Thursday, February 20, 2014

Showing More Love: Through the Struggle of Infertility

Today's post comes from Courtney Spena, who blogs over at A+ Life.  On her blog, Courtney shares very honestly and openly about her struggle with secondary infertility.  It has been a long and painful road for her, but the Lord is writing beautiful things into her story.  Today, Courtney shares how we can show love to a friend struggling with infertility.  

"Secondary infertility is when a man and woman do not conceive after one year of trying, despite having conceived children in the past without any problems. While primary infertility gets the most media attention, secondary infertility is as common as primary infertility. According to statistics collected by the Center for Disease Control, 11% of couples who already have a child go on to experience secondary infertility. That's approximately 4 million families, or about half of all infertility cases." source

4 million families.

That is a lot of men and women grappling with the same thing that I've been dealing with for the past two and a half years.

 And yet? Somehow, I only "know" of one other person who is dealing with it too. {and I just "met" her last week. So. There's that}

Secondary infertility is a giant unspoken disease. Which is what it is. A medically diagnosable disease that can sometimes be corrected. And it sometimes can't.

Secondary infertility is a walking contradiction of frustration and grief coupled with insane happiness because of my daughter. I find myself floundering because secondary infertility is NOT primary infertility. And therefore, I don't know where I fit in.

I have gotten to experience 40 weeks of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and breastfeeding. It is not the same as primary infertility and I don't pretend to claim that it is.

And yet, the same feelings of loss and grief every.single.month. are present. Except, now, my questions are different. The question isn't, "Will I ever be a mother?" Instead, they sound like, "Will my daughter ever get to be a big sister?" "How old will she be by the time it happens?" "Will I ever get to experience pregnancy again?"

{Yes, this is me immediately after IUI #1 in January of 2013. Try not to think too hard about what is happening in this picture, por favor}

If I didn't have any children I could at least avoid baby showers, birthday parties, and other child related activities.

But, I do have a child{she is 3 and she is amazing and unbelievably awesome}. But, that means that I am constantly surrounded by other mothers. Often, who are pregnant or nursing. Children with lots of siblings.  And situations like this:

"When are you going to have another one?"

"Why do you only have one?"

"You're lucky to just have one"

And countless conversations about ideal family size{because most people have a choice}, the perfect age gaps{because most people get to choose}, and how to raise siblings.

And let us not forget the nurse at my OB/GYN office that stated, "well, it happened for you once so it can happen again."

Dealing with secondary infertility is hard, hard, hard. It is the most painful thing I have ever had to walk through. I have already talked about things not to say in my "What Not To Say To Someone Struggling With Infertility" post. I don't want to talk about that now. I want to talk about the things that you CAN DO. There have been a few ways that my friends and church members have reached out to me that I want to share with you, so that if someone you know is dealing with secondary infertility{although most of these would work for primary infertility as well} you can reach out and encourage them.

*caveat* If your friend has NOT told you that she is suffering from infertility, I would humbly suggest that you don't do these things. It is really, really hard to talk about something like infertility because it is so painfully personal and graphic to explain. Some women just aren't comfortable discussing it, and therefore, don't put her in a position of having to be made defensive/uncomfortable/upset because you put her on the spot. She will share when she is ready and you will be ready to encourage her with these tips once she does!

Send them cards/emails/texts and let them know you're praying for them- I have kept every single card that I have received ever since I went public with my diagnosis. They not only mean the world to me, but they validate me. They let me know that what I am experiencing is real. It isn't in my head. It isn't made up. It is a grief and a loss and to know that others are walking with me in it. Praying even when I can't. Lifting me up and helping me carry this heavy, heavy burden, means more than I can say.

Send them a gift-
Some of the absolute sweetest things that have shown up in my mailbox{or inbox!} have been thoughtful gifts. Friends who have said, "I have nothing that I can say. But, I want you to know I'm thinking of you. Treat yourself." or "Take some time for yourself this week. This one is on me." Something small. A five dollar gift card to a place that you know your friend loves to go. I promise, she will break down in tears of thankfulness because of your thoughtfulness and love towards her.

Acknowledge their loss-
The best words and the most touching moments have come from when other women sorrow with my sorrow. When they share their own stories of loss and struggle with me. And when the ones who haven't experienced what I am going through, still acknowledge that the road I am walking is unbearably painful. There is no belittling. There are no clichÈ and pacifying statements. It is only, this is so hard. I am so sorry.
Babysit- This one is obviously specifically for those dealing with secondary infertility. I have a 3 year old. When I spent a year going through infertility treatments, she had just turned 2. I had a two hour drive to my RE office. I felt guilty always taking her with me and needed help. The women who came alongside me to offer their {FREE} babysitting services, so that I didn't have to take my daughter for 4 hours in the car multiple times a week were such a blessing in my life.
Learn her schedule. Know when her appointments are and take her children as much as you can.
Let me also add, even if they aren't pursuing IF treatment, still offer to babysit. The toll on a marriage from infertility is inescapable. There is an unspoken strain from worry, grief, and guilt. Couples need time together to work through things and the ability to get away for a few hours together without the extra financial stress is an unbelieveable blessing.
And one last thing, after our IVF and miscarriage this summer, my husband and I needed to see a counselor for a few months. Already feeling guilty for the money that was going toward a counselor, I only felt more guilty having to pay for a baby sitter too. There were two specific instances that really blessed us: One, an older woman in our church took Abigail for the evening so that we could drop her off on the way to our appointment and didn't have to spend anything extra. Two, my mother in law gave us money to cover the cost of one of our appointments and the fee for hiring a babysitter since she couldn't be there physically to help us with that burden. Both of those things blessed us greatly and I know would help any family dealing with the same thing. 
As a woman who is still dealing with secondary infertility every day, who has no other available alternatives left to increase my pregnancy chances- other than waiting and hoping, this post is written almost directly to myself and my family and friends. Secondary infertility is really common and really painful, but there are things that can be said and done that really help lift the burden. I pray every single day that He will open my womb, and if you are dealing with secondary infertility I pray that He opens yours as well.


  1. Very well said, Courtney! I've struggled with primary infertility for nearly nine years so I can relate so much to what you've said. I never would have thought to offer babysitting for those suffering secondary infertility. Thank you for the great tip!! <3

    1. That means a lot to me coming from you, Lauren! Thank you.

  2. This is wonderful. One of my best friends struggled with secondary infertility for years, and it was terribly tough for her. I think it's easy to forget that struggle, as well. Thank you for sharing!

    1. It is terribly tough. Thank you for acknowleding it!