Secondary infertility is a hidden pain many families are facing. Gemma Bowker-Wright shares her story.
First published 11 June 2018.
“Will you have a second?” said the mother at Island Bay Park a few weeks back. She pushed a toddler on the swing while a baby slept in the front-pack on her chest. Her tone was casual, off-hand, the way someone might offer a second scone.
“Yes,” I said as I helped my son to the ground.
I’ve always wanted two kids. A pair of siblings. Since having my son I want it more. I want Fin to have someone to fight with, play with, grow with (yes, in that order). My younger brother was my hide-and-seek buddy, my companion on boring visits to relatives’ houses, my treehouse friend. We hated each other a little too, of course. But as teenagers we became friends and as adults, although we live at different ends of the country, remain connected.
Having a baby was always going to be difficult for me. But I didn’t realise quite how difficult. I have polycystic ovaries which is a complex endocrine disorder and a complete bitch.
My partner and I met when I was in my very early twenties and we did all the things on the “growing up” agenda – finishing our degrees, moving in together, getting jobs, getting better jobs, getting a cat (which we gave to my partner’s mother as, back then, we were reluctant parents), going on an overseas trip, getting engaged, buying a house.
Somewhere within all this I trotted off to Fertility Associates.
They were positive about our chances – I was in my twenties and healthy; getting pregnant should be reasonably straight-forward. It wasn’t. Two years later and IVF looked like our only option. I once read a blog post where someone compared IVF to being hit over the head with a cactus. I thought the analogy funny at the time; then I had to do it. IVF was painful and messy – and that was just the emotional side. I produced lots of eggs (hooray!) but with all the effort my ovaries grew to the size of grapefruits and I ended up in hospital with severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. When I left hospital ten days later I was anemic, weak and thin. But we had four embryos on ice in the lab.
Four good chances.
Our family was there. On ice. Waiting.
The first embryo didn’t implant.
The second embryo was our son. Fin. Born six weeks early but “well covered” according to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nurse. I loved being a mum. I still love it; even the difficult parts.
After I weaned Fin we went back to try our third embryo. And then our fourth. Both failed. I was devastated. The pain was familiar but I’d expected it to be less now. We have a child after all – a perfect child. We are a small family. We are so very lucky to have this much.
Shouldn’t it be enough?
No. I want more. More love, more chaos, more mess. Having a child is the best thing I’ve done. It’s knocked the sharp edges off. It’s dissolved me and reformed me. I am more compassionate, more caring, more myself.
There are so many reasons to stop at one child. Climate change. Overpopulation. Resource stress. Not to mention the financial cost. The tiredness. The relationship strain. Did I mention the tiredness? And for us there is the cost of IVF, the risk of me becoming sick again, the devastation if it fails.
“Don’t leave it too long,” said the mother at Island Bay Park. “You should have them close together. They build a better relationship. And you get it done with.”
If only it was that easy, I thought. If only it was a matter of “getting it done with”.
There are many people out there who can’t have a child at all. I feel selfish in my longing for two. I want it desperately, painfully, irrationally. The want is overpowering. Yet I have to accept, for us, it might not happen. Life is unpredictable, and tragic, and beautiful, and hard, and unpredictable. Infertility is part of the unpredictability.
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An estimated one in six couples in New Zealand experience infertility.
Many, many people out there feel this pain.
We need to talk about it more.
Gemma Bowker-Wright is scientist and graduate of the IIML (International Institute of Modern Letters). In 2014 she published a book, The Red Queen, and continues to write short stories (as well as the novel in the bottom drawer). She currently works at the Ministry for Primary Industries and is mum to two-year old Fin, who was born after a traumatic but character-building battle with IVF.
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