Unbearable: How To Explain Common Misconceptions About Secondary Infertility

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ideal familyHaving a child is usually a happy time in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, as we wait longer to have children, infertility and trouble conceiving can become a part of the family making process. Unbearable addresses these difficulties.

Infertility is difficult to explain, no matter who you’re talking to. It’s even harder to define when you have a three year old. Here’s a quick example of almost any conversation I’ve had about the subject since I started trying to have a second child.

“My husband and I are having some problems with infertility.”

“Um. But ya know. Um. You have a kid already, right?”

“Yes, we have a daughter.”

“But you could have a kid before so…. I mean. It’s not really infertility.”

“Actually, if you’ve been trying to have a child for over a year and it hasn’t happened, it’s considered infertility. There are a lot of things that could have changed. It could just be taking longer. Infertility is the general term.”

“Yea, but it’s not like real infertility.”

Misconception No. 1: Infertile is not the same as sterile.

This is the place where most conversations about secondary infertility get tripped up. People assume that infertility means you can never, ever have kids. The assumption is that an infertile woman must be missing her ovaries or some such nonsense. Infertility is such a loose term and it’s so misunderstood, I would avoid it all together. If you choose to share what’s going on in your life, try to speak more simply, such as, “We’re having a hard time getting pregnant.”

Misconception No. 2: You can get pregnant by having sex once, so getting pregnant is obviously simple.

It only takes one time! How can it be hard to have a kid when teenagers do it by accident? And if you’ve had a kid before, your plumbing can’t be screwed up. The complexity of getting pregnant isn’t widely understood. Most people assume that we all have a reproductive system and some of them work and others don’t. Aside from that, it’s all medical mumbo-jumbo. Instead of launching into a detailed explanation of all the hormones involved, here’s another time to keep it vague. In fact, I wouldn’t give any details at all. Stick with a simple, “It’s complicated.”

Misconception No. 3: You’re selfish if you can’t be happy with one child. Or two. Or three.

More than once, I’ve heard, “Well at least you have one. I feel sorry for the people who can’t have any kids at all.” And ya know, I feel compassion for those families as well. But I’m not sure why it has to be a pity-competition. Secondary infertility is still difficult and emotional. You want to have a child. You want to do something that you’ve always believe your body was made to do, and all of a sudden, you can’t. You’re trying, month after month, and you’re failing. That’s difficult. I don’t need anyone’s sympathy for that, but I don’t think it makes me selfish because I’m struggling to deal with a difficult circumstance.

Misconception No. 4: You must be too old now.

If you could have a child four years ago and you can’t now… You must be too old, right? That’s the logical explanation. Except that I’m 26 years old and struggling with secondary infertility. I had my first daughter when I was 22. I’m still young. I’m younger than a lot of women who are having their first child right. Age isn’t always the answer. Sometimes we wish it could be that simple though.



  1. CW

    November 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Just imagine being Catholic and having to deal with the assumptions that just because you “only” have 3 kids spaced 3 years apart to show for 13 years of marriage that you must not be serious about your faith. If God had intended me to have a houseful of “stairstep” children, then that’s what would have happened. Not every woman who doesn’t use contraception is going to be a Michelle Dugger…

  2. Wendy

    November 10, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Thanks for this post! I’m 26 and we’ve “having trouble getting pregnant” (three years without protection and just started the charting, doctors, tests etc. a few months ago). You’re right on with people not getting the complexity of getting pregnant. We’re told in sex education these stories of teenagers who didn’t even have full-on sex and somehow “just one sperm” made it. “That’s all it takes.” My husband and I were laughing how absurd that thought is to us now. That’s not all it takes.

  3. Eileen

    November 11, 2011 at 11:36 am

    That really sucks. I wish they could redistribute pregnancies.

    (but you know, I never know what to say to someone who’s having a hard time trying to get pregnant. You want it to be a conversation, so you have to say SOMETHING, but what do I know about trying to get pregnant?)

    • joanne

      November 17, 2011 at 9:38 am

      you dont have to say anything. Just listen, and be sympathetic. Dont try to to come up with a solution for them. Infertility is a lonely hell. Be mindful of what you talk about. Here’s what I hated when I was struggling:
      Do you have kids? (from complete strangers). Is there nothing else to talk about? what about the weather? Kim Kardashian?

      Why dont you adopt? Well first of all to adopt I have to give up on the dream of my biological child. If I’m lucky enough to have insurance I must exhaust all of the IVF benefits. Then do I use my savings to do more IVf or use it for Adoption which costs 35k-50k or do donor egg or donor sperm? The decision to adopt could take 4 years!

      “Have a few drinks, you never know what might happen” (from my sister). Thats nearly as bad as saying “just relax”
      “I just have this good feeling you’ll get pregnant soon.” I got that in an email from a “friend” who was happily pregnant and I haven’t spoke to her since.

      I wish somebody had just asked me what it feels like and then no solutions no judgements.
      “That sucks” actually is a very good reply.

  4. Margo

    October 21, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Thank you for this post. It took 4 years for my daughter to be conceived. She is 4 now, and I’ve given up hope of having another. I adore her with all my heart and feel so blessed to be her momma. But when I look back on my expectation and dream of having a houseful of 4 children, it hurts. It’s confusing. I wonder if I should adopt. I wonder if I should start a new career. I wonder if I should find a sperm donor. I wonder if I’m useless because I can’t do one of the primary things I wanted to do with my life. But it’s nothing I can complain about. I have a wonderful husband and daughter. And no one would understand anyway…

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