Secondary Infertility: The Medicine Behind the Madness

Secondary Infertility is a very real condition that affects thousands of couples.

Most people have never even considered that it exists, because once you have one kid, in theory, it should be possible to have many more. But for some couples, it’s not.

*I write this post from a very personal place. And I’m writing it because during my lowest time, during the days when I absolutely could not find the hope I was so desperately seeking, encouragement came to me from women who had suffered and were suffering from the same situation and were brave enough to put it out there for the world to read. To those ladies, I thank you. And for those of you who need encouragement, here’s my story.  I pray that I can help provide comfort and hope, pointing readers to the One who answers prayers.

My husband and I got married in 2001. We always knew that we wanted kids, and talked about having three or four. We spent our first few years together working, finishing graduate degrees, and enjoying marriage.

In the summer of 2005, we spent nearly a month in Europe on a tour with high school students (I was teaching history at the time). When we got back, we decided that it was time to start a family.

A few weeks later we were expecting our first child. Easy as that.

Our son was born in April of 2006. And our kid was so awesome and amazing that we knew we definitely wanted more down the road. Parenting was something we both loved, and without a doubt, we wanted our son to have the joy of siblings.

In 2007 I decided to take a break from my job as a high school teacher and stay at home with my son, hopefully to have a few more children and get them all in school before going back to work.

The plan was to start trying for more kids that summer. But on my very last day of work, after the students were already dismissed for summer and the teachers were working post-planning days, I had some crazy-horrible pains on my right side.

I remember asking a colleague at lunch that day, “What does appendicitis feel like?” He laughed and said, “If you had appendicitis, you’d be throwing up.”

Well, I wasn’t throwing up, but an hour later I could no longer stand up. And I felt feverish. Within a few more hours I was in the emergency room, and in the wee hours of the next morning, I had an emergency appendectomy.

And that delayed our timeline for more children for three to four months until I had fully healed from the surgery.

When those healing months had passed, I assumed getting pregnant would be as easy as it was the first time.

But months and months later…nothing.

I started charting my basal body temperature and I began reading everything I could on getting pregnant. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t happening when it had been so easy the first go-round.

I started to obsess. Everything in my life was focused around ovulation and getting pregnant. My mornings began with BBT charting and my days progressed with searching books and the internet for solutions to my “problem.”

Meanwhile, my son was getting older and my control-freak self was beginning to get upset about the growing age gap that would exist between my kids. If I could ever have another one.

Finally, after nine months of trying with no results, it was time to talk to the doctor. Thankfully, my doctor is a saint. He’s the kind of man who really listens to his patients. And when I told him there was a problem, he listened. And he tested me for everything.

His willingness to help so quickly is rare. Because it takes the average couple 9-12 months to conceive, most doctors won’t even consider that there might be an infertility issue until at least 12 months without conception.  This is why charting my BBTs was important– my doctor could look at my charts and see that there might be an issue.

After a series of needles, exams, tests, procedures, etc., on both myself and my husband, it was determined that for some unexplained reason, I was no longer ovulating.

It was assumed that either I was experiencing complications from scar tissue from the appendectomy that was affecting an ovary, or that all of this was a by-product of a micro-adenoma that had formed on my pituitary gland when I was in high school. But I’d had surgery in 2000 to remove it, and complications had never arisen. Until now.

A couple of months after the testing began, I started on Clomid. In case you aren’t familiar with the drug, what it does is help stimulate the ovaries to produce more follicles. Each follicle contains an egg, and in a normal woman, once a month, hormones tell the follicle to rupture and release the egg. Clomid increases the chance that an egg will be released at ovulation by creating more follicles. Many people are under the impression that Clomid greatly increases your chances of multiples. It does increase them, but only by about 10%.

With each month that passed with no results, my dosage was increased. Not only was I taking the medication, but I was having regular ultrasounds to see if follicles were developing, and then HcG shots to induce ovulation.

My doctor told me that he would give me four months of these treatments before my husband and I would need to see a specialist.  Well, a specialist was not an option for us. We knew that the next step after medication was invitro-fertilization or IVF, and we did not have the money for such a procedure.  We also did not have the money up front to pursue adoption with any seriousness, although it was something we had talked about wanting to do.

My last chance came. I was to report to the doctor for an ultrasound, and if the follicles had developed properly, I would receive an HcG shot that would hopefully induce ovulation within 24 hours.

I went for the ultrasound. The ultrasound techs didn’t say much, except that I only had one follicle, and it looked too large to be valid.  And when I was ushered back into the doctor’s office that day, I knew the news was not good.

“I’m sorry,” he’d said. “I can’t do anything else. It’s time to see a specialist.”

Apparently the follicle was no good, and there would not even be an HcG shot that day. There would be no ovulation. I didn’t even get my last chance.

I was given referrals for the local IVF specialist and a doctor in Atlanta. But I knew that this was the end of the road for us. We’d be a family of three.

Eventually I had no choice but to accept it.

About two weeks later, I decided to take a pregnancy test, even though my body was a mess of uncertainty. I knew it was a waste of money for me to do so, but being on the Clomid had regulated my cycles, yet I was late.

The test was positive.  I was unbelieving however, and took two more before I could allow myself to even hope a little bit.

I didn’t really get excited it until I sat in my doctor’s office and a blood test confirmed it. Baby #2 was on the way.

I remember asking my doctor, “Are you surprised?”

“No,” he’d said. “It can happen. And I know you’ve been praying about it.” My doctor is awesome.

Without the HcG shot, without the forced ovulation, somehow, we had managed to get pregnant. My only explanation is, of course, that God can do anything he wants to do. I assume that the “large” follicle that showed up on the ultrasound that month was large because it had already ruptured on.its.own.

In June of 2009 our beautiful second son was born.  We call him our miracle baby.

I don’t know if tertiary infertility exists (smile) or if I’ll ever have to deal with it. I’m leaving that up to God.

Now, there’s a lot more to all of this than just the medical facts. The real part of the story is the spiritual journey that I went on during this time. And also, I want to address how all of this affected my husband. He wasn’t immune to the frustrations just because it was my body that was messed up. I’ll be posting the second portion of this story on Monday.

Share with Me: Before you read this, had you ever heard of secondary infertility? Is infertility a condition that has touched your life or the life of someone you know? Have you ever given any thought to how infertility can affect a person, a family?

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Secondary Infertility: The Medicine Behind the Madness

  1. I've heard of secondary infertility, and I've experienced infertility myself. I have a genetic condition that greatly increases my chances of having a Downs Syndrome baby, and we tried for five years. Had various tests, we were both normal. People with this condition often present with infertility because the pregnancies are spontaneously aborting before a period is missed. In the summer of 2004, I had miscarriage and gave up all hope. Got pregnant again in March 2005, Grace was born in Dec, and she's perfect. We're so grateful to have her we decided not to try again.Thanks for sharing your story. So happy it worked out for you.

  2. Thanks for posting such a real and vulnerable story! I have a friend currently dealing with secondary infertility. She and her sister's firstborns are both three years old, but her sister is now pregnant with her third child. I can't imagine how hard that would be…to be torn between her own pain and her happiness for her sister.

  3. Thank you for posting on this! We tried for a full year for our second child – one more month and I was going to see the doctor. We wanted our children two years apart, but God wanted them three years apart. Right now one year doesn't seem that long, but it was a long faith-testing year for me. "Friends" told me I just needed to relax. Others told me I really should hurry up because my son would be spoiled if he was an only child. Other friends joked about becoming pregnant as soon as hubby looked at them. And during that year, that horrible crime occurred when a mother strapped her two babies in her car and pushed them into a lake. Why did she get children she didn't want, when I couldn't have children I'd cherish?God really used this time to grow my faith. Waiting seems to be one of His favorite teaching tools, doesn't it?Now I wouldn't have it any other way. I love having my kids three years apart. And God chose to add an unexpected, blessed third child another three years later. His name is Matthew – "gift from God."

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, y'all!Sarah- it seems like God taught me very similar lessons during our 15 months of "waiting." I can't wait to share that spiritual journey on Monday. 🙂

  5. Infertility is near and dear to my heart. At 16 I was diagnosed with endometriosis and after several years was told that my chance of conceiving was less than 10%. During a 3 year marriage in which contraceptives were never used, there were no pregnancies. After that marriage ended, I had 2 surgeries to "work" on the endo, and was told by a specialist to consider a hysterectomy to finally have some relief. During this time I couldn't celebrate the birth of anyone's child. It was too difficult. I remarried, had another surgery, was placed in medically induced menopause, and scheduled a hysterectomy, and got my first positive pregnancy test in 7 years! 6 months after I had my daughter, we were pregnant again. It has been 3 years since our youngest was born, and we still aren't pregnant. I am finding comfort in the fact that God wants me to be a mommy of 2, and I am loving every moment of having 2 15 months apart. My heart aches for any woman that wants to be a mommy and can't. I remember hearing your story from your mom and praying for your family. I feel blessed that I at least had an answer to my infertility, but I can't say that it made it easier. Sorry to ramble……

  6. Mollie- you aren't rambling. I think that women who are suffering with infertility for any reason find comfort in knowing that other women share their feelings. I sure did!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  7. Hey girl – you know where I'm at. You have been such a blessing to me, Jenny. Can't wait to read your post on Monday.

  8. Hi! I'm Carolyn, and I am in that 10% of Clomid cases that result in multiples! :o) I know you are already somewhat familiar with my story. We tried for almost 2 years to get pregnant before we went to the specialist. We also knew that IVF wasn't going to be an option. We didn't have that kind of money. I had already done Clomid for 6 months, had the HSG, etc. Went to Dr. T and he decided to double that dose of Clomid and give the HcG shots, and a month later we were expecting twins! God is good!

  9. Ha! Carolyn, I actually thought about you when I was typing about "10%." Glad you fell in that percentage- your twins are precious! 🙂

  10. Pingback: What Are The Birthday Traditions In Your Family? | Jennifer K. Hale

  11. Wow, I wasn’t expecting to talk about this today… I’m going to come at this from a slightly different angle. I hope you don’t mind:

    Infertility plagued my husband and I for years. My only son (who is now five) is our “miracle baby”.

    Last year I learned the chances of me ever having another child are basically zero. Secondary infertility? Technically, yes, but actually, I believe God answered those pleading prayers the first time and gave me a son the medical fraternity would never have achieved without His help.

    But here’s the thing: In the process of waiting for my first son, and in hoping for another, and in finding out the next will probably never come, I learned something.

    God’s worth more.

    A know A LOT about what my body does (and doesn’t do) now. I know A LOT about the pain of infertility (and losing pregnancies – I miscarried too). I know A LOT about the heart that’s railing against what seems to be an unfair situation – everyone else gets kids! Why can’t I?!

    But I also, now, know A LOT about how much more valuable God is, even than a child.

    No, I don’t say that to marginalize the value of a child’s life. I say that to exalt the value of God. He’s worth THAT MUCH.

    So even though these kinds of conversations can still bring me to tears, my heart is genuine peaceful – joyful! – in this situation that I wouldn’t have chosen. Because through it I found a relationship with God that fills the hole left in my life by the baby I lost, and the other baby I never had. And all the other petty (and not-so-petty) pains of this world.

    He’s worth THAT MUCH. He really is.

    Then I take a look at my son who I absolutely ADORE and realize God gave up HIS ONLY SON for me.

    He loves me that much.

    It’s mind boggling.

    • Aimee,

      I LOVE this so much!! What beautiful thoughts. I actually have a whole post on the spiritual aspect of my journey through infertility. Your thoughts are so, so powerful. Thanks for sharing and being willing to reveal that part of yourself.

      I agree that God is worth it all–worth more. It’s hard to accept sometimes, but so incredibly true. And I don’t know about you, but becoming a mom, especially of a son, completely opened my eyes to the relationship I have with God and how he views me as my Heavenly Father. The Sacrifice became so much more real–and I realized just how much I don’t deserve it and how awesome are grace and mercy.

      Thanks for sharing.

  12. Deevena

    Wow!
    This is an amazing story!
    Glory be to our wonderful God!
    When I get older, and married (of course) I definitely want to have kids.
    I hope if I am put in trials like this, I have the courage and faith in God to overcome them; he does work in miraculous ways!

    Thanks soooo much for sharing this!

  13. auntiejl

    I lost count of the number of years we struggled with infertility. I knew myself, and I resisted undergoing any testing to see who had the “problem”; I knew I’d blame myself if it was me, and I was also pretty sure I’d resent my husband (much as I didn’t want to) if it was him, and still find a way to blame myself. (My husband says I have enough guilt for a dozen good Catholics.)

    During the first five years of our infertility, I went through incredible heartache as my best friend got pregnant twice, my brother and his wife also got pregnant twice (2nd pregnancy resulted in twins), my sister got pregnant with her first child, my niece got pregnant with her first, and several other acquaintances announced pregnancies. Well-meaning friends peppered me with advice or pitiful sympathy. (My best friend remains my best friend because of how sensitive she was to my hurting heart.) It was horrible. We had done everything right; why weren’t we getting pregnant? The doctors shrugged and said I must not be ovulating, despite my ridiculously regular cycle. Several women I knew had miscarriages. While my heart broke for them, I also envied them: they could at least *get* pregnant. I couldn’t even get pregnant long enough to miscarry. (More well-meaning friends informed me that I probably had been pregnant when I was late, but I wasn’t pregnant long enough for a test to pick it up. Oh, that’s helpful.)

    After six years of unsuccessful trying, we discovered that I had uterine fibroid tumors. Benign, but causing issues with my cycles. I was young enough that I opted to have them surgically removed, in the hopes that I could get pregnant after I had sufficiently healed. My husband wanted to be a daddy and would be a fabulous one, and it broke my heart that I could not give him that.

    At the same time, we were “temporarily” caring for our young nieces, ages 3, 2, and 2. By the time I had the surgery, they’d been with us nine months. My surgeon explained that he had removed 8 fibroids, and they were likely the reason why I never got pregnant. Fibroids grow in one of two directions in the uterine muscle wall: pushing towards the abdominal cavity, or pushing towards the uterine cavity. Mine did both. As a result, my uterus was so warped it wouldn’t have allowed the embryo to attach.

    A year later, when I had sufficiently healed, I landed in the hospital due to severe illness and found myself discharged with a year-long drug regimen that I could not get pregnant while taking. Our nieces were still with us, and we were fighting for custody.

    Ultimately, I ended up having a hysterectomy two years ago because of continued problems, without ever giving my husband a biological child. The defeat of that echoes deep sometimes.

    However, in God’s funny sense of humor and timing, our nieces are still with us. We are in the process of adopting them. My husband loves them as if they were his very own (I cannot ask for a bigger blessing than that). My deep love of the correlations between adoption here and how God chose to adopt us into his family has only been increased.

    I would not have planned on having a family this way. We have endured deep, deep hurts, both physical and emotional, to get to this point. There are times I still wish I could have had a baby of my own. That hurt has never gone away. But God has given us three beautiful girls. We are Mom and Dad by *their* choice.

    I am grateful.

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