Tell us a bit about your infertility journey. Did you experience primary infertility before this season of secondary infertility? If so, how is this season different?
Patricia: My husband and I have been married for six years. We have twin 4 year-olds whom we were able to conceive with the help of NaPro after six months of treatment and now we are carrying the cross of secondary infertility. This time around it’s been almost two years and our NaPro doctor referred us to the Pope Paul VI Institute. It’s been different for us because it’s taking us longer. We’ve had one surgery at the Institute and will need a second. It’s been frustrating and difficult to maneuver through these challenges.
Michelle: I have been married to my wonderful husband for six years. We have a daughter who will be 3 this year. Since her birth, I have been pregnant three times and have miscarried each time. While carrying this cross, I have been blessed with the renewal of my prayer life. With our second miscarriage, my faith was shaken because I was sure my prayers would be answered and that our baby’s heartbeat would start up. This did not occur and that miscarriage was the most physically and spiritually painful experience of my life. We named our baby Sydney, since we did not know their gender before they were born into heaven.
Christina: My first was a honeymoon baby and I was so shocked to find out I was actually pregnant! My cycles were usually anovulatory so we didn't think we'd conceive so soon. I'm now pregnant with my second daughter, conceived after almost a year of secondary infertility. With this second pregnancy, it feels different. The joy after seeing those two little lines was more of a quiet triumph, like the breaking of a dam in the middle of the night when no one suspects a thing. The emotional and spiritual hurt of infertility is something I'm continuing to process, even at 34 weeks pregnant.
Marie: My husband and I have been married for seven years and we have one living child. We have been carrying the cross of secondary infertility for over two years. We experienced two early losses – one before our daughter and one since. While carrying this cross, we have been through a roller coaster of emotions – from disappointment to hope, grief to joy, guilt to peace, impatience to trust. I am thankful for communities like this one that help me to feel less alone in our experience and increase awareness of infertility.
Beth: My husband and I have been married for 18 years. We have a 15 year-old who was conceived easily and we have not conceived again. Along the way we felt the call to adopt and welcomed two more babies to our family, now 4 and 10 months.
Nicole: My husband and I have been married for nine years. We have three children, aged 8, 7, and 2. We then experienced three first-trimester miscarriages in a row in less than 12 months.
Sarah: My husband and I have been married almost five years. We have one beautiful daughter and have struggled for three years with secondary infertility. We suffered a miscarriage during our first year of marriage before conceiving our daughter so pregnancy was something I never took for granted but was also tinged with anxiety and fear.
Karen: My husband and I have been married for six years. Our first three babies were conceived on the first cycle of trying. But after losing our 3rd baby we didn’t conceive for 19 months. It really compounded our grief over losing our son. We were completely blindsided by both the loss and what seemed to be the end of growing our family. It was a very dark, isolating time. Between loss and secondary infertility, I often have a hard time fitting in with other mothers.
At what point in time did you realize you were experiencing secondary infertility?
Patricia: We realized once our local NaPro doctor became concerned that it was taking us longer than he expected. This was around the year mark.
Michelle: After the second miscarriage. Getting pregnant is not our issue; carrying a healthy pregnancy to full term is. We did chromosome testing and all checked out perfectly so my doctors suspected there was something in my environment causing these recurring losses.
Christina: I realized it when, at 17 months postpartum, I had had ten months of regular bleeds with no ovulation. My NFP instructor advised me to see a doctor, since I had done all that I could on my own.
Marie: A little under a year into our journey we felt something wasn’t right and reached out.
Beth: About five years in. Initially we avoided pregnancy or were not actively “trying”. Eventually we were trying but we blamed ourselves: maybe we weren’t trying hard enough or weren’t healthy enough etc. Finally we saw my doctor, tried some things and still were not getting pregnant and it started to click that there was a problem.
Nicole: After our third miscarriage in a row.
Sarah: When we hit the year mark without any success, we started working with our NaPro doctor.
Karen: A few months in, but we were officially diagnosed after ten cycles of trying unsuccessfully to conceive.
Have you experienced guilt while carrying the cross of secondary infertility?
Patricia: Yes, because I have two beautiful children and had a great first pregnancy. There are definitely lots of layers to that guilt.
Michelle: I did, but through the intercession of St. Gianna and all my patron saints (I was born on All Saints Day), I am leaning into surrendering my will to God’s holy will for my life. It’s truly a blessing to let go. It has not been easy but I pray everyday for this grace.
Christina: I started to feel guilty when a friend (who'd had a very traumatic C-section) announced she was expecting at eight months postpartum. Soon after, another acquaintance with a similar situation announced the same thing, and then another friend with an extremely rambunctious baby. It was an odd mix of guilt and inadequacy: "God, why are you giving them these new babies and heavy challenges? My daughter is angelic, my pregnancy and birth were unproblematic, and I am longing for another. Why are their baskets so full, yet mine is staying near empty?"
Marie: I do find that there is a lot of guilt associated with my experience of secondary infertility. I feel guilty when talking with those facing primary infertility because I already have a child so I convince myself that my grief and pain must be less than theirs. I know that even though our crosses may be different, the pain is still real, but sometimes I catch myself dismissing my feelings. Sometimes I believe lies I tell myself, like “I am a bad mom”. Sometimes I struggle to be fully present and play with my daughter. I wasn’t expecting to have to “play” so much because I hoped that by this point she would have a sibling to play with. My mind often wanders – whether it is thinking about our infertility/health, current events, or just my to-do list. This makes me feel guilty and I tell myself more lies like “I don’t deserve another child since I don’t always enjoy playing with the one I do have”.
Beth: Yes, guilt that my attitude delayed treatment, guilt that my son didn’t have a sibling, guilt that my husband didn’t want to be an old dad, guilt that my body had failed me.
Nicole: Mostly my guilty feelings are because my kids keep expecting another sibling and keep getting disappointed
Sarah: Guilt because I wanted to give my daughter a sibling and felt like I was letting my husband down. I struggled with burnout, doing all the things and never seeing the fruit. It was emotionally, spiritually and physically draining.
What does secondary infertility mean to you? What does this cross mean for your family?
Patricia: It’s hard because you do have children so desiring more feels selfish. I know that’s not true, however it is a lie we have to fight. It’s hard on the family as my children ask all the time when they will have a younger sibling. It also gets challenging responding to other Catholics about when we will have more children or getting the “you have two kids, one of each, that’s perfect” comments.
Michelle: It sucks! I am an only child and never wanted my daughter to be an only child but this is clearly out of my hands. For our family, it means focusing on the blessings we have and letting go of my own plans.
Christina: It mostly means that I'll likely never have kids that are close in age. It means that I may get sideways glances from fellow Catholics who believe we aren't being open to life. It means my husband and I may not get the big family we hoped for.
Marie: I always envisioned I’d have kids close together in age, like my siblings and I were. Our experience of secondary infertility has shattered my visions and expectations of what my kid’s sibling relationships and our family would look like. My brain knows that age gaps can vary and it will turn out how God envisions, but my heart still wishes I could be watching my daughter as a big sister in action now.
Beth: It means daily surrender. It means that we express God’s generosity through our marriage in different ways.
Nicole: It's emotional for us as parents to think that we're not able to grow our family larger, but also it's heartbreaking to see our older kids have to wrap their heads around the death of a sibling before they even get to meet them.
Sarah: An unknown of waiting, making peace with the way our family looks.
Karen: It means trying to hold the size of my family with an open hand. It means a lot of prayers asking God to give me the grace to accept a smaller family than I had imagined and take away the pain and bitterness.
What do you wish more people understood about secondary infertility?
Patricia: I wish more people understood that desiring more children isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for what I have now. And I wish people wouldn’t ask questions about when more babies are coming because they don’t realize how hard you are trying.
Michelle: It really is tough and before I experienced this, I used to think people who longed for more children were ungrateful for the gift of the child/children they already had. I found myself wallowing in self pity and kind of ignoring my healthy, happy baby in my arms because I was so focused on giving her a sibling.
Christina: A woman's body is so much more complex than regular doctors make it out to be. I've had to fix things like thyroid issues, inflammation, gut health, low progesterone, and stress management, and it still doesn't always result in a baby. We live in a world full of toxins and chemicals that interfere with the natural process of ovulation: pinpointing your body's particular issues won't happen overnight.
Marie: I wish more people were aware that secondary infertility exists. I don’t think many people realize that just because someone has a child (or children) then they are not guaranteed more kids. I know people are curious and usually well-intentioned, but it is hurtful when someone asks if we’re planning to have more kids, without realizing that this desire consumes me and that fertility can never be “planned” completely. I also wish people knew that just because we do have a living child, it doesn’t invalidate our feelings as we continuously grieve our lost vision for our family. It is a roller coaster each month/cycle where hope turns to disappointment. The uncertainty of the future is still tough to navigate, even having a child already.
Beth: It hurts when people infer we have an only child because we chose that. Someone once said “you know the best gift you can give a child is a sibling” and my heart still aches because of that. Also, we love adoption but it is not a substitute for biological parenthood and means accepting a lot of other things too.
Nicole: I wish people understood that having living children is not a consolation for the loss of unborn children. That's like saying if my second child died, at least I still have my first child. No! Each child, each life is precious and unique and I love each one with a mother's love. Any one child does not take the place of or equate to another.
Sarah: I wish people understood that it’s so taxing emotionally and physically.
Karen: It’s not “okay” just because we already have living children. And I wish people didn’t give platitudes. No one knows the future but God, so assuring people that “it’ll happen” or giving unsolicited advice is not helpful, nor is it helpful to remind someone to be grateful for the kids they do have. Trust me, no one is more grateful for the children they do have than someone walking through secondary infertility. We are painfully aware of what a miraculous blessing they are but that still doesn’t take away the God-given desire to bring more little souls into the world.
What advice would you offer to someone who thinks they are experiencing secondary infertility?
Patricia: Firstly, I would give them a hug because it’s tough and brings conflicting feelings. Secondly, if they haven’t already, I’d tell them to reach out to the Pope Paul VI Institute. They’ve already made a big impact for me. Thirdly, I’d tell them to be in the present moment as much as you can. Bring those frustrations to the Lord and to our Blessed Mother in the rosary.
Michelle: Pray for the grace of surrender. Focus all your love and energy on your present state, your husband and your existing kid/kids. Take the vacations you’ve been putting off. Make the purchases you’ve been waiting on. For example, I didn’t want to upgrade my daughter’s bedroom because I wanted to wait to see what gender child we would welcome second so I could put in twin beds if we had a girl. We are now just going to buy a nice bed for our daughter and update her room!
Christina: Chart consistently, look out for underlying health issues like thyroid dysfunction, and try to shift the focus to simply living healthier, rather than just trying to conceive. One thing that helped me was the Whole30 Foods program, as well as myo and d-chiro inositol for hormonal support. Remember that your body is uniquely designed, and God has a purpose for it, even in this season.
Marie: Be your own advocate. While there are many great doctors and healthcare providers out there, you know yourself the best. Do your own research, ask questions and push to get any applicable testing done that you feel could be relevant to your situation. Lean on your support system and find what helps you process everything best – whether it is journaling, leaning on your husband, or confiding in family and friends. I also recommend reaching out and participating in infertility ministries like this one. I was hesitant to join an infertility group at first because of guilt when talking with those facing primary infertility, but I found it to be validating and comforting to hear from a range of experiences and know I am not alone in this struggle.
Beth: Don’t play the blame game. Get help. NaPro has been a heart-healing gift for us, even though we never conceived. Know that infertility is a journey in and of itself. Find support: Facebook groups sometimes make things worse but my interaction there helped me meet people who were helpful and are now genuine friends. I also attended a diocesan conference and made another friend.
Nicole: Don't wait to start testing and treatment! Find a NaPro practitioner today!
Sarah: Get help sooner rather than later, give yourself permission to take a break from trying and ensure you stay connected in your marriage.
Karen: Seek out a care provider sooner rather than later. I would also say it’s okay to take breaks and take care of yourself and your marriage. Secondary infertility takes a toll on marriage, intimacy and your self-esteem.
Looking back on your infertility journey, what advice would you give to your past self?
Patricia: Be in the present moment and take things one step at a time.
Michelle: Pray more. Pray for God’s guidance and the grace of peace through this journey. Have no expectations and offer up all your suffering to God.
Christina: Don't become bitter with God over this. I struggled so hard with this cross, and the possibility of going through it again is one of my biggest fears for the future. The top thing I'd tell myself is to have a little more humility. God alone knows how many kids you can handle and when. The business of bringing an eternal soul into the world is a serious one, and you don't know what God has in store for you while you're waiting. Keep walking the balance of nourishing your body for health/hopefully conception while surrendering the actual conception of that baby to God's loving hands.
Marie: Looking back, I wish that I had reached out to a NaPro provider sooner. In my experience so far, their care has been much more compassionate and personalized, which I appreciate. I also wish I had asked for more tests early on.
Beth: Trust in God, lean into your faith, love your husband.
Sarah: It will be worth it one way or another but take breaks and don’t allow it to become your identity.
Karen: I would reach back and remind myself over and over again that my worth and identity is not tied up in my ability to bring living children into the world.
What is the greatest peace, gain or grace you received in this season of secondary infertility?
Patricia: I think going to the Institute was a grace because it all worked out for us to go and meet with a surgeon with two little kids and the plan worked so seamlessly. The rosary brings me comfort. I would say talking with other women who experience secondary infertility or went through it in the past has been helpful. Just being present to my children as much as I can brings me peace.
Michelle: Peace. I remembered that surrendering my will to God is both the toughest and greatest action I can ever do. It’s always worth it.
Christina: It made me recognize the dangers of negative thoughts. I didn't voice most of these aloud, but I had allowed my brain to keep repeating a series of lies: "you're a bad wife for only being able to produce one child"; "you're a bad mother for not giving your daughter a sibling"; "this friend got pregnant five months postpartum; God must think she's more worthy than you are". I didn't silence these thoughts fast enough and it drove me into depression and desires to harm myself. They were so insistent and constant but they only existed because I didn't shut them down. I should have replaced them with positive, true and good thoughts: "God made my body good, and my husband still embraces me with love, even if I can't bear more children"; "my daughter is happy, healthy and growing in this season of waiting"; "my friend's blessings/crosses aren't the same as mine, but neither are flowers in a garden".
Marie: This season of secondary infertility has allowed me to learn more about my body. While each new diagnosis came with more discouragement and disappointment, it has also been empowering. With this knowledge, I am now able to treat these root causes. I know that whether or not these efforts help me conceive, addressing these issues will ultimately lead to a healthier me, both now and for the rest of my life.
Beth: God prepared us 100% for every step: medical procedures, adoptions and more. We clearly felt his presence when we needed it most. This was such a lesson in surrender and trust, which led to peace. I have also come to realize we are not promised children. They are gifts. We also do not “earn” children: God is not waiting to give us a child once we learn a certain lesson. That thinking leads to anger and resentment that other “undeserving” people get pregnant. God uses all our circumstances to draw us close to him if we are open.
Nicole: I have been able to be an emotional and spiritual support to other women going through miscarriage or having trouble conceiving because of my first-hand experience. There are so many women with the same cross and it's so much easier to bear with the support of other women who have had to carry it as well.
Sarah: Our priest was such a huge help in giving us guidance, utilizing the sacraments and giving us permission to be angry and hurt with God.
Karen: It gave me a deep sense of compassion and awareness. The way I speak about pregnancy and children and family size has completely changed. Nothing is taken for granted anymore and I never assume to know the reasons behind anyone’s family size now.