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How Infertility Forever Changes Parenting

September 10th, 2020 | 8 min. read

By Lisa Rosenthal

For some, infertility is a brief, albeit powerful interlude on the way to becoming a parent. Once pregnant, it’s like glancing at something stationary in the rear-view mirror - it quickly fades and then disappears. For many others though, the time spent in fertility treatment cycles, the ups and downs of testing, results, disappointments, and ultimately the success of having a baby forever alters how they experience themselves in the world.

They see themselves differently because they are different. They are permanently changed.

There are the littler things, like they don’t sweat the small stuff as much. They often feel less frustrated by sleepless nights, colicky babies, or interruptions due to an infant. (However, they don’t turn into saints, by any stretch of the imagination! Sleep deprivation and postpartum depression are real concerns and having infertility doesn’t protect you against them, so please, no guilt for being exhausted and cranky about being a parent after infertility.)

But there’s also the bigger stuff.

Without any comparison to parents who achieve their baby goals easily, parents after infertility do often feel a deeper sense of appreciation than they themselves would have felt, had they not had the experience of infertility. The only comparison being noted here is how those with infertility might themselves have been if infertility hadn’t entered their lives to delay parenthood.

A Patient Advocate’s Experience of Parenting After Infertility

I know I was a different parent. I looked at my daughter every single day, with the realization that she almost didn’t exist. That if we had given up, stopped trying, had changed the timing in any way, she wouldn’t exist.

When did I stop thinking that?

I’ll let you know. She’s 27 years old now, and I still think it every day.

Is Infertility Still in Your Life?

A paradox is the term used for when two diametrically opposed things are both true. Parenting after infertility has a lot of those. Two opposing truths living right next to each other.

One truth is that sleeplessness is hard. Not taking a shower for 4 days without even really noticing it, that’s hard. Being unable to make a meal for yourself without being interrupted 18 times, that’s hard. Crying baby that you’re not sure how to soothe - hard. Two-year-old tantrums - hard. A four-year-old know it all - hard. Twins - hard. And so on.

Those are real parenting truths.

And they live right next door to the wonderment of finally, FINALLY, holding your baby in your arms. Finally seeing them look right into your eyes, wrap their fingers around your pinky, feeling their warm, silky head under your lips.

Another truth? Your baby isn’t even remotely concerned with all your efforts to bring them into the world. They don’t know! And they don’t care. They aren’t infertility babies. They are just babies. They want to eat, pee, poop, look around, cry, etc. They are just normal, everyday, perfectly imperfect babies.

No such thing as an infertility baby.

Yet many who’ve experienced infertility feel the echoes, even if our babies don’t.

Parenting After Infertility- From Former Fertility Patients

Some former fertility patients, even with children as old as six or seven years, were eager to express the surprising and unsurprising ways that infertility shaped their decisions and their lives after their children were born. They lifted the veil, maybe to give hope to those still going through it, maybe because it was another way to release some of the heaviness of infertility. And maybe it was to express the exquisite joy of having a child after infertility.

We’re happy to be able to share their thoughts and feelings with you.

Echoes of Fertility Treatment in Everyday Life

“I think my biggest thing is how grateful I am. All of my dreams came true. But then I wonder why I still feel that little knife stab me when someone announces a pregnancy. I still wince when someone says something like how easily they can get pregnant, etc. I try to practice patience with my daughter, but I feel like I beat myself up for being a human and having moments of frustration because I worked my butt off to be where I am and I feel guilty feeling like I need a break or some time for myself.” M.A.

“I thought my angst over babies and pregnancy announcements would go away. It eased up, but when my first mommy friend announced she was pregnant (to her credit a big surprise given the age of her oldest) I felt it in my gut and was totally caught off guard.” M.E.

“I think I relish the small things more than I otherwise would. Milestones sometimes make me sad because I realize I may never get to have a child under 1 again, or a two-year-old in the summer sun, etc. I think my non infertile friends are better at celebrating and moving forwards. I definitely often feel like I’m waiting for the next shoe to drop. I’m more aware of her reproductive health and what I can do now to protect it. I think I enjoy the moment better than some of my non infertile friends. I’d like to think that I’m better at advocating for her than I would otherwise be. I think I’m better able to explain how her reproductive system works! I definitely know the anatomy better than I did before this.” G.S.

“My infertility experience floats through my mind, multiple times a day, every day. No exaggeration. And my child is almost 3.” C.E.

“Parenting is different because I feel like my appreciation for every little thing is not the same as my fertile friends. I have an overall feeling of being fortunate and it comes over me in waves throughout the day. I look at him, my body, and I couldn’t be more proud that my body made him. I appreciate how special it is to be pregnant and to give birth to your child. Every time I look at him, I’m reminded of that.” L.T.

“Lately, my daughter is talking a lot about babies and often pretends she has one in her tummy Recently a close friend asked her how many babies she wants to have when she grows up. I cringed thinking that she may not get to have any, who knows? I definitely stay away from that question myself. So there are little things that I never would have thought about that are different.” C.N.

Upsides of Parenting After Infertility

“I don’t stress the little things. If he needs extra cuddles, he is getting them. If I want to take 500 pictures of him in a cute outfit just because, you better believe I’m doing it and I don’t care what anyone says.” P.B.

“I do try to live in the moment and make memories because I know how precious this is and how blessed I am to be able to make these memories. I know that am probably done and am trying to savor every second.” W.K.

“I appreciate everything so much. I know what it’s like to have struggled and I will never take my son for granted, ever. Every toddler tantrum, every sleepless night, every messy meal comes with every new word he says, every time he holds my hand, learns to brush his teeth, puts on his little bike helmet even though he can’t even ride yet. Every tear, every laugh, it’s all beautiful, and I would do anything for him. I don’t know if I would be as grateful and as present if I hadn’t been through the years of praying for him before he was born.” F.L.

“I’m sensitive to how I share my story, because now I know it’s her story too. She has a right to her privacy and who and how she shares her story. Just knowing that makes me remember that she is a person, not just my child. Her own person. I don’t know that I would have realized that so early if it hadn’t been for infertility.” T.N.

Parenting Beyond Fertility Treatment

“Infertility makes me feel like if I step back into it then it will somehow give me bad luck again. My life with my husband and my son is pretty great at the moment. Do I want to mess with it? So again, never thought I would be content with my family of 3 but the more I think if this is what it is, I am the luckiest mama ever. Infertility made me feel differently in that way. I hope that makes sense, lol. But there is part of me that thinks maybe I will get pregnant naturally and I will be forced to face my fear of being pregnant and getting my second child here safely. I still think about giving my son a sibling and having another baby all the time, but I don’t think I’m willing to go through treatments again.” R.C.

“I’m mindful every day that this may be the one and only chance I get at the game of parenting, which I think adds a bit of pressure but I truly love being a mommy. It is the best job in the world and worth every punch, prick, and prod.” J.S.

“I will say I try to be more gentle with myself. The guilt is higher because of infertility. If I need a few minutes alone, if I feel happy, I’m taking a walk alone, if I have to work... just knowing I have a right to complain. I have a right to just be a mama and my feelings are valid. It’s okay for me to take care of me because he needs me to do that so I can take care of him. I think feelings of needing a break make you feel like you aren’t a good mother. Then when you struggled with infertility you feel like how dare I not give 110% of my attention?! I know how special it is that he is here! Then he grows out of his bassinet and I question myself if I pressed save and soaked up those moments enough?! Arghh it’s a constant game of holding on and letting go.” K.I.

“I have to stay away from pregnant moms who complain about “all their kids.” Parenting Is honestly much more fun than I expected (except for bedtime which sucks)!!!” G.L.

“I feel I’m a different parent because of infertility. I don’t need him to be a certain way, achieve any forced milestones, I just want him to be who he is and I want to support him every step of the way. I am appreciating the journey and being more present than I otherwise may have been, and definitely more so than with anything else in my life!” A.U.

None of Us Chose Infertility, But…

We didn’t choose infertility, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been gains from the experience, even beyond our beloved children. Here, we find our way back to paradoxes, distinctly different truths, standing side by side.

I know one shining and simple truth - I wouldn’t change the experience or the outcome of my fertility journey, even while I would gladly have skipped some of the more painful moments. Speaking with others who’ve experienced infertility, fertility treatment, and the family they result in, I realize once again that I’m not alone in valuing the challenging experiences my life has dealt me.

I didn’t choose infertility, but I am grateful for the seismic changes that it caused in me, in the deepest places in my heart and soul and for the ongoing relationships with others who are also grateful to be parenting after infertility.

Ready to Connect with Other Parents After Infertility?

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Lisa Rosenthal

With 35+ years experience in the fertility field, as well as navigating her own infertility, Lisa has dedicated her life to advocating for and supporting those struggling to grow their families. Her work includes serving as Illume Fertility's Patient Advocate, Strategic Content Lead, and founder of Fertile Yoga, as well as advocating for those with infertility at RESOLVE, Resolve New England, and other organizations.

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