My name is Kathryn and I’m a Cape Town-based lifestyle blogger at Becoming You and I am (now) a mom of 2 amazing kids aged 8 and almost 12. Although my family might seem to be the “perfect” pigeon pair, there are still many hidden scars about my journey to this point in my life, one of which was my intensely emotional struggle with Secondary Infertility.
Like most young married couples, my husband and I thought we had plenty of time and opportunity to start our family when we got married aged 21 and 24, having a baby, although on our agenda, didn’t really feature for a few years after the wedding.
Fast forward 3 years into our marriage and, despite the fact that we were living and working in a foreign country and managing to do some international trips fairly often, we both found life a bit boring! While on a holiday in Italy we almost “risked” going contraception free, but nervously backed out of that and stuck to “the plan”
You see, we are both BIG planners. We aren’t the fly-by-night, wing-it dreamers – we are spreadsheeters and schedulers. We always have a plan. And quite possibly a Plan B too!
A few months later our itchy feet and sense of malaise at our non-exciting life, along with a deep yearning for home, led us back to the leafy suburbs of Cape Town. Within one month we were “trying”, within four we were “positive”. Easy peasy! Little did we know….
The first 2 years of our son’s life whirled by in a blur and as a planner, my second baby was “meant” to be conceived around the time my oldest was 2. That way I would have the “ideal” age gap of 2 years and 9 months. Exactly the same as between myself and my younger sister.
My body had other plans.
Having received a diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) during our stint on the NHS (prior to baby number 1), I had expected to struggle to fall pregnant the first time around. When that didn’t happen I merrily moved on, assuming that the medical tests were wrong, or that somehow my body had defeated the diagnosis.
16 long months of secondary infertility ensued.
The first few months didn’t affect me too much. Everyone takes a few months to get the timing right, right? My period had always been irregular. A toddler in the house didn’t exactly equate to sexy time. After 6 months of trying to conceive (TTC) I started to get nervous.
I decided to visit my gynae to double check all was in order. He couldn’t be certain that there was anything essentially wrong, but did point out that my PCOS had flared and that this was possibly going to make things harder.
I hit the internet! Forums, blogs, articles, infertility experts. I wanted to read ALL the info. I found out about the daily temperature monitoring method, I tried the ovulation spit tests (we didn’t have the wee sticks tests back then!), I tried hanging upside down after sex, I tried daily intercourse and, even, twice daily around ovulation time!!
But every month my body would betray me as I headed to the toilet to reveal another failure. Try doing that 16 times in a row! The grief I experienced each month with the arrival of my cycle was very real – and the loved one I was mourning hadn’t even been conceived yet!
Every month there was nothing, not one positive test, not one glimmer of hope. Whilst I was fortunate to not have the even greater heartache of a miscarriage to deal with, it was still the saddest time of my life. A very hopeless place.
And then on top of that misery I had to celebrate the news that BOTH my sister and my sister-in-law had fallen pregnant – I know they found it hard to tell me about their pregnancies and, at any other time I would have been thrilled by the arrival of their bundles, but right then I couldn’t bring myself to see them!
I sobbed and wailed and screamed. God was letting me down BIG TIME on this one. It was hard not to hate them for their fertility. Obviously they were not falling pregnant to spite me, but they might as well have. It feel like a physical pain, a punch in the gut that never went away.
I was left reeling. Numb. Emotionally drained and dead inside. I felt like I might never recover from the pain, but, yet, I still had a toddler to see to, a husband to love and baby showers to attend! I had to pull it together.
It seems dramatic now, but I recall those dark days like they happened last week. The rawness of the emotional roller-coaster is one I would never wish on anyone. Struggling to conceive is one of the hardest journeys a woman may face. It certainly was for me.
Month after month I would ride the rollercoaster of TTC. 16 long, barren months of very little hope and a lot of despair!
One of the hardest aspects of my infertility journey was that it was silent… no one knew aside from close family and friends. Trying to conceive is such a personal, private matter. It’s not one you shout out from the rooftops or announce on Facebook. You don’t mention it because you’re scared it may never happen. And then when it doesn’t happen you have no support!
Another hugely hard aspect of my journey was that this was SECONDARY infertility. Why was I complaining? Why was I so desperately sad?
I was one of the lucky ones who already had one child in my arms. What was wrong with me? Why was I being so selfish and spoilt to think that I deserve another baby? Maybe I was being punished because I was not a good enough mom to the first!? The self-flagellation was endless. In my mind everyone was thinking the same way!
To get through I clung to my faith, my family and the friends who I had decided to share the struggle to conceive with.
As I said I am a BIG planner – I love to be in control of everything and this was a process I had NO control over and became a real test of my patience! I still tried my best to be in control so a few months into my secondary infertility and with still no sign of a pregnancy, I opted to try Clomid – a drug recommended for women who aren’t ovulating. I also sent my husband off for his own checks at this point! Sadly after 3 months of Clomid nothing had changed. By this stage, over a year into the TTC process, even my husband was losing interest and finding “performing” on demand exhausting!
At this point I was gearing up for whatever it took. I started to look into natural health options such as Natural Progesterone Cream and visited a Nutritional Therapist who prescribed various changes to my diet such as no sugar plus a line up of supplements and vitamins including Co-enzyme 10 and a list of others I can’t recall now!
And I continued to pray of course!
I vividly recall one evening crying out to God on the floor of my lounge. A friend had given me a link to an e-book that led me through various prayers to go through, all specifically focused on infertility. That night I definitely felt a shift in my own mental and emotional state. There probably weren’t any more tears to cry!!!
Struggling to conceive made me felt shamed. Never directly. No one says terrible things to your face. But the general opinion of women in their twenties and thirties (esp those with a child already) is that there will be a baby on the way soon. When that doesn’t materialize it leads to massive feelings of insecurity, especially when you’re surrounded by other moms-to-be daily!
It really did change me as a person – during that year and a half I become angry, bitter, jealous, depressed, lonely, stressed, desperately sad. I was a shadow of myself. Someone even I didn’t recognize.
People can be so insensitive around issues of fertility… Who hasn’t been badgered by a family member into when you’ll be adding a baby to the clan? It’s such a loaded topic with so many misconceptions (or missed conceptions!)
Many people find it hard to fathom grieving for someone who never was. I don’t. I know that pain. It’s very real.
It’s a tough one because people who love you and know your story feel so helpless and they just want to help, but often their “help” is more hindrance and the “advice” can set off your emotional roller-coaster. If you know someone struggling with infertility rather only give advice when asked for it.
And if you, like me, went through an infertility or miscarriage journey of your own, share your story. You never know who is silently suffering in your circle and your willingness to talk about this taboo topic may open up a conversation they have never had the courage to have.
Whilst it was the hardest of times for me, I truly believe that my secondary infertility struggle was one that God was watching over. He hadn’t forsaken me (although it sure felt like it!) He was building my trust in him, my patience, my faith, my foundation.
As with so many of the tough stuff we go through in life I’m much stronger for it now and I really believe He was teaching me and growing me through the journey.
For a brief time in my life I was an “infertile” and I will forever have a tender heart towards those who are experiencing the same pain I did.
Today, our miracle second child is 8 years old and my secondary infertility is so very far from my memory. But I remember the pain. The angst. In fact I know it impacted me long after because I decided to NOT try for a third child despite the desire for one. I knew my heart couldn’t take the endless pain again and I wasn’t up for the long haul of seeking treatment.
I chose to appreciate the two miracles I had before me.
For those facing the same battle…
I believe that it’s never too soon to go and seek professional help. Even though I wasn’t yet 30, I struggled to conceive. Don’t wait for the year that most doctors recommend. If it’s been 6 months just book an appointment with your gynae to have get things checked out. The longer you wait, the longer it will be until you have some resolution. Waiting a year to find out there’s an issue with sperm count or egg supply can lead to a lot of heartache.
The reality is that for women, fertility only gets worse. It peaks at age 25 and drops by half between ages 30 and 40. As we age, egg quality declines and we’re more likely to develop fibroids and endometriosis which contribute to infertility. Other factors that could cause secondary infertility include adding extra weight, taking new medication, or having surgery since your last pregnancy. It may also be that your partner’s sperm quality or production is now poor.
The good news is that there are doctors out there constantly working towards making parenthood a reality for those who want it enough! It’s never an easy road to walk and it can be very exhausting and expensive – but there is hope!
Don’t forget to talk – to your partner, your parents, your siblings, your closest friends, your counselor or therapist. It’s important to be able to vent your frustrations and get them off your chest.
It’s equally important to remember to be kind to yourself. You are not to blame (even if the problem is your body!)
Take each day as a step towards a positive outcome and find small ways every day to be grateful for what you do have.
Society places such a huge emphasis on women having children – we’re often deemed as less than our sex if we, by choice, or by infertility, don’t have kids. Our femininity comes under fire constantly.
With Kathryn’s story, I envisioned how our own perception of ourselves gets destroyed when we struggle with the one thing that people tell us should be “natural”. As the months pass by and the pregnancy test denies us joy, it feels as though our femininity is being stripped from us – so symbolized by Kathryn standing among fallen greenery.
But we are not defined by this struggle – though the pain is immense and unrelenting, our womanhood comes from our strength, our nobility and our ability to rise up again, and again. Covering Kathryn in a beautiful floral necklace showcased that she is all woman, no matter how society would want to make her feel.
This shoot wouldn’t have been possible without:
Floral arrangements: Flowers on the Stoep
Makeup: NJD Makeup Artistry