decided to go straight to IVF and succeeded with their first transfer. While I'm so happy that he can talk directly with someone who understands this process (although T went through testicular sperm extraction and didn't have the wank in a cup experience) I can't resist thinking -it's just not the same... Yes, they went through the stress of waiting for a fertilisation report and the post transfer uncertainty, but there was nothing wrong with their gametes. Although not guaranteed, they were much more likely to succeed.

When the other area REI visited our office recently, he discussed the topic of gender selection for patients who are opting for PGD. Initially, their policy was to not let any patients determine their potential baby's gender (unless it was necessary to avoid any inherited X-linked disorders). During his prior presentation, the RE admitted that they would occasionally allow patients who experienced multiple failures or losses to transfer the embryo of their choice. They would not accommodate a fertile couple who wanted a boy after having five girls. Three years later, they decided to revise their procedure. "We recognise that 'family balancing' is very important to some couples, and we are willing to help them" he explained. (Read: we're not too principled to turn away a paying customer) Personally, I would find it difficult to be in the waiting room of my RE's office knowing that the patient sitting across from me was going through treatments just to balance her family with an offspring of a particular gender. Some of us are groveling for crumbs, while others are going for the icing on the the cake.

Recently, a fellow blogger posted about how her day was crushed when she received a Christmas card from an old friend. If it wasn't hard enough to see pictures of her two children and their family activities, the friend revealed that she was expecting baby #3. Most pregnancy announcements are hard to endure, but when it's three or more, it just hits harder and stings a bit more. It feels like the rich are getting richer, while we're figuratively getting poorer. I experienced this first hand when checking in on Facebook. My friend Penny posted photos from her son's 6th birthday. #wantonemore, she included in her post, thus announcing that she joined Twitter and is trying to conceive. Want one more. Those words stuck with me for a while. C'mon mate, some of us are wanting just to have one.


  1. Hi Jane,
    I've been reading along for over a year already but since I don't have a blog myself I haven't commented, thinking I don't have anything to contribute. But maybe you just like comments so I'll give it a try :)

    My experience with the question about a second child is a bit different. It took my husband and I 3 years to conceive our son through IVF. Even though I can see that we didn't have it that bad (first IVF worked), the combination of full-time job, doing a full-time Master's degree and then the Clomid-IUI-Superovulated IUI-IVF process is the hardest thing I've ever done. I've been very open about IVF with everyone around us. I unfortunately even lost my job over it. And yet, just weeks after we brought our son home after a 10 day NICU stay (born at 34+4 weeks), people started asking when we were "going to have" a second. Not even "try for". I was shocked. I've been reminding everyone who asks this question that it took years to have just one.
    I understand that it all seems like a luxury problem to you, I would have felt the same way before I had my son. However, for me personally the lack of control is what bothers me the most. I think I'd be happy with just my son, but wanting to try to have a sibling for him and just never knowing if that might be possible, what sort of timeline am I looking at, can we afford IVF again, should I apply for a job in my field now or is that a bad idea if we have to go through IVF again, maybe I shouldn't buy a snowboard season pass because I might get pregnant by some miracle? After doing that for 3 years for my son, I am finding it very difficult to go back to it again.

    Anyway, that's just my perspective. I really enjoy your blogs and I hope it's ok to leave comments even though I don't have a blog. The last 6 years of school have left me unable to write anything that isn't academic in nature. In grad school we had a blog-writing seminar and I really struggled with changing my writing style. Doesn't help that English isn't my first language (Dutch is :))

  2. This really resonated with me. You really touched on a nerve about people asking fertiles when the next one is coming vrs telling infertiles to be happy with what they've got. Its bullshit. It makes me angry. Love your comment about groveling for crumbs while others are icing their true. It just highlights how unfair IF is.

  3. My "plan" from when I was younger (and sooo knowledgeable about family planning) was to have 4 kids by the time I was 32. It's disheartening that it's been such a struggle to have the first one, even while I'm still young (26). I'm sure it's not going to get easier with age. I'll admit, I don't generally read blogs about those struggling with secondary infertility, perhaps out of jealousy over their one success. But knowing I do want more than one, I'm sure infertility isn't any easier the second time around.

  4. Oh gosh- I know that feeling all too well. Wanting just to be able to have one and wanting one more is so different. My SIL was going through secondary IF when I was going through primary and it just always stung. While I could understand she wanted a sibling for her son, I couldn't understand how people who already had one could be blessed with more before I was blessed with one myself. Thinking of you!!

  5. You know, this is something I've never really thought about, but you raise some great points. I was always someone who didn't want kids at all, and when I finally decided I did I kind of thought I'd only have time for one anyway. But M would have liked more. And now that we're at the point of being lucky to have one at all, I never thought about how hard it is for people who always wanted big families to not be able to have that when others can achieve it so easily. Love this line: "Some of us are groveling for crumbs, while others are going for the icing on the the cake." You, madam, are a poet.

  6. I couldn't agree more. I have a post that I'm afraid to publish about this specific topic. I pretend to be empathetic for those with secondary infertility to keep the semblance of a kind human being. But I really don't care.

    1. Hi Nina, I don't know you, but saw your comment and I am in the same boat as you. I am not sure if I can find your blog, but I would love to read your post regarding this topic.You are not alone!

  7. This post is so spot on! Your statement of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is such a great way to describe it. I wanted a large family, but at this point I just want to have one biological baby. Thank you for sharing this.

    BTW I nominated you for the Sunshine Award over on my blog :)

  8. I have a strong opinion on I try not to scream from the roof tops. I am not saying that people going through secondary infertility do not experience great pain from the process....BUT simply put...if they have a failed cycle they can go home and kiss their child good-night! It is NOT the same. And even IF I one day have to go through it myself (please no more no more)....I will KNOW that it is NOT the same.

  9. Just today at my bible study meeting, one of the previous leaders joined our group just for today. She had left leading a group at this location because her current location offers a children's program for her now 3-year-old daughter. When the meeting leader introduced this lady, she mentioned all of that, saying welcome to her, asking her how old her child is, and made a joke that "maybe now she's pregnant" again. It's so easy to make a joke like that when people just assume that 1) it's easy for people to get pregnant just like that and 2) you should have a number 2 by now since your number 1 is 3. Anyhow, this post resonates with me big time. On some days it's just tough to struggle to have just one baby.

  10. The way I see it, everyone has a right to be sad about their dreams not being realised, but it is about picking your audience. It is inappropriate for someone with secondary infertility to bemoan her situation to someone who hasn't yet managed to have one child. That would be insensitive. Of course, the person with primary infertility is going to tell her to be grateful for the one she has. And so they should, as not being able to give your child a sibling is not the same kind of pain as not being able to experience a successful pregnancy at all. That is not to say secondary infertility is less valid, but it is certainly different. The secondary infertile knows what it feels like to hold a positive test, to announce a pregnancy, to feel a baby kick, to give birth to and raise her child. She has been granted that blessing. Many have not. Many would walk over hot coals to be in her shoes, and she better know it!

    That said, if you're sore that AF has reared her ugly head again after so long trying, pregnant bellies can't be as easy to see when they belong to the mothers of your child's friends. Do you only let your child play with other only children to avoid pain? Not easy. What do you say when your child pines over a sibling? Do the flippant "just adopt" comments that rile the primary infertile hurt any less or feel less insensitive for the secondary gal?

    Nobody says to a fertile person expecting a second baby, "gosh, why are you having another, aren't you happy with one?" But someone who unexpectedly finds their body not playing ball the second time around (or even if they suspected it wouldn't) discovers they are being told to "be happy with the one you've got". As if, somehow, she is ungrateful. That is the injustice of infertility. It robs people of their dreams, whatever form that dream takes. Whether it is a single child, or a bigger brood. Is an infertile woman greedy for wanting number two or three? If she is greedy then so are most people in the world.

    But again, I come back to the point about choosing your audience. I think separate support groups ARE important, as it isn't about judging whose pain is worse, but finding people who can empathise. I imagine a couple who have chosen not to have children and are vehemently against the idea are not going to truly empathise with a couple suffering from even primary infertility. And I suspect someone with primary infertility who 'doesn't care' about someone's problems with secondary infertility, is not truly uncaring, but just not able to empathise at that moment. She shouldn't be expected to. So I think it is fine for anyone to be disappointed and hurt by their dreams being dashed, but it is about keeping some perspective and being sensitive and mindful of the people you express that pain or desire to.


  11. I've thought long and hard about secondary infertility, and I do know some women dealing with it. I certainly respect their feelings and don't doubt they are hurt deeply by their own struggles. There are just so many different scenarios that it does become kind of hard to see them all as equal types of struggles. I get those being remarried wanting to have kiddos together with shared DNA. I get those wanting a second to create a sibling (I grew up with sisters and wouldn't trade that for the world).

    It becomes a little trickier to totally grasp when you've got a couple who both have kids from previous marriages, also have at least 2 kids from their own shared DNA, and they are going for #4 or #5 and spending so much time/money/heartache on secondary infertility. I admit it's because I'm not in that situation, but it does become a little foreign to me once it's at that level, that the beautiful healthy kids already present wouldn't be enough. However, I also totally respect the fact, that maybe I just don't understand because I'm not in that situation. I still try to be supportive to those women though, because if they're crying their eyes out and pouring their heart out in a blog about it, well clearly it's hurting them deeply. I may not understand fully, but their pain is real, and it's something they must deal with.

  12. I grew up in a big family and always wanted to have several kids. At least 3. Now I'm hoping the third will be the first I actually get to take home... And yet, I'm still scared about secondary infertility. Not as much as over the possibility of never bringing a baby home, and it's much further away, somewhere on the horizon, but it's there. So maybe it's about what you dreamed of originally as much as where you're stuck now...

    Overall, the situation reminds me of the opening of Anna Karenina:

    "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

  13. I'm with you Jane. I don't think it's a measure of one pain worse than the other. Everyone's got their own pain. Yet I'm going to contradict myself when I say that I don't understand how the secondary infertile can be compared to the primary. They have at least experienced being pregnant. They know what it's like to grow a baby, to give birth, and to have that baby home with them. I'm sure it's incredibly painful not to be able to get pregnant again if that is what you want, but if that same person stacked that pain against being in that same place in life without even havin tha first baby, how would they feel? I sympathize for the secondary infertile. I do. But I don't think it compares to someone who has never even had the opportunity to have one and is facing being completely child free for life. Neither situation is very fair, but I don't think they are the same at all.

  14. The story is so touching and heart-warming. People need to be aware about this family balancing process which will help them to reduce the possibility of having any complications in the future. So they must go for that family balancing process.