By: Yonina Hofman
“How many kids do you have?” I have one daughter. “And how old is she?” “She is 10 years old.”
Silence. Crickets. And then, “Oh, how nice.” Followed by a quick change of topic by the same person who just put their foot in their mouth.
I’ve been married 13 years. We have had both primary infertility, and now, for quite a few years longer, secondary infertility. Secondary infertility is slightly different than primary. PIF (primary infertility) is when one is infertile and has no children. SIF (secondary infertility) is when one has a child already. It can even be when one has a few children, and then for whatever reason, it becomes a challenge to conceive. For me, I was already aware that it was going to be a challenge, as it took 3 years to conceive our daughter.
When our daughter was about 2 years old, we knew that we wanted to actively start trying again. By actively, I mean going back to the reproductive endocrinologist that had been treating us to help us conceive our daughter. We tried for a few treatment cycles. We started treatments this time around with the exact same dosage that had worked last time. But this time, it did not work.
It was very heartbreaking. We graduated to injection cycles, where I had to inject hormones into my stomach. It was extremely hard, both physically and emotionally. It was also difficult to experience with a little 3 year old daughter. I had major side effects from the injections (not everyone gets them), and so I would always have to wait for my husband to come home every day in order to do them, because I couldn’t with my daughter around. Logistically, it took a bit of time, so even if I went into the bathroom to give myself the injection, she would be wondering what Ema was doing in there for so long, or she would need me for something. And then, there were the side effects that started just minutes after I gave myself the injections. I would have to lie down, and I would be out of commission for awhile. Dizziness and nausea hit me hard (again, it doesn’t hit everyone that hard).
We did a few cycles with injections. I only ovulated once, but did not conceive. In one cycle, I over-stimulated. This means that I had way too many follicles that matured from the injected hormones. I was told by the technician who was monitoring me that I would have to make sure to not be with my husband at all until I was found to have no more mature follicles, otherwise it would be extremely dangerous for me and those many potential lives. (I had about 18 follicles—that’s way more than normal, and way more than can even be viable.)
Just to backtrack for a second, I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) when I was 18. It was not so surprising to me, as I had never gotten a regular period in my life. I sometimes went months and months without getting a period. I knew that it was always going to be hard to conceive, since I wasn’t ever sure if I had ovulated or not, and if I did, whether it was on time, or late, or early. Thankfully, when dating my husband, we talked about this a lot, and he was completely ok with everything. He just said that we would proceed with whatever came, in terms of ttc (trying to conceive). Thank G-d for that.
So, back to the treatments. We really wanted to grow our family. I always pictured myself with a large family. I knew I wanted at least 6 children. By this time, the RE (reproductive endocrinologist) that we had been working with was retiring, and I had to find a new doctor. That was very hard—emotionally, more than anything. He knew my whole medical history and everything that went with it. I did my research and found someone else who was not at all the same as the original RE, but we went with this new one, as many people had recommended him.
So, I had to almost start from scratch. I had to tell him my entire medical history again, which was a big pain in the neck. He thought that because of my age (I was in my mid 30’s), I should just start right away with IVF. He gave me a long list of tests that had to be done before we could even think of starting. We began going through the list. Then we had a slight hiccup—I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. In the end, this hiccup pushed the treatments off for a long time.
For about 3 years afterwards, I was just not in a good head space to even begin trying again. I really wasn’t excited about restarting treatments, but I was not getting any younger, and I knew my husband wanted me to keep trying. I made the effort and scheduled the initial appointment with the RE again, who we ended up leaving for yet another doctor.
It was harder this time, as our daughter was even older than before. If I had an appointment, she would ask where I was going. Before, she had been so much younger, so it didn’t faze her. Now, I would have to make up stories—I was not going to tell her that I was going to a fertility doctor, even though she did know that she was conceived with the assistance of a doctor who helped mothers become pregnant if it didn’t happen easily. This was also an aspect that I never thought I would have to deal with in my life—my daughter’s questions about my infertility. She had begun to ask why she didn’t have a sibling, and I would tell her that Hashem has just not blessed us with one yet, but that she could daven, and hopefully Hashem would hear her tefilot. I had many conversations with her, and I explained that Hashem doesn’t always say yes to all of our tefilot. (That was a hard conversation to have.) So, I went to the new RE, and he gave me a whole slew of new tests to do, and a different plan than IVF, which sounded wonderful. And we are still going through it, as I write this.
SIF is very different than PIF in so many ways. I’m sure many people will say, “But baruch Hashem, you have a child.” And of course, I am so grateful to Hashem for blessing us with the gift that He gave us. But I see families with children—plural—and it just hurts. And it’s a different kind of hurt. I already know what it means to have a child, and so I know exactly what I am missing out on by not having been blessed with more than the one we have.
Going through SIF for about 8 years (actively since my daughter was about 2) is painful, and it is always on my mind. It is never not there; in my face. Whether I am walking the dog and seeing parents with many kids in the park, or watching my daughter listen to other children talk about their brothers and sisters, or even things like being able to give our daughter her own room because we have enough space in our home. It is always present. And it does not go away. It’s a pain that nobody can see, and nobody could really imagine, unless they themselves are in my shoes. But that is life. And we muster through with the gifts that Hashem gives us. We try (that being the operative word) to see the good in all of Hashem’s plans, and to know that He will do what is best for us in the end.
grew up in New Jersey and made aliyah 15 years ago. She lives in a yishuv in Gush Etzion with her husband, daughter and sleepy dog.