My husband and I got married when I was 42. Because of my age and my mom’s history of multiple miscarriages, I thought having a child would be impossible. So when I became pregnant two months after we were married and then miscarried three months later, I was surprised by the sense of grief I felt. I really did want a child.
Because of my age, we consulted a reproductive endocrinologist who told us my best option was an egg donor. A woman, usually in her 20s, donates her eggs, which are combined with my husband’s sperm to create an embryo to implant in my uterus.
We needed a donor who had my physical characteristics since any child would have my husband’s genes. So, we spent months searching and when we finally found the perfect candidate, she learned she was pregnant. I felt as though I had miscarried again.
Several months later, we found another donor. We went through daily injections to coordinate our cycles and then the eggs were fertilized. But getting our eggs fertilized was just one step. I would have to successfully carry the baby to term.
Two days after the embryo was implanted in me, I was called into a meeting at work—our office was closing. Three days later I miscarried. Devastating is too light a word. After all those medical procedures and expenses, we had only a few frozen embryos. After waiting three years and having two miscarriages, we decided this would be our last attempt. If it failed, we would prepare ourselves to live child-free.
Being pregnant should’ve made me happy, right? But I wasn’t. I was scared: Would we have a healthy baby? Shopping for maternity clothes frightened me. I couldn’t face the thought of seeing those clothes. I was convinced I would lose my baby again.
I led a group called Pregnant at Last for women who got pregnant after infertility treatments. Anxiety was a universal theme. Everybody in the group believed, as I did, that because something went wrong in the past, history would be repeated.
This fear prevented us from taking time to enjoy pregnancy. We had to talk our way into celebrating milestones such as ultrasounds, getting through the first trimester and feeling our baby move.
In my case, our fears did not come true. Our healthy baby, Grace, was born one month shy of my 46th birthday.
But what I learned is once you are pregnant the infertility roller coaster ride does not stop. Nor does that happen once the child is born. The losses and fears associated with infertility remain throughout pregnancy into parenthood. They intensify the normal fears and insecurities every parent feels.
When you finally get pregnant
Infertility treatments can take an enormous physical, emotional and financial toll on a couple. Intimacy and communication are continuously challenged. There are personal sacrifices at work, with family and friends.
There is also tremendous self-examination.Couples struggling to have a child must examine why and how they want to become parents.
Most parents have a strong desire to be good parents. But when having a child is a difficult process—adoption, surrogates, in vitro fertilization, surgery, donor sperm or eggs—there’s the added sense of gratitude for being given this gift after so much sacrifice.
Infertility can strengthen people’s motivation to be good parents because they worked so hard to get there. But it also can mean unrealistic expectations about the type of parent they will become.
While battling infertility, we make silent promises to ourselves and the children we dream about. We promise to be the perfect parent. Yet, then we are hit with the reality of daily parenting challenges: sleep deprivation, frustrations, short tempers, even depression.
Plus, often the length of time it takes to overcome infertility can mean people become parents at an older age and don’t have energy to recover quickly from fatigue.
We end up guilty: We aren’t perfect parents.
These feelings are normal. In fact, couples challenged by infertility may be unaware they are in the same place as most parents—amid uncertainty, fear, angst and anger, which all come with the parenting territory.
But infertility can add another dimension.
Take for example when your child tries to do what every child tries at one time or another: play one parent off the other. It’s confusing and feels as if it is almost a betrayal of the close partnership you two had when you went through infertility treatments.
Plus, there are all sorts of other situations that come as a result of infertility, navigating the issues that arise adds to the emotional confusion.
For example, multiple births are a possibility parents of children born after infertility frequently face. Take all the normal challenges and multiply them, two, three or more times.
The logistical challenges alone are amazing and emerge from the moment you bring the babies home. You have special strollers, multiple cribs and car seats, and you are juggling feeding and changing diapers with more than one child. The expenses are greater, as is the financial stress.
Another common outcome of parenting after infertility is having an only child. Some parents choose to have only one child. But those of us, such as my husband and me, who start later, often are able to have only one child. Yes, all our love and attention exclusively goes her way. But I think often about the burden my daughter bears being the lone caretaker as we age. We also try to strengthen her relationships with family and friends to offset her solitary position. And she plays with other children daily because she doesn’t have brothers and sisters.
These parenting struggles are all affected by the struggles we went through before our daughter was born.
And then, there are special issues parents who conceived through infertility treatment or adoption must face when it comes to telling your child the story.
This can be the cause of great angst: Do you or do you not tell your child about his or her origins?
I have not figured out what it is about giving our children this information that creates anxiety for us. Perhaps our insecurities about infertility get stirred up in the mix. While disclosure is a personal decision, it is important to remember, if even one other person knows about this history, it can potentially get back to your child.
We can postpone it when children are young, but then, that can lead to ambiguity about disclosure. And you may begin to wonder: How will your child feel when you tell him or her the truth? Does your child have a right to know about his or her medical history?
If the proper foundation is set, your child will emerge with a greater sense of self-esteem. How and when you choose to have this discussion, will serve as a behavioral model for your child. Honesty and openness can help normalize the situation. It can also help your child feel more accepting of his or her origins.
But whatever you disclose, be sure to make the information age appropriate. Be prepared to have this discussion many times as your child grows. If your child is given the proper skills and tools, disclosure can be a positive experience for everybody. Underlying everything should be the message that your child is loved, wanted and you are grateful to have such a lovely person in your life.
My husband and I made a disclosure book when my daughter was 2. We saved everything we could regarding information about her genetic mother and our infertility process. We wanted her to have information about her origins and the ability to disclose it as she chooses. I read it to her from time to time and she thinks of it as her "special story." She carefully considers the words and photos.
She knows Mommy was unable to have a baby because of her eggs. She also knows a wonderful woman whose name we don’t know, donated her eggs to help us have a baby. We all agree helping somebody have a child is the most amazing gift anybody could ever give.
Parenting in your later years
It wasn’t easy beginning menopause as my daughter began potty training.
But being an older parent has advantages and disadvantages. My husband and I feel we bring the wisdom and experience of our lives to my daughter. We also have, in addition to our families, a wonderful, loving community of friends who surround her with love and enrich her life daily.
I try to remember those positives when I am summoning the energy to be a parent day in and day out. And there are other challenges to being an older parent:
The financial pressures. While infertility brings a financial cost, raising a child is costly, as well. And one of you may have to stop working at the same time you are saving for retirement and college.
When you’re older, there is a greater possibility you may become ill or die while your child is still young. My husband and I believe the way to meet this challenge is to have our death planning in order, with guardians chosen and a plan to ensure our daughter is as financially secure as possible.
We take good care of ourselves and lead a healthy lifestyle. By nurturing ourselves and our daughter, we bring quality and love to our lives.
Iris Waichler has a master’s degree in social work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for 30 years. She leads groups and workshops and writes articles while volunteering for RESOLVE, a national association that supports and educates those experiencing infertility. The local group can be reached at (773) 743-1623. She is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. Her Web site is infertilityrollercoaster.com. She, her husband and daughter, live in Chicago.