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Secondary Infertility & Knowing When to Stop

Secondary Infertility & Knowing When to Stop

By Amalah

Dear Amy:

I will try to be brief. (I will likely not be brief.)

I’m 36, with a soon-to-be six year old. When I got pregnant with her, it was of the “maybe we should start thinking about babies and I’ll just go off the pill and see what happens and oh guess what I’m pregnant” variety. Guess you can see where this is going, right?

I’ve been trying to get pregnant for four years now. When I do the math, and add up the months and months of doctor’s appointments, ovulation predictor kits, pregnancy tests, medical tests and lab work, medical procedures to fix the issues we had, counting calendar days, taking temps, fertility drugs and treatments, etc., I lose count. I’ve made myself nutty with different kinds and dosages of fertility drugs and hormone supplements, three rounds of IUI, two miscarriages…you get the drift.

Recently, after another failed IUI, my husband (who is insanely supportive and involved and patient) and I sat down for a very (VERY!) long talk (one of many many talks we’ve had concerning the subject and how far we are willing to go) and decided that for now, we need to stop. I need to stop. I cry too much and worry too much and snap at everyone too much. I have lost focus on what matters and have likely taken my daughter for granted in my quest to add to our family. So, we agreed to stop the treatments and just let things fall where they may, if it happens it happens, and to be grateful for what we do have, which is a solid three member family. That month was the first month in years that I didn’t cry for hours when the pregnancy test was negative.

But. (Of course there’s a but!) How do I stop the nagging voice in my head telling me to keep trying, to give my daughter a sibling, that our family isn’t quite complete? I’ve got closets stacked with bins and bins of baby clothes and stuff I felt certain I’d need again. I had colors picked out for a nursery (yes, I’m that person). Add to that my two very best friends in this world are pregnant, and I’m trying to be happy for them and not “that person” that can’t put my own shit aside. Add to THAT I have a very well meaning mother, who, when she has a bad day, calls me and says “I need a grandbaby to cheer me up” (she knows every nuance of our journey). When innocent acquaintances (or those asshole strangers) ask when we are going to have another child, I’ve perfected the smile and “oh we’ll see, you never know” – even though it feels like my mouth is full of broken glass.

So how do you know when enough is enough? Will I ever stop counting days? If I can’t have another child, how do I really and truly let it go and allow myself to move forward? I’m tempted to donate every single bit of baby stuff so I don’t have to see it anymore, but I’m not sure I can get behind that yet. I feel sad that there are things I learned the first time around that I won’t get to do differently with a next baby, I’m worried about my daughter being a lonely only, I’m worried resentments and regret could creep up and affect my marriage (even though it’s no one’s “fault” and thus far we’ve handled it well), I’m worried that even if I do manage to get pregnant again I’ll have another miscarriage and I’m not sure I can handle another loss. It all makes me lie awake and second guess myself at night, and every time I think I’ve made peace with a decision (any decision), I go down the rabbit hole all over again.

Any advice would be much appreciated!

First of all, I am so sorry. For your struggles and your losses. I can’t even imagine.

Secondary infertility is a special form of brutal.

Second of all, I can’t answer the questions in your final paragraph, or tell you to just do X, Y and Z to magically feel better. I don’t have those answers. I don’t know.  I can remind you that neither path (continuing treatment vs. stopping/pausing treatment) offers any guarantee — of pregnancy OR of coming to peace with your family as-is. Neither path is the “right” one, neither path is the “wrong” one. You take a deep breath, choose one, and move forward.

Right now, that decision is brand new and fresh and strange. You haven’t had time to take many steps forward. You feel better, but the other path is still basically right behind you and it’s normal to have second thoughts. Is this really the right way to go? Is it too late to change my mind and go the other direction?

I don’t know you, but I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at reading in between the lines of the emails I get. I can usually tell when the writer is being overly dramatic, or telling a story to slant the facts in their favor. Other people tend to downplay the depth of their sadness/worry/fear or hedge it with self-deprecating humor. (I INVENTED THAT MOVE Y’ALL.) And then there are writers like you, who probably know deep down that I can’t magically fix or solve anything, but who just need to sit down and pour all their raw emotions over the keyboard for awhile and use the “send” button as a way to get those emotions OUT and AWAY FROM THEM — somewhere, anywhere, into the internet tubes!

Lots of times, before I’ve even gotten the chance read those emails, the writer sends a follow-up to request that I not publish their question after all, they just needed to vent and writing the email was enough to help them work through the original problem.

I hope writing this letter helped. Because I think you are making the right choice. You needed to stop. That much seems pretty clear to us both. And while there are no answers right now to the rest of it, I also think it’s GOOD that you’re acknowledging all those fears and worries and writing them down somewhere OTHER than the inside of your brain at 3 a.m.

You’re not down the rabbit hole. You are on a path in the woods. You are moving forward.  One foot in front of the other. You don’t have a map, but that’s okay. You weren’t going to escape the unknown and the what-ifs even if you stayed on the other path anyway, so screw it.

Maybe at some point, in six months or a year, the other path will meet up with yours and you’ll decide you’re not 100% done with treatment after all. Or maybe this path will continue until — with enough time — you look around and realize you’ve left the woods and are somewhere beautiful and perfect, with your husband and daughter.

Obviously, the ending I HOPE for you is that stopping treatment brings you peace…and a surprise positive quickly followed by a healthy, uneventful pregnancy. And there’s no saying that can’t or won’t happen! And it’s okay to continue hoping for that ending! To feel how you feel when you feel it, rather than trying to force your brain to accept someone else’s script. (Most likely the classic secondary infertility script of “be grateful for what you have, some people can’t even have one baby, blah blah Pain Olympics blah.“)

Keep writing your feelings and worries down if it helps. Take care of yourself. Do fun things with your daughter. Keep the dialogue open and honest with your husband about how you’re coping.  Don’t hesitate to find a therapist if your thoughts get too intrusive, or if you simply can’t deal with all the well-meaning asshats in your life you who can’t leave well enough alone.


But mostly, give yourself some time. A break. Both from the hormonal grind of IF treatment and from the feeling like you need to be 100% on-board and okay with ALL OF THE POTENTIAL OUTCOMES, RIGHT NOW THIS INSTANT. Your journey isn’t over yet. I hope, wherever you end up, you can find happiness and contentment there.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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