Growth in Periods of Wait: A Reflection on Primary and Secondary Infertility
I met Deb through a church small group geared towards mothers with young children. Now in her mid 50s, Deb is a mentor mom to a group of 8 moms. After listening to a presentation about personal trials and hardships it became clear that a number of women in our group were struggling with secondary infertility. With three teenage sons, Deb’s fertility journeys may be a distant memory, but the emotions she felt throughout her struggle with primary and secondary infertility remain. Deb said that after going through her own journey, she is much more aware and empathetic to others on their own fertility journey. Empathizing with women currently on their journeys, Deb said, “I realize how much people can put on a good face, but they are dying inside and are so heartbroken.”
I asked Deb to think back on the decade she spent trying to grow her family. I asked her if she thought her journey changed her. She recalled how difficult her journey was and explained that it was the longest period of wait in her life to date, but she also acknowledged that it allowed for space for personal and spiritual growth. Deb explained, “God has a pattern in my life of using periods of wait. And [my fertility journey] was for sure a period of wait. He wanted to do something in me during that time. It taught me that I can’t control this; I can’t engineer this. And I continue to be reminded of this as I parent and continue to experience periods of wait in my life.”
Deb spent the majority of her twenties focused on work and friends, and as her 30th birthday approached, she experienced her first notable period of wait as she prayed about her future husband. Deb firmly believes that God answered this prayer as she made an unexpected connection with a college acquaintance shortly thereafter, and a year later they were married. Deb and Jon married in the mid 1990’s at age 30 (Jon) and 31 (Deb) – a bit later in life for the time. They both knew they wanted to have a family and hoped for 3-4 children, but weren’t in a big rush to do so at the time. A few years later they decided it was time to start trying for a family.
Deb recalled that at some point, it became apparent that this wasn’t just going to happen without close monitoring, so Deb started tracking her BBT (basal body temperature) and using OPKs (ovulation predictor kits). She said, “We diligently did all of those things and then still nothing,” so they revisited their OB, had fertility tests done, and after no clear concerns surfaced, they began artificial inseminations. After many months with no success, and being nearly two years into their journey, they were referred to a reproductive endocrinologist to pursue IVF (in vitro fertilization). They planned to move forward with IVF following an extended trip to Sweden. Deb explained, “Going on this vacation was just sort of a break. I wasn’t thinking about trying to get pregnant because we knew when we got back from vacation we would take the next step. And so, it was just sort of this time of not thinking about it, not planning, not doing anything.” Upon their return, and within a week of their appointment with the infertility clinic, they learned that while on vacation, completely naturally - with no planning or tracking - Deb was pregnant.
“God was teaching me in that. Like a lot of my life, I was trying to plan for things, and make things happen how I might want them to happen, and God’s plan was totally different - it’s just going to happen when you’re really not trying.”
Deb and Jon welcomed their first-born son Anders into the world shortly before Deb’s 36th birthday. Six months later, they decided to start thinking about having another child since it had taken them a couple years to get pregnant with Anders and they knew they were approaching their late thirties. To their surprise, they got pregnant almost immediately with no tracking or planning and their second son Peter was born 9 months later. After Peter’s speedy arrival they decided to wait until he was a year old before trying for a third child. Once again, they got pregnant quickly, but the pregnancy ended shortly thereafter in miscarriage. Deb recalled, “It was so completely unexpected but shouldn’t have been. It was a struggle having a miscarriage, even though you know how common it is. In our case it was early on, but you still grieve - it’s a loss of life. I think the assumption after that miscarriage was, well that was a bump in the road, and we’ll get pregnant again, and then it started to become apparent that we weren’t.”
Following the miscarriage, Deb and Jon tried for a third child for a year and half, and started adding temperature tracking, ovulation tests and artificial inseminations back into their routine as time passed. I asked Deb how she felt during this period of secondary infertility compared to her initial struggle with primary infertility, and she said, “I think when you have secondary infertility it’s a little bit harder to talk about. You feel guilty because you already have kids and there are people out there that are never able to get pregnant. So that was a hard dynamic, feeling like why am I complaining and despairing over this when we already have two kids. But I couldn’t help it, I was still just so sad.”
“I think that is part of the desperation, when you’re heading toward your late 30s and you just can’t get pregnant. And you think, what are we going to do, because we really want a family. I think age factors into that feeling of, if this doesn’t happen now it’s just never going to happen.”
Deb shared her secondary infertility struggle with her church small group and her leader sent her Psalm 13, which resonated with Deb.
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.
As time went by and Deb neared the end of her thirties she started to try to let go of the dream of having three children and focus on the joy of her two sons. After much prayer and journaling, Deb explained, “I started to realize this whole thing about not getting pregnant was really a spiritual thing for me. I was very much trying to control the whole situation. Yes, the doctor told me to do these various things, but I was going off the deep end. I was praying about it, but at the same time, I was really trying to make it happen.” Then, one month, just after Deb’s 40th birthday, Deb and Jon found Deb was pregnant. The pregnancy progressed normally and Deb and Jon welcomed their third child Jonas into the world just before Deb’s 41st birthday. Deb laughed and said, “God really does have a sense of humor, because all along I thought by the time I’m 40 I really should be done having kids. Well, 2 months after Jonas was born I turned 41, so I guess I reached the goal in the end.”