I wish someone had told me that I would survive secondary infertility and end up with a family that, although it isn’t exactly the family that I had planned, it is the perfect family and path for me. If you are a mom-to-be reading this, your path will be perfect, too; have faith. Everybody knows when you’re a newlywed in the Connecticut suburbs you need 2.5 perfect children, right? That is what I thought. When I was 29, I was married to an elementary school teacher and Marine Corp reservist. I wanted kids, but my first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
I had heard that miscarriages are common, so I tried to stay optimistic. I didn’t even share that it happened with many people. Imagine that during your miscarriage, you can’t even share what you are going through with your best friend because she’s mid-way through a failed IVF treatment and you don’t want to scare her. Shortly after my miscarriage, I came home ready to “try again,” only to be told by my spouse that he was moving to another state for year. I was so discouraged.
It was right after 9/11 so I had to try and be supportive, but I secretly only visited Camp Lejeune when I was ovulating. By now, I had already become an expert on how to get pregnant, and just needed to figure out how to do the rest. During the day, I was a life coach and writer submitting articles on topics like gratitude and manifesting. At night, I was a nervous nelly. I was scared to fly (which made long distance marriage a challenge), scared to eat cheese, and scared I’d never become a mom, but Alexa was born just a few months after my husband returned home.
I was overjoyed with motherhood. I was probably even more grateful for her after having gone through a pregnancy loss. I decided the world was fair again and I could go back to telling my life coaching clients that vision boards work and the world is their oyster. I signed Alexa up for Gymboree, music classes, and read to her every night. However, as soon as I got back on that perfection treadmill aimed at having 2.5 perfect children, God had a different plan.
I dusted off my “how to conceive” and “preventing miscarriage” books. I used ovulation predictor kits, drank my kale smoothies, went to prenatal yoga. When I did finally get pregnant, I waited the recommended three months to tell everyone my exciting secret news. Sadly, right after the big announcement, I lost the pregnancy in the fourth month. I still remember the tall ultrasound technician cautiously calling the doctor into the room to deliver the news, “I’m so sorry, Krista, there is no heartbeat.” I wasn’t in the mood to go through this, again.
I think that was the moment when my interest in getting pregnant slowly turned into an obsession. I started moving past infertility books to research articles. I expanded my research from secondary infertility to infertility linked to childhood trauma, and was now secretly convinced that my own early childhood loss might be linked to my hard time conceiving. I read Childhood Disrupted and The Body Keeps the Score, and while none of the doctors I were seeing believed there was a link, I did. And I was determined to keep trying. They debated if my positive ANA, daily baby aspirin, or IUI procedure would help, while I decided that I was going to try cranial sacral therapy, acupuncture, and read more books. My husband switched military units so he could be home with me for surgery and in doing so avoided another long deployment, so I was convinced that mind over matter might be able to turn my fear and obsession into optimism.
I saw all different professionals to work on my own anxiety. Then, after work, I’d log online and join secret infertility chat groups. This escape was so comforting, and showed me I wasn’t alone. At the time, I had no idea that infertility is a multi-billion-dollar industry. I made a fake name and scrolled through people’s stories, secretly offering advice to those less far along in their research. I knew what HGH levels should be, and I knew what clinics in the area had the best statistics. I even learned how to conceive a particular gender (I know, beggars shouldn’t be choosers, but I was). I loved helping my online friends/strangers through failed IVF, miscarriages, and stillbirths, all while maintaining hope that my path would improve; however, it didn’t for quite a while. I had another miscarriage, and this time, the infertility doctor said it might have been a blessing in disguise because when I had the D&C tested, it was trisomy 13. My daughter was getting older, and I had serious thoughts about not trying again.
I took breaks and worked on my marriage and motherhood, but I couldn’t let go of this idea of getting pregnant again. I wanted to scream when people would innocently ask, “so when are you going to have another?” At work, I hid my secret and tried to be present with clients who were coincidentally donating their eggs and becoming surrogates. I worked in a town where wealthy, successful women talked about freezing their eggs for a better time, but I couldn’t let my own secondary infertility struggles bleed into my professional life, so I had to smile, listen, and then wait until I could log into my secret support groups and whine.
Even when my secondary infertility journey took a positive turn, I was petrified. I didn’t believe I would ever have the happy ending all the young moms online were having. I observed their decadent showers, fun gender reveals, and baby photos that looked like they were taken by Anne Geddes. After three miscarriages, I started to lose hope my son would ever arrive. It took my friend Barbara coming over the night before I was due to say, “Major Wells, your wife is really having this baby, and you are both in denial!” as she put together the crib with a hex key that I’d hid up in the attic. Despite my doubts, Elijah was born, and in my eyes, he was the perfect blessing to come after a lot of pain.
Then, while nursing, and not trying (I still hate the people who said just relax and you’ll get pregnant), I conceived and had a third child, and then a fourth. After my fourth, I officially gave up on my obsession to get pregnant. While I can say that none of my four pregnancies were peaceful, I accepted that my rough road to motherhood must have happened for a reason. Perhaps it makes me a more empathetic counselor, a better friend, a more excited researcher?
I appreciated my online friends, and the nail lady who gave me a Chinese rose quartz after miscarrying. Further, I remained open when my friend shared that my research was so extensive that it sparked her idea for us to write a fiction book together. I wouldn’t wish infertility on anyone, and I recently heard a comedian named Heather McMahan, tell the audience that, if you know someone who is currently struggling to conceive, “take that friend out to lunch!” I second her suggestion. It was during those supportive lunches, online chats, and in the pages of self-help books that I was able to find my way. If you are having any troubles during your pregnancy, you will get through and have a happy ending.
In hindsight, none of my pregnancies were particularly enjoyable, but they were my story. The hard times increased my resilience and continued hope, and my obsession was later cathartically released onto the page. My struggles became my characters struggles, and while I didn’t lie to my husband like Greta does in The Imperfect Plan, I did share in her secret obsession to have 2.5 perfect kids in the suburbs.
If you see me from the outside, all you see is that I am a mom of four grown kids, a military spouse speaker, and a newly published fiction author; what they don’t see is that I faced secret pregnancy stress. Now that I am on the other side of this infertility battle, I can share how grateful I am to the moms who vulnerably write on these forums to share their happy stories, their genuine struggles, and their support. You never know when telling your own story will lift someone else up during their darkest days. Remind them that they are now part of a loving community of parenting bloggers that became moms in all different ways.
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