ART of IF’s Robin Silbergleid reflects on treatment after parenting.
Secondary Infertility, and Infertility a Second Time
by Robin Silbergleid
The summers of 2009 and 2010, my daughter was five (and then six), and I was in treatment to try to have a second child, the sibling she kept asking for. What I remember of those summers: too many Saturday morning ultrasounds, when we’d race back home for swimming lessons and I waited for a call from the nurse, calls that frequently came at ill-opportune times, like during a playdate at the park or in line at the grocery store.
It’s not that undergoing fertility treatment is really any harder when you have a child. Infertility treatment is always awful. But there are unique aspects to the situation—logistically, socially, and psychologically—that first time infertiles don’t generally encounter.
1. Sometimes you have to be that woman who brings her kid to the fertility clinic. I will confess now that when I was trying for my first, I really resented that woman, especially if she had both husband and child in tow. (Really…couldn’t the husband take the adorable kid somewhere else?!) But as I came to understand while trying for number two, the rest of life doesn’t always stop for infertility treatment, and sometimes the kid who exists in the world needs to come before the kid who isn’t conceived yet. Sometimes you’re racing from the fertility clinic to swimming lessons. Or, like me, you’re a single parent or parenting solo for the moment, and don’t really have much choice other than bring the kid or skip a cycle. And sometimes your RE, who has a child the same age, asks your kid about her plans for the weekend while waving an ultrasound wand between your legs. It’s complicated.
2. Sometimes you have to deal with the sibling question. It really sucks when you’re desperate to get pregnant, giving yourself daily injections in the midst of an IVF cycle, and your kid who really doesn’t know what you’re up to (other than you take a lot of medicine and go to the doctor a lot) keeps asking for a baby brother or sister. You find yourself having difficult conversations about how sometimes even when you want a baby brother or sister, you can’t always have one. Sometimes you need to explain diminished ovarian reserve or male-factor infertility in terms that a five-year-old can understand. It would be incredibly funny, if it weren’t also so painful.
3. It’s harder to avoid babies and pregnant women when you’re doing family-related activities with kids. When I was in the thick of treatment, it felt like everyone around me was pregnant or pushing a new baby in a stroller. While that might have been mostly perception, I’d also venture to say it’s hard to avoid new babies at preschool gatherings and zoos and swimming lessons and pediatricians’ offices and all the places you take little kids, and you can’t opt not to go, the way I avoided baby showers when I was trying for my first.
4. Perhaps the most paradoxical aspect of trying for a second child is that the longing is concrete rather than abstract. This statement is not to lessen the desires of patients struggling to conceive a first, but to point out it’s a different experience to imagine yourself parenting versus already knowing what it means for you individually to parent a child. And if you are part of an infertility community—either online as I was, or through peer-led support groups IRL—you might feel guilt for wanting another. You’ve already had your miracle…are you really asking for another? But the desire to build a family, and the sense that yours isn’t complete, is no less real if you’re trying for two (or three) or number one.
Now I have that much-coveted second child who is now the age his sister was when I first started trying. I think often about how much of her preschool and early elementary school years I missed, not because I wasn’t there, but because my head was often somewhere else…mulling over IVF success rates and donor profiles or in a progesterone-induced fog. Even when I look at photographs of that time, I know what the images don’t show.
My Daughter Asks for a Baby Sister from the Tooth Fairy
In the photograph, she wears a yellow dress with a bow
to her preschool graduation; she stands
with her classmates and teacher, smiling wide.
She lost her first tooth last week. I put it
in an envelope in my nightstand, where I keep
test results and baby socks, good luck charms.
I slipped a gold coin under her pillow while she slept.
Today I stand with the other mothers
with their babies in strollers, in slings, my uterus
a clenched fist. I will not be having a child
in January. I will not be having a child
before my daughter turns six. Yesterday
my doctor scrawled recurrent pregnancy loss,
sent me for a blood draw. This
is what I carry with me. What I want
is to smash glass. What I want is to drink myself
into oblivion. But I take her out for ice cream,
go to the bathroom, change my pad.
Robin Silbergleid is the author of the recently-released poetry collection The Baby Book and the memoir Texas Girl both of which address issues of infertility, pregnancy loss, and single parenting. She has also written two chapbooks Pas de Deux and Frida Kahlo, My Sister; her poems, essays, and scholarship can be found in a number of venues, online and in print. Born and raised in Illinois, she holds both a PhD in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from Indiana University. She is currently an associate professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Michigan State University. Robin frequently presents ART of Infertility writing workshops, conferences, and serves as a faculty advisor to interns. She lives in East Lansing, Michigan with her two children (and two cats).