Primary and Secondary Infertility: Which Is Harder?

A personal story about trying over and over again to get pregnant, and finally succeeding, twice.

In Her Words

Which Infertility Is Worse?

Primary or secondary … both are heartbreaking

-Julie Ryan Evans

a woman prayingI spent most of my life thinking I was the most fertile person on earth. I come from a huge Catholic family where children just seem to show up. I have an aunt who has 10 children … or 11 …. I can never remember. So getting pregnant to me seemed only like a problem if it happened before you were ready … like before a ring was on your finger.

As my friends and I all got married and started thinking about children, I had numerous conversations with those who had endometriosis, severely erratic periods and all sorts of other issues they were sure would cause them problems getting pregnant. I would listen and try to empathize about a “problem” that I never in all of my exactly-28-day cycles imagined would be mine.

Then as each of them ended up pregnant and mothering their babies as I peed on stick after stick, I realized it was indeed my problem … and one of the most daunting ones I’d ever faced.

It was years of tears, emotions, crushed dreams, miscarriages and fears that we’d NEVER have any children. I wanted to be around children because I loved them, but it was so hard. The wrong comment from someone could send me into a spiral of emotion. Everything felt like it was on hold because of what “might” happen, what would “hopefully” happen. New jeans? No, because maybe next month would be it. Planning a vacation? No because what if I was pregnant and I didn’t want to waste a tour of Italy without wine. And on and on…

It was without a doubt one of the most difficult times in my life. And so lonely because really everyone we knew had children as the years moved on, and we were the only ones who didn’t. People felt bad for us, watched their words and wondered what activities to invite us to. So a lot of time my husband and I chose solo activities.

Finally my son arrived and brought so much brightness and sunshine into our lives. I thought that “problem” was over, but unfortunately it wasn’t. I thought once we got pregnant, doing so again would be easier … that’s what everyone said. But it wasn’t.

It was more years of peeing on sticks and miscarriages and tears, trying to give my son a sibling. Everyone said, “Oh, but at least you have one, be grateful for him.” And of course we were (are!), but it didn’t lessen the pain. And whereas before we could retreat into our own cocoon and insulate ourselves when we needed to from the wonderful world of children, we no longer could because we had one.

There were birthday parties and Little Gym classes and preschools and play dates where we were ALWAYS around children … and their siblings. And around the time our babies started turning about nine months old, it seemed most, if not all, parents were already talking about trying for number two … if it wasn’t already on the way.

People aren’t as sensitive when you already have one – even those who knew how hard it was for you the first time. They ASSUME that since you have one you’ll have more. They ask you about it incessantly and say things like “WHEN will you have your next one?” “WHEN are you going to make him a big brother?” and “WHY haven’t you had another one yet?” And what I didn’t tell them is that ever since my son was three months old – when he was still in the NICU – we had been trying to get pregnant again. I wanted siblings close together. I was scared that after a traumatic birth I would be too scared to try again if I let too much time go by.

But time did go by … and by. Nearly five years of secondary infertility.

So when someone asks me which is worse – primary or secondary infertility – I have a hard time deciding. On one hand, secondary is easier, because you know that you have one child and your energy is focused on him or her, leaving less time to focus on the huge void in your life. On the other, is your child who asks repeatedly for a sibling, the continual probing about when you’ll be pregnant again, and having to ratchet down your dreams of a big family and accept what you’ve been given.

We’re fortunate that both emotional journeys ended with children – my son who turned 5 in August, and a daughter who’s due in January. It was all worth it, in the end, but it’s hard to see that as you’re in it, living it. There are so many that battle this “problem” each and every day. It’s not fair, it’s as painful as hell, and I don’t think anyone could ever say any form of it is “easier” than anything else.

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