Emotions of Secondary Infertility After Infant Loss
Updated: Jun 19, 2020
As of the day I am typing these words, my only child took her last breath two years, five months, two weeks, and four days ago. As I carried Mira to term with a fatal diagnosis, knowing she would not live long after birth, a few rather insensitive people asked when we would “try again.” I knew what they meant, but the phrase “try again” (especially as I held my currently living, safe, happy baby in my womb) hit a nerve. I did not need to “try again;” I had not failed this time. You try again when you did not build the Ikea chair right. You try again when the cake burns. You try again when you have not done something right and need to fix it. I was not interested in “trying again” at creating life. I was not even sure I wanted to try to have a sibling for Mira, as my first experience with pregnancy had been so traumatic. Not to mention how incredibly cruel it is to ask a pregnant woman carrying to term when she would have another child. I’m just not even going to explore that in depth, because I assume anyone reading this knows how horrible that is to do.
The point is, the talking about having a second child started before I had even given birth to our first. It happened in inconsiderate ways like above, and in appropriate ways, like with our doctors. This discussion had to happen as decisions were made to best preserve my fertility during the high-risk pregnancy. Our wonderful team at CHOP helped make sure that happened in a respectful way. Our amazing genetic counselor talked to us about the risk of having another child with Mira’s condition. I remember she said, “If we do find her condition is genetic you could choose to have another child with no interventions, and you would have a 25% chance of this happening again.” She did not even finish the sentence before she looked at me and saw me clutching Mira within my stomach, looking terrified, and shaking my head. “I see that is not what you want, that is a very valid choice,” she said. So, the talks have been happening for over two years, five months, two weeks, and three days.
About three months after her death, we finally got the results of the extensive genetic mapping and autopsy that was performed on Mira in an attempt to find a diagnosis and a cause for her condition. Everything was inconclusive. They could certainly tell everything that was not right in her precious body, but no reason for it to have happened. This meant that though it was still possible there was a genetic cause, we could move forward planning for our future as if there was not. Our genetic counselor did feel strongly that if there was a yet undiscovered genetic cause, it was mostly likely a mutation, meaning my husband and I were not carriers anyway. We could move forward with trying to conceive a second child after I was physically cleared, likely one year from Mira’s birth via cesarean section.
I noticed about six months after Mira died the questions about when my husband and I would “try again” increased. It was no longer just a random person here or there that would ask this very personal question, but it happened quite often. Sometimes when I had just met someone and they heard I had lost a child recently. Sometimes from family and friends. I heard it from people who were sure we could “move on” if we would “just go ahead and have another.” As if my precious child were replaceable. As if I were physically and emotionally ready to be pregnant. As if it were any of their business. These questions seemed to increase as time went on, no matter how tactfully or rudely I answered the questions. Some would even push when I would say I did not want to answer that very personal question. Some would try to change my mind if I would answer. Some I had to walk away from.
When the year mark arrived and the doctor cleared my body for another pregnancy, we did decide to add to our family. All our doctors had assured us that there was no reason we should not be able to easily have another child. We had the same risk of miscarriage and stillbirth as anyone else, but no reason for any higher risk. We faced a year of disappointing negative pregnancy tests before I returned to the doctor asking why this was happening. What felt like a million tests, needles, and scans latter, we were officially told we were facing secondary infertility. Secondary infertility is the inability to naturally conceive a baby after already giving birth in the past. It occurs in about 10% of couples trying to conceive.
It felt like being blindsided all over again. I cannot say what it is like to face a primary infertility diagnosis, what it is like to lose a baby after battling infertility, or anything else. All I can say is what it feels like to face secondary infertility when that first baby died, so you are still sitting there with empty arms. It feels like hell. It feels like you had been beat to the ground, then spent a year fighting to stand up again, where you were told you would be given another child to love, but instead you were just pushed right back down. It feels like the universe’s cruel joke.
For me at least, the infertility grief is nothing that can be compared to losing Mira. But it is still something I must grieve. I already knew another pregnancy was going to be difficult and anxiety filled as pregnancy after loss often is. However, I did not realize I would have to fight this hard to just for the hope to become pregnant again. I did not realize how much stress there would be in trying to conceive another child. It feels so cruel for a bereaved mother and father to have to be blindsided this way. I wish I had known what we would need to do to become pregnant again a year ago so all this time would not have been lost. But that is not how secondary infertility works; it is never expected.
It feels like loss parents should get a free pass on secondary infertility. You healed your heart enough to open it up to another child, even knowing the risk? Okay, then you get to be pregnant. But there are no free passes. There are no free passes on miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal diagnoses, or infertility for loss Moms. It is all still a possibility.
But, we fight on. We fight to have a child to give love to here on Earth. We fight to say Mira is a big sister. We go into this battle knowing the risks. We go in knowing there will be pain. We go in knowing that being aware of all this will not make it hurt any less if another bombshell is dropped in our laps. We go forward with our hearts scared but strong, and our hands lifted in prayer, asking, “please, can it finally be our turn?”