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.

*****

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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Comments

  1. Wow. Just wow. This is so beautiful and honest. I really envy your ability to so clearly articulate your thoughts and experiences. There is do much to think about here that I just didn’t “get” from the article. Hmm. I’ll be chewing on this one for a while today.

  2. Yes, I think we should have all kept trying for SIX more years to achieve pregnancy naturally.

    Ridiculous.

    Thank you for this post. We have severe MFI and I, too, hate the comments that my body now knows what to do. My outward response is often, “my body bearing a child can’t fix his sperm. What else have you got?”

    • I laughed (sarcastically) at the six years thing. ‘Cause that’s way above and way beyond the six months of failed conception that is considered infertility at my age. And ’cause none of us has other issues to contend with like diminished ovarian reserve or age or fibroids or endo or child spacing or anything like that, right? It’s just not that simple, person who is a freakin’ medical doctor specializing in fertility risk factors!

      • I actually just finished reading the article and it was infuriating. I’m not sure they even touched on MFI other than to say it exists. They certainly didn’t interview anyone who went through MFI and got suprisingly pregnant. You, and one other blogger, are the only MFI-ers I’ve heard of in YEARS who got surprise babies after IVF. It just.is.not.common.

        But – neither is getting pregnant after adopting. Or after PCOS. Or after endo. Or after ALL.THE.THINGS.

        The comments were even better than the story. I had to stop reading. Sigh.

      • Obviously, I have things to say on this topic and I will…after I come back a few more times. But I couldn’t resist jumping in here to say that if there is one thing I have learned on my IF journey it’s this: just because someone is a medical professional doesn’t mean they can’t also be giant close-minded assholes. Or maybe I was just *super* lucky and found them allllllllllll.

  3. Awesome…awesome post. The whole thought that women are RUSHING into something like ART is so frickin ridiculous. Clomid – maybe. But IUI/IVF – are you kidding me?!! that is such a huge emotional, physical, and financial commitment – it’s just insane that someone would say that some women are purposely rushing into something like that.

    Phew. At any rate, I cannot pretend to imagine how it feels to have a surprise pregnancy after ART, but I do know that a disproportionate number of my ALI friends HAVE experienced that phenomenon, and I don’t know a single one of them that has immediately had a stress-free, happy experience. It’s a mind fuck, for sure.

    Also, I am SOOO glad that you were able to transfer to your home birth midwife. I hope and pray that we get to follow that path if we are blessed with a second pregnancy (well, if I can talk my darn hubby into it!). I look forward to reading about your experience with it all!!

  4. Firstly, awesome post! This is it exactly! Thanks for the great description of it.

    As the owner of a shocking surprise fetus (although we were milling around in secondary infertility and hadn’t gotten to any ART yet), this is very much my experience. In June we gave away baby stuff before we moved because after 3 years and 3 miscarriages, we figured the odds were stacked against us enough that it wasn’t worth keeping the stuff… and we were pregnant in July. Rushing into seeking help? Really? How long do people want you to wait around to “see if things work out” anyway? Three years if you’re in your twenties? As I am ready to point out to friends who “are just waiting a little longer to try,” I’m not getting any younger and the only thing I know is that waiting longer means less chance of things going well… so I won’t wait anymore (hence the 3 years of TTC while I’m in school). I’m not a fan of the 5 years between children that we get (yes, yes, it will be fine, I know) and I wish we’d been in a place to do something more sooner. I figure I’ll be nervous about this pregnancy all along and that’s life. It’s the battle scars of all that waiting and loss. So the end of the HuffPo article clicks for me. Shock, disbelief, and nerves go with the territory. Some of it for me was having figured out what we were going to do next, and now POOF! it’s all changed. No control and no illusion of control either. Broadly the idea that anyone rushes into ART makes me crazy, but it does bother me that nobody has studied the surprise pregnancy after ART phenomenon in the US/Canada yet. If it really happens as much as it seems to, then why? What’s the deal?

  5. Terrific post! Having found myself in the same situation, conceiving naturally after two and a half years TTC, one failed IVF cycle and a successful FET pregnancy, it is a mind fuck especially considering we also had male fertility issues. I must admit the bonding with my unborn baby has been different to my first pregnancy and after your post I can see now that it was my disbelief about the pregnancy and the concern about my body failing us once again. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this article and your story. It’s helped me realise I’m not alone in feeling this way about my surprise pregnancy.

    • You know, I have been hearing so much from others who’ve experienced these spontaneous pregnancies after IF treatment and who, too, are struggling to find their footing emotionally, who feel a bit upside down in all of it. You (and I) are definitely NOT alone with these feelings. It’s way more complicated than I could have ever anticipated.

      And congrats on your pregnancy! Hope you’re feeling well! 🙂

  6. Okay, I have come back many, many times and I still don’t even know what to say or where to begin. I am struggling with this surprise #2 enormously. In every way possible. I am ALL OVER the place. I have volumes and volumes to say about it and so much fear to actually say it. But reading this makes me feel heard and validated. Like this part of the journey really does matter. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for writing this for all to see. xo

  7. Great post, Rhi!

    I also was maddened by the suggestion that we’re all just jumping into ART too soon and we don’t realllly need it. I dragged my feet for six months past the recommended time before we started our first IUI cycle. I kept hoping that it would happen for us, though something was clearly not going right for us despite a year and six months months of well-timed intercourse and 3 clomid cycles with an OB/GYN, HSG, SHG, and an SA before going to see an RE. no one wants to jump into ART, it was a scary thing to do.

    After 3 IUIs, two pregnancies and two losses, my son came from a cycle with zero assistance. It was a huge surprise and took great adjustment for me to get used to – that after so long of thinking it couldn’t happen without help, it did. Was it actually doing ART that helped my body conceive him? Was it those pregnancies from ART that taught my body what to do? I don’t think so. We just hit the jackpot finally, after nearly two and a half years of trying. I don’t take it to mean I am no longer infertile (though of course I wish I wasn’t)

    Since I had him, I’ve been hoping that it could be that lucky again – it did once, so surely it could again, right? 10 cycles and zero luck, so despite having our “miracle baby” the first time around, we find ourselves as infertile once again.

    It’s all so confusing and such a mindf*ck. I think the main thing most of these articles miss is infertility and fertility are not as simple or as black and white as people think. There is a giant grey area of really subfertile. Most of us IFers fall obviously on the infertile end of the spectrum, where pregnancy is unlikely, but there is the tiniest bit of possibility (unless the man has zero sperm or the woman is without tubes). Some of us get really lucky and conceive on our own. Most of us don’t. It doesn’t mean if we conceive that we are fixed or no longer infertile, it just means we got really, really lucky one time.

  8. Love this post. You know my story but for those that dont – after 5 years of IF and 7 IVF’s I fell pregnant with my triplet girls. Miraculously when they were 19 months old I found myself pregnant again with MASSIVE odds stacked against us (severe MF, severe PCOS and egg quality, infact I conceived on CD 120+). For a good few weeks if not months I couldnt even think about it, couldnt even talk about it to my husband. We were dumbfounded. So, so, so many feelings, thoughts, emotions that I had to try and deal with. I kept on saying but Im IF?? How could this have happened. My son’s conception is nothing short of a miracle and people keep on saying the same to me – your body healed itself, you relaxed etc. At this stage instead of wanting to punch them I just shrug because I really have no idea what to think or say anymore. Very confusing…

  9. This didn’t show up in my feed for some reasons. Obviously I can’t relate but lately I’ve heard soapy urban legends that I can’t help but wonder if I will be one. Then I laugh.

    Part of me wonders if age is a contributing factor at all, meaning soapy if us start trying later in life. I mean there is no reason why Ryan and I can’t get pregnant, none but my age really.

    Then you hear of all these people with real infertility issues and these miracles occur.

    I don’t know what I would be like. Would I be in a state of shock or would I roll with it.

    Haven’t read the huff post article. Too early in the morning to get pissed off.

Trackbacks

  1. […] said some stuff over here today about surprise second pregnancies. I have more stuff to say here about this […]

  2. […] thoughts on surprise pregnancies after IF treatment – both in response to the article “Infertility: Miracle Babies” and as a women who finds herself in this very situation. Her piece is raw, moving, honest, […]

  3. […] I talked about it in Part One, and recently Rhianna gave voice to a lot of what I have been feeling here. I have a lot of anxiety over whether or not I am “still IF” and how I might be viewed. […]

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