Infertility doesn't happen to me - it happens to other people. I conceived my first child naturally within five months. Infertility isn't something I have to worry about, right?
But then I found out about secondary infertility. You see, infertility can impact anyone, at any time. And as I have learned, just because I got pregnant naturally once doesn't mean I would be able to do it again.
The thing about secondary infertility is that it comes with a weird sense of guilt.
You tell yourself, "I already have a child. I am one of the lucky ones.” But the truth is, I am devastated that we haven't been able to expand our family. Still, I feel guilty for being so sad when so many other people don't have a baby in the first place.
I'm also not exactly the best mom when I'm doped up on fertility drugs. I'm exhausted, nauseous, hormonal and a big old mess. My brain is foggy, and I find myself completely lost with tasks as simple as making boxed macaroni and cheese. I can't tell you how many times I find myself standing over the stove wondering if I already added the butter.
What type of mom have I been in the past? I like to think I’m the type of mom that plays on the floor with my daughter, the type of mom that laughs at her silly jokes, the type of mom that has endless patience, and the type of mom that is overwhelmingly honest with my five-year-old daughter Isla Jaye.
When she asked where babies come from, I didn't beat around the bush. I went for it. We talked about sex. We talked about how the penis enters the vagina and delivers sperm which travels up the fallopian tube...you get the picture. After about 10-minutes of walking her through the act of sex and how an embryo turns into a baby, she looked at me and said, "Wait a second. How does Daddy's penis fit in your vagina?,” and then proceeded to drop her pants and examine herself. It's one of those parent stories I'll tell for the rest of my life.
But what happens when the simple act of sex doesn't produce a baby?
My husband and I have been trying to conceive our second child for over two years. Month after month, and pregnancy test after pregnancy test, and nothing. We conceived our daughter so quickly, so this wasn't making sense. I spoke with my OB and GP who both said, "Don't worry. You're fine! You had a healthy pregnancy naturally. It will happen again. Be patient. It can take up to a year to get pregnant."
We moved from NYC to Atlanta in March of 2018 and in July of 2018, after almost a year of trying for baby #2, I scheduled my annual appointment with my new OB.
She said she was confident I would get pregnant. I had a history of a successful pregnancy...and all that jazz. However, if I wasn't pregnant by December, we would discuss making an appointment with a fertility specialist.
Come December, I still wasn't pregnant. I found a fertility specialist and we started the path to figure out why I wasn't getting pregnant. I thought we would have answers within a few weeks. Little did I know, it would take months to figure out because so much is dependent on the woman's menstrual cycle for diagnosis.
Labcorp OnDemand Women’s Fertility Package (Ovarian Reserve Test)
I had an HSG test which showed that my left fallopian tube was potentially blocked. A cycle later we did further testing that concluded my tube was blocked. Then we discovered that my right ovary, which was connected to the open fallopian tube, was lazy. That's right - she doesn't love to drop an egg.
Meanwhile, it turned out my husband had 0% motility with his sperm. All of that time was spent trying, and there was basically a 0% chance of us getting pregnant naturally. I was frustrated over the lost time and the fact that I didn’t advocate for myself. I knew something was wrong and the doctors weren’t listening to me. But I was also excited to get things moving to take control of our family's future. My husband was told to cut back on caffeine and alcohol, and take a vitamin called ConceptionXR. Three months later, the man had what the doctor deemed as "super sperm.” But for me, there was no cure for my closed tube and lazy ovary.
During this time, Isla became more aware that she didn't have a sibling, while most of her friends did. To be honest, she wasn't upset about it. She was just more curious. When I asked her if she would like a sibling she said, "I want an older sister.” When I explained why that wasn’t possible, she said, "OK. Well just bring home a sister when she isn't a baby. I don't wanna a baby crying all da time."
After that, we had four failed IUI cycles, which took some time because, as we know, my open ovary is a little lazy. One of the cycles ended in early miscarriage, which was devastating. I never understood the sadness surrounding such an early miscarriage. What I learned is that it's not necessarily about the loss of the baby, but about the loss of a dream, and the idea of starting all over again was overwhelming and exhausting.
We began the IVF process in October of 2019. I started my protocol, and within two days I was exhausted, irritable, and was gearing myself up to win the "Most worthless mom" award. Suddenly I wasn't the fun mom, with limitless patience, playing with Legos on the floor. I would come home from work and immediately crawl into bed. I would hear the sounds of my daughter and husband laughing. At first, it was sweet. And then I turned into a raging hormonal monster who was sad that I couldn't motivate myself to spend more time with my baby girl. I sat in bed thinking about how all I wanted was another baby, but meanwhile, I couldn't fathom getting my ass out of bed to go spend time with the baby I already have.
We didn't know how to approach explaining what was happening to Isla. This was complicated stuff for a five-year-old to process. So we said that mommy wasn't feeling well and she needed lots of rest. She took it well until one evening my bathroom door swung open.
"Mommy, why you doing those shots???" Isla stared at me with her big brown eyes, furrowing her brow. I saw tears start to form—she looked terrified.
I had a choice to make. Was it time to tell a white lie? How was my five-year-old going to comprehend that mommy's body doesn't work the way it should, so she has to pump herself full of drugs so we can get a bunch of eggs and then fertilize them with daddy's sperm outside of mommy's body?
I found a middle ground.
I told her, "Mommy has to give herself some shots to help her body do some things it's supposed to do that it's not doing on its own."
"Does that hurt you? I don't like getting shots."
"Me either. But don't worry, it doesn't hurt." And there it was. A lie. It does hurt. It sucks. It’s not pleasant. But I didn’t think it was the time to further Isla’s fear of needles.
"How do they make nail polish stay on your fingernails, so it doesn't come off in the bath?"
I was relieved at the change of topic and quickly googled the science behind nail polish.
After our retrieval was complete, and I experienced constipation and bloat of a lifetime, we went through the waiting period of finding out how many embryos we had. We went from 12 eggs retrieved to seven fertilized, to four blastocysts and two genetically normal embryos after PGS testing. I decided I needed to take some time off of medications before gearing up for transfer.
So here I am, normalizing after hormones. My skin is breaking out like crazy, but my internal crazy is quieting down. I can think more clearly and see that all of the things I feel are valid. It’s OK to not be the best mom in the world while I’m jacked up on hormones. It’s OK to want another baby so badly that it hurts —even though I already have a child. It’s OK to be a crazy mess, crying so often and hard that you’re living with permanent bags under your eyes.
The truth is, IVF isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s an emotional ride that takes over your mind, body, and soul. I’ve come to understand that my moments of weakness are surrounded by moments of strength. If I’m down, I’ll get back up —eventually, and when I’m ready. And that’s OK.
I’m lucky to have a supportive husband who will get down on the floor with Isla and play LEGOS and Barbies. I’m lucky that he will give her the attention and love that I don’t have the capacity to give when I’m jacked up on drugs. I’m lucky to have a beautiful daughter who is funny, sweet, and caring. And it’s OK for me to be pissed off and feel unlucky that I can’t expand my family with ease. It’s OK to be lucky and not-so-lucky all at the same time.
Secondary infertility is a real thing. It’s hard to navigate. And I’m proud of myself and my family for figuring out how to make this journey work for us. hopefully one day this will all be a memory of a challenge we overcame. But the reality is this may not work. IVF comes with no guarantees, except for one. You will learn you are stronger than you ever knew. You will find something deep inside of you, a will that you never knew existed. And at the end of the day, if this is it—if we are destined to be a family of three—I will feel lucky for what we have. But I will also allow myself to be sad and mourn the idea of what we always wanted—to be a family of five.
Monica Caron is an Atlanta-based digital strategy executive, wife and mom of one. She is currently undergoing IVF after being diagnosed with Secondary Infertility. She has been open about her struggles in attempting to make baby number two and is documenting her journey on Instagram. She approaches infertility and IVF with humor (though it's really not that funny - but hey - you may as well try to laugh while you're miserable) and encourages conversations around what pumping your body filled with hormones does to your sanity, how infertility impacts your relationship, and why this whole IVF and infertility thing needs to be normalized. Follow along at @my_so_called_ivf as she tries to make sense out of a situation that doesn't seem to make much sense at all. And be sure to drop her a note. She loves connecting with other people in the infertility community.