featured post/news item: “infertility: miracle babies”

Since this article was published on The Huffington Post last week, several readers have sent it to us asking us to comment. Although one of our authors finds herself in this exact situation, we asked one reader to share her thoughts on this article and her current situation with us as a special guest author. Rhianna (formerly of Three is a Magic Number, now in her new home at Arch Mama) and her husband were surprised to be (“naturally”) expecting their second child after requiring IVF/ICSI (for MFI) to conceive their son.

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This evening I walked to my first prenatal appointment with my homebirth midwife. Her office is just a handful of blocks from my house, and I had hoped to use the time alone on my short walk to meditate a little about this new journey I’m on–this “surprise second pregnancy after infertility treatments” journey. It’s starting to finally feel like fall here in St. Louis; I kicked fallen acorns with my steps as I crunched my way along the leaf-strewn sidewalk. It was cold enough for a scarf and fleece jacket, cold enough to refresh a worn mama’s mind after a long day of toddler-wrangling.

I thought about where I was this time last year. I was in the middle of moving to Missouri from our home in Virginia; the one we bought a decade ago, the one that bore witness to years of failed cycles; the one with the garden I grew in the backyard when I couldn’t grow a baby in my womb; the one with the kitchen counter on which I ritualistically lined up my Lupron, Menopur, and Gonal-F before pushing them into my body through a fold of belly fat; the home that was my wonder-stoking son’s very first.

Then I thought about where I was the fall prior to last. I was in my third trimester after transferring the only two embryos we had. I was grappling with the undiluted, persistent disbelief that I was actually pregnant after all we’d been through and the slow-to-arrive excitement that was gratuitously tempered by the stinging guilt that I’d somehow managed to achieve a pregnancy while so many others continued their painful struggle.

And I recognized tonight that I am in not such a different place now with my current pregnancy as I was two falls ago then with my first.

It brought to mind this Huffington Post article published last week, Infertility: Miracle Babies, in which the author tells the stories of women who subsequently discovered they were pregnant “naturally” after using assisted reproductive technology in an effort to bring a child into their arms. The author offers statistics and studies to elucidate this reportedly not uncommon experience:

Though few studies track how often a spontaneous pregnancy after use of assisted reproductive technology occurs, those that do suggest it is not uncommon. Most recently, a French paper published this summer in the journal Fertility and Sterility found that 17 percent of women who gave birth after IVF became pregnant again within six years — this time on their own. Among couples whose IVF failed, the rate of spontaneous pregnancy was even higher: 24 percent of the women became pregnant in the years after treatment. A 2008 German study found that 20 percent of couples who conceived a child by intracytoplasmic sperm injection — a form of IVF in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg — and who subsequently tried to get pregnant naturally, succeeded. Estimates suggest that normal, healthy women have around a 20 to 25 percent chance of getting pregnant per menstrual cycle.

I suppose other women in my circumstance could perhaps feel a sense of comfort and kinship with the you-are-not-alone tenor of this kind of article, but I…don’t. Instead, my feelings are all over the place, which I think is a testament to the fact that feelings surrounding surprise second pregnancies can be mind-bendingly complicated for infertile peeps.

I resent anything that attempts to oversimplify the infertility experience, most intensely the reductive ass-vice of “Just relax” or “Just adopt” or “Just get pregnant and it’ll fix your body.” My (now former) OB suggested this last one to me, that my previous pregnancy must have righted my body. Uh, did she even look at my chart where it clearly states that our infertility is attributed to male-factor issues? How did my pregnancy improve his sperm? This article has all of these annoying anecdotes.

It also offers this offensive suggestion:

An even simpler explanation is that some women are rushing into assisted reproductive technology and that given more time, they might have gotten pregnant on their own.

And then later on, this:

“Because IVF is so successful now, I think some people are probably getting it who don’t really need it,” said Courtney Lynch, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, epidemiology and pediatrics at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, whose research centers on risk factors for fertility problems.

Both statements made me seethe. As if any of us leaped uninformed and enthusiastically into IVF! If your experience was anything like mine, you and your partner sat before your reproductive endocrinologist who, clutching a chart thick with a battery of your diagnostic testing and more than a year’s worth of your documented basal body temps, cervical fluid, and dates of intercourse, quietly and directly informed you that it was her professional assessment that IVF was likely the most effective way to achieve pregnancy. And I feel this admonition of “rushing” could send the wrong message to women repeatedly trying and failing to conceive–the message that they should just continue waiting and hoping that biology will somehow do its thing on its own. I  dawdled for years with a dismissive OB, the kind who continually countered my worry and confusion with other annoying anecdotes, such as “You’re still young!” and “It only takes one!”  If there is anything I regret about how I managed my reproductive concerns, it’s that I didn’t see an RE sooner.

What resonated with me most deeply in this article was the following:

As an alum of the IVF world, her feelings about pregnancy — natural or otherwise — are defined by the turmoil of the process. “I just wanted to have a pregnancy I could enjoy, a normal pregnancy where I wasn’t scared all the time,” Kari said. “This was supposed to be that pregnancy for me, but it hasn’t been. I’m still in complete shock and disbelief that this is really happening.”

Pregnancy and parenting have not magically erased the “turmoil of the process” for me (or for most of you, I’d wager), but I have found these experiences healing. I found my son’s birth to be amazingly empowering. I reclaimed a significant part of myself from infertility when I pushed my baby out into this world. Breastfeeding, too, has helped to heal my fractured trust in my body. I could articulate these experiences–birthing and breastfeeding–in grander, genuine detail for you, but suffice it to say that both have profoundly renewed my respect for and trust in my body.

If infertility is the wound, the love and gratitude I feel in parenting my son has been the linament. Parenting has encouraged me to  s l o w   d o w n, to dwell in the present moment, to desire to give all of my care and focus to my son. And it was in that spirit that my husband and I decided to table our pursuit for a second child. There are many years I cannot remember anything fun about. The only distinct thing I remember about 2007? That I couldn’t get pregnant. And 2008? Same. In 2009? Just that we had our first RE consult. Where is all the goodness? I KNOW there was goodness in those years, and, yet, I can’t recall it.

I didn’t want that to be my son’s childhood: goodness overshadowed and forgotten.

Months after this revelation, I discovered, jaw-droppingly, that I was pregnant again. And it was a suckerpunch to my identity. Worst of all, it hijacked that new sense of trust I’d developed for my body. Years ago I couldn’t rely on my body to do its thing on its own, and now I couldn’t even trust my body to NOT do what it supposedly couldn’t do on its own. Mind = fucked.  Suddenly the wound was torn open again, and the “turmoil of the process” was raw and fresh again. Despite my deep desire for another less interventive birth (and a strong interest in homebirth) I went  straight to an OB for prenatal care because I couldn’t trust my body. I simply couldn’t accept that this pregnancy would stick. I didn’t want to start with midwife care, only for something to go horribly wrong with this pregnancy, and for my care to then be transferred to a whole new person to invade my privacy and private parts.

Just like Kari, the woman referenced in the last quote above, all I longed for was a pregnancy untainted by my infertility baggage. This pregnancy isn’t that for me either. Which isn’t to say that I do not feel joy and great gratitude for this new life moshing away in my uterus, of course. But I think my daughter deserves what I wanted to give my son when I decided to table my pursuit of a second pregnancy: unparceled attention and mindfulness  unmuddied by my infertility baggage. I’m working on it. I’m trying to suture the wound, trying to reinforce the trust in and respect for my body, trying to reclaim my sense of self. (One big step in that direction was transferring my care from the OB to the homebirth midwife I’d longed to work with.)

This article was a big trigger for me. I have so much more to say about this surprise second pregnancy experience–about how it feels like the most fucked up part of the Infertile/Fertile Venn diagram, about my (resolving) struggle to connect with this pregnancy, and about my mounting insecurity about my maternal competency in parenting two small ones. But I think these are probably thoughts better suited for my own personal blog space! It’s…complicated. Far more complicated than the Huffington Post would suggest about these “miracle babies.”

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