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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.

Published May 22, 2015. Last updated May 22, 2015.
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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  • lily

    May 22, 2015 at 11:52 am

    This is the best type of mother-to-mother relations: deeply kind, gently honest. This mama seems self-aware in her pain, and your reply was so compassionate. Thanks for being an example, and to this mom: love and prayers.

  • dan

    May 22, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I can’t imagine. I mean, good god, it’s just not an easy life, is it? I’m sorry for your losses, including the ones of hopes. I just wanted to say though, that if any of your woe around stopping for a while is about not providing your daughter with a sibling, I’m an only child and it was awesome. Not more or less awesome than siblings, just awesome too. So if even a little bit of guilt is around having an only child, I can only say that your daughter will almost certainly be very happy however big your family is. Many wishes for a peaceful resolution.

  • Auntie G

    May 22, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Been there, done that, and I am so sorry that the OP is the member of such a shitty club.  Many virtual hugs.  

    Two things: 1) Like all painful things, time helps but does not erase, and you can only control what you can control.  Give yourself a break, try to focus on joyful things, love on your daughter, and let yourself feel the shitty things in whatever way works for you. You can’t control how you feel.  Set yourself up for happiness wherever you can, and on bad days, do what you have to do.  2) Get yourself a temporary storage locker for the baby stuff.  I had a very small apartment and literally could not get away from the baby stuff we were saving, and the day I decided I could not keep LOOKING at it was a very healing day.  You don’t have to permanently get rid of it if you’re not ready, but you don’t have to let the stuff keep hurting you and making you feel stuck.  

    Hang in there.  Wishing you all the best,

  • SarahB

    May 22, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Two thoughts as you wrap your head around this next phase… The first is to plan some fun things as a family of three. It doesn’t have to be big. Sit down with your husband and list some things you have been meaning to do and haven’t. Ask your DD about places she would like to go or projects to try. Do little fun things. Pick berries and make pie, visit a new state park, go away for the weekend somewhere that will blow your kid’s mind. Occupy your mind with those while the wheels spin in the background.

    The other thing is, next time your mother says she needs a grandbaby, tell her that that statement is incredibly hurtful and unsupportive, that she should know by now that the issue is outside of your control, that she needs a different fix for her bad moods, and that you will be hanging up the phone the next time she says it.

    • Rachel

      May 22, 2015 at 4:45 pm

      ^agreeing 110% with the statement about the OP’s mother.  I was a little surprised Amy didn’t mention it in her otherwise brilliant response.

      Big hugs to you, OP.  <3

  • Jen

    May 22, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    So, I read your question and it was like reading what I almost wrote to Amy several times two years ago. The secondary infertility. The 6 year old. The easy first pregnancy. The treatments, the supportive husband, the whole deal. So I am writing this response from two years past where you are right now. But I am NOT going to say “I know exactly how you feel” because no, I don’t. But I can empathize with where you are and vividly remember some of what I’m guessing you’re feeling.

    We stopped treatment because, as you said, I was exhausted. Emotionally, physically, mentally just done. It was like finally coming out of a labyrinth where you’ve been wandering for years and going “oh, so this is what it looks like outside.” I gave myself 6 months to not make any choices. I learned how my body felt when I wasn’t pumping myself full of hormones. I went to therapy and finally said out loud how fucking unfair I thought this was and how much I worried I was ruining my daughter forever by letting her be an only child. I finally talked about how much I hated my body for failing me. I started trying to unlearn my coping skill of being a social hermit because I just couldn’t deal with people and their questions and easy pregnancies and sibling issues I wished I was dealing with. I learned how to enjoy my daughter again without seeing her as a big sister without a sibling, just seeing her as my child and that’s all. I tried to figure out if I could make my peace with my daughter being an only. I figured out my marriage without scheduled sex and brown paper bag deliveries to your fertility doctors office.

    Two years later, I can tell you this. It will not always feel this bad. It will not always hurt this much. You will find your path and you will find your peace. That’s not to say that sometimes it won’t still hurt. Pregnancy announcements. Sibling photo shoots. Adorable babies. Sometimes those things will be totally fine, and sometimes it will feel like a flaming arrow to your heart. But it won’t nearly kill you dead like it does now. You might give it a few months and try again. You might give it a few months and decide you like where you are and you’re ready to gently give up that dream. You might give it a few months and decide that adoption is something you might consider. But whatever you decide, it will BE OKAY. You will not always feel like your life isn’t quite right. You had this beautiful dream of how you thought your life would be and it won’t come true. You need to mourn that dream. It’s okay to scream about how unfair it is (because it is). It’s okay for it not to be resolved in a pretty little bow wrapped package. It’s okay to be really ANGRY about how this turned out.

    But someday a few years from now, however it turned out, you might look around and realize that even though some things still brings up a lot of hurts and feelings and questions and grief, your life is your own again, not governed by cycles and shots. It won’t feel quite as raw. You’ll might find you’ve made your peace with the place your life ended up in spite of it not being your dream. There is a lot of good stuff out there waiting to happen to you and for you and it will come along when you’re ready. Take your time. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t stuff it and pretend it doesn’t hurt. It gets better, it gets easier, it gets okay.
    Please, please feel free to email me if you need to talk to someone who understands – pollard_jen(at)yahoo(dot)com.

    • M

      May 29, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      This is an incredible response.

    • Lydia

      June 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm

      I read this response through big fat hot tears streaming down my face.  This is just perfect.  It will be okay and it will also never be okay.  You will be okay, but also, you will never be okay.  

      I think stopping treatment involves dealing with heavy grief.  You must acknowledge that.  It’s like a death in a lot of ways.  Part of what makes it so difficult is other people are not sensitive to it at ALL.  

      Thank you Jen for your response.  I’ve been through infertility and it is a special hell. 

      OP, I am wishing you peace as you navigate these big huge emotions.  

    • Sofia

      August 22, 2017 at 6:50 am

      I know this is an old post but this is exactly where I am right now. I too have tears streaming down my face. I don’t know how to let go of the hope… I really do hope it gets better. I’m so scared I’m condemning my daughter to a lonely life- and I am sometimes scared that something will happen to me or my husband and she will be all alone. Thank you for your words and the hope that things can be ok.

  • Carolyn Allen Russell

    May 22, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    I just wanted to offer a great big virtual hug and throw out there that you never know what life will have in store for you. I think taking a break from all the treatment options sounds like the best  move for your sanity and for the sake of your family, but when it all calms down there are also other avenues you could consider pursuing to expand your family. My dear friend was so sad for years when she was told it was unsafe for her to have any more children, and every time they considered adopting some road block was thrown in their way. A few years later they decided to consider the foster to adopt program and suddenly everything fell into place and now they’re the parents of the little girl they always dreamed of. So I’d counsel to give yourself time to find your center and reconnect with the family you HAVE, and if you feel calm and content, then wonderful! And if you still feel like your family is missing someone, maybe there are other ways that would make that possible. But either way I hope you find your peace and happiness after such a brutal number of years!

  • Cassandra

    May 22, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    Okay so maybe this is stupid, and I know really nothing personally about this journey you’re on, but like the above commenter I just wanted to add my feelings about being an only child (if this is the path your daughter ends up on). It’s pretty awesome. I’m sure siblings are awesome but I really never felt “lonely.” There really are plusses and specialness about every family configuration. 

    • julie

      May 26, 2015 at 6:27 pm

      I wanted to agree.  Im an only child and theres nothing lonely about it.  I had plenty of friends and cousins growing up.  And frankly, sibblings may not end up as friends or even on good terms and often children with a wide age gap dont have much of a relationship with their younger sibbling until adulthood.  As an added bonus, an only child never has to compete for a parents attention, never has to wonder if mom and dad love their sibbling more, and on a lesser note an only child is lavished with all of their parents resources whether it be time wise, financial or emotional.  There are many benefits to being an only child.

  • Jasmin Galarneau

    May 23, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Firstly, I want to send my heartfelt condolences. I have PCOS and all the infertility “fun” that comes with it. There is nothing like the stabby, hormonal, aching pains that come each and every month. Just add in well-meaning (although insensitive and nosy) cheerleaders and…yeah…it is soul-crushing.

    It took me years to get pregnant. Years…and countless doctor visits, drugs, hormones, invasive testing, questions…The closer family and friends who knew my struggles knew to never broach the subject unless I started the subject. I avoided baby-showers and the subject of children at all unless it was with women going through the same struggles. After almost 3 years – we chose to give up. Even though we knew we would adopt it sucked. I/we mourned for the loss of what we couldn’t have. I joked it was because I didn’t drink and smoke crack enough. For me – the pressure was off. I was coming off so many hormones and something clicked. I got pregnant. It took me 10 weeks to find out since it was an impossibility. Child number two didn’t come until 4 years after my first. Years of treatments only to give up for a while. Six months later my doctor had me try a milder drug just for fun and it worked.

    Wish I could tell you some magically words that could help but sadly it just takes time, and maybe some separation from the things and people who are a constant knife in your side. Tell your mom/friends/whoever knows but continues to be an insensitive reminder to cut it out now. If they won’t, take a break from them. Put the baby stuff out of sight. Attic, storage unit, whatever. Mostly, cut yourself some slack! You didn’t do this to yourself…nature is a bitch. Get back to doing things you loved, being with your family, take a trip! I know how much treatments will change you. Take a deep breath and step away for a second. Mourn, then breathe…
    I wish you the best! It is just a sucky situation. I hope things work out but if plans have to change I pray you find peace.

  • Robin

    May 24, 2015 at 12:55 am

    I too wrote in here ~7 years ago.  Primary infertility behind me and secondary in my face.  Like others said, it won’t always be as raw as it is now.  But a question: I tried 1.5 years for each of my kids.  That included everything you’ve done but also IVF.  How have you gotten 4 years into the process and you’re only through 3 IUIs?  You’re young (in infertility terms) so maybe your doc hasn’t been aggressive?  I assume you’ve been to more than one doc for another opinion on your course of treatment?  Just some assvice that you should please feel free to ignore if it’s unnecessary.

    • Lydai

      June 10, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      My guess would be money.  IVF  and all the surrounding costs easily run $20k+ in the DC area.  For one cycle.  There are huge numbers of people who simply can’t afford that.  No matter how badly they want a child…

  • S

    May 24, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Just hugs to you. No advice, just hugs and wishing you patience with yourself. The feeling of wanting a second still exists for me, and sometimes it’s worse than I’d like to admit. I tell myself to focus on what we have, be grateful, blah, blah, blah – but I also tell myself that it’s okay to just cry. It’s okay to be sad, and honor the desire while trying to recognize that for us, it just wasn’t in the cards. We adopted a puppy for our only to play with, and the drive up to the farm was like a slow admission of doing something that felt like a crappy substitute for what I really wanted, which was to give him a brother or sister. And I cried. And we got the puppy, and our only was happy, because he doesn’t really care about siblings. And that was enough to get me through that sad feeling compromise. There will be more, I’m sure, but I can handle them. Or I’ll cry, and then handle them. And that’s okay.

  • Michelle B

    May 25, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    First of all, I’m so sorry.
    I would really look into going to therapy about this for a while. I went through a really tough situation a few years ago and went to therapy for a year. It was hard, hard work, most of the time I didn’t want to do it, and it led to lots of tears and other hard emotions, but I did the work. Now, I’m so glad I did, because it’s truly, 100% behind me. 
    I also agree that you absolutely need to shut down your Mom, no matter how well meaning you believe her to be. What she is doing is hurting you, and she needs to see that. 

  • jessica fantastica

    May 26, 2015 at 7:54 am

    Hi, just another only child here chiming in to say I was never lonely or ever even thought to blame my parents for a lack of siblings (never felt a lack!). I think learning to entertain myself as a child is why I can enjoy being alone as an adult, which I think is important.

  • MR

    May 26, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    I am so sorry. I imagine that even agreeing to stop for now is going to take you through a grieving process, and that that may be what is confusing. Because you are stopping for now, but aren’t sure whether it will be permanent. All the things you are wondering – whether to get rid of the clothes, etc, are permanent. It doesn’t sound like you are there quite yet. But even stopping will make you grieve. I read this depiction of grief once (I wish I could remember where), that grief is so commonly referred to as a straight line – the further you are away from it, the easier it is. Time heals all wounds, etc. But, grief isn’t like that. It is a figure 8. You start in the middle, and everything is fresh and raw and hurts. You slowly start to travel along an outside loop and things start to be good. You have some distance, and feel far from the rawness. And then, suddenly something triggers (an anniversary, a friend having a baby, even a scent, for example), you are back in the center again where everything is fresh and raw. This catches many of us by surprise, partly because of our common understanding of grief as linear, and partly because everything was so good, and now it is suddenly so raw. But, this is not hopeless. With each pass around, you spend a little less time in the center, and a little more time around on the loops. For many years, you were stuck in the center. Agreeing to stop is only now allowing you to travel outward on a loop. Things like your friends who are having babies may make you go around those loops pretty quickly for a while, where you have good days and then suddenly a bad/rough one again. But, you are moving forward. And each time through, you will spend more time on the loops instead of in the center. This explanation of grief really spoke to me and actually helped me through those days when I suddenly found myself in the center again. I hope it can help you too.
    Oh, and absolutely tell your mother she needs to stop making comments like that or you simply won’t talk to her again! If she needs to grieve and vent, she needs to call one of her friends, she simply cannot vent to you. That is cruel and extremely rude. ((hugs))

  • Kim

    May 29, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    I’m sorry.  I’m so, so sorry.  It is so goddamned hard and so painful.
    I was 41 when I gave birth to my daughter, after IUI.  The RE told me 43 was about the limit.  My husband was laid off 2 months after my 43rd birthday, and I started doing everything I could to process the loss of the second child I’d always wanted.
    And I was doing ok until the first month that we skipped sex during my ovulation window.  That two weeks, when my highly doubtful not-gonna-happen one in a gazillion chances dropped to absolutely zero, was devasting.
    Everybody’s journey is different, but I want to say – tracking your cycle is probably in your bones by now.  So, embrace that, give yourself the one-in-a-gaillion chance as long as it is helpful to you.  It is ok to keep hoping, if hoping helps, and to let that hope fade slowly.  You don’t have to let everything go at once.

  • Kim

    June 11, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Just wanted to drop in and say that I am going through the same thing- easy first pregnancy, now over a year of trying for #2 and 2 miscarriages in.

    It STINKS and it’s HARD. I hope you find peace with your beautiful little girl, and I hope for a wonderful surprise second one in your future. (I hope that for me, too! LOL)


  • liz

    June 15, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    OMG your mom. YOUR MOM.

    Tell her to knock it off and take out her bad day on someone else. She is unbelievably unacceptable.

  • Morgan

    June 17, 2015 at 2:26 am

    Another only child writing in to say I truly never wanted siblings growing up, and I truly am totally happy not having any now! I understand how hearing that from some stranger on the Internet means nothing to you as you grieve, but I hope my truth could help relieve you of a tiny bit of your pain.

    It always feels like I’m hearing someone beat themselves up over not having given their child the chance to grow up in Copenhagen. I’m sure it would have been lovely, but as I *didn’t* grow up there I feel absolutely no lack of that experience in my life.

  • Amanda (OP)

    June 24, 2015 at 7:07 pm

    I’m completely blown away by all the kind words and advice here – Amy was spot on with the sense that I simply needed to type it, put it out there and feel like I had it away from me a bit.

    In recent years I have embraced the notion that she may be an only child, and I didn’t mean to come across as though that concept is a bad thing – only that it isn’t what I saw for myself as a parent. I love our party of 3 – and I find such joy in having her be our tiny comrade as we experience new things.

    I took action in an effort to push through the muck – I cleaned out the closets and went through the mounds of baby things. I reserved my favorite outfits, books and toys juuuuust in case…and then I let my two best friends take what they wanted – and the rest went to a local charity. I’m throwing showers and sharing their joy….and I am finally able to do so fully and wholeheartedly. My issues shouldn’t dampen the excitement at watching my girls bring new babies into this world for me to spoil.

    I asked my mom to please respect me by not making things about her, and she has stopped the comments (for now at least).

    All of this to say, I feel better having written, and more so after reading such truly thoughtful words spoken gently by people whom I’ve never met. Letting go of the anxiety a bit feels good, y’all. Thanks again!

  • S

    June 30, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    Hugs. So been there. I never talk to anyone about this. No one understands. I put away the stuff, far away. I have a background in therapy so I also was eventually able to process through the anger and sadness. My primary physician not the ob actually had me stop everything to give my whole body a break. She has seen me for years so she could see me deteriorating. I also found refocusing on my medical traing helped to bring my mind back to time before my life was dominated by this. Do get help from a therapist. I stopped contacting people who were constantly asking about next child. Also enlist your husband to change the conversation. I did have more than one child, they were just with out family for a short time. A few close people know this fact. The infertility is genetic in my family, so maybe your daughter will be armed with this information for herself in the future. My sons growth is being monitored closely. You will get to a better place but at your pace, not societies. Maybe your mom needs less information or another way to connect with little ones away from you. you have support, we may be hiding in the crowd around you. Do what you need to do for yourself and your family, and give your kid an extra hug.