The Spiritual Sorrow of Secondary Infertility: A Father’s View

Dear Father in heaven: Where is our next child?

Yeah, that’s been my most pressing question for God. We’ve been trying for a 2nd child, throwing all kinds of knowledge and treatment at the issue, but we’ve been lingering at the point where the word “trying” can be replaced with “failing”.

We’ve received the medical feedback. My report had a diagnosis and apparently it’s uncorrectable. Her report had a diagnosis, but that is somewhat correctable. And I can tell you of the shock I received when I learned that I may cause us to have tiny chance of pregnancy during any given month. When I read deeper about the diagnosis, I remember sweat needling through my brow, my hair tingling, my throat itching and rushing to close, and my body recoiling and doubling over a bit. I was a bent, inside-out cactus: My psyche had turned against me and my body decided to pierce itself with a thousand pricks of anxiety. All this time without another baby was my fault. Yes, my fault that we’re not reassembling the crib, that we aren’t participating in Creation again, and that our next Most Precious Gift will be nothing but empty arms.

Then a day or two later our fertility doctor said the diagnosis was actually meaningless and that there’s nothing to fear. Besides, we already have a kid and doc said that proves that my body isn’t broken. Well, for crying out loud like a baby, that’s the last time I read a medical report alone.

So that’s a small injection of hope. But twenty-nine months after the birth of our son—living in month-to-month anticipation—any glimmer of hope for a second child is like watching the last scintillation of a falling diamond fade into a dark ravine below us.

I’ve begun to think that perhaps God simply doesn’t want another me, as absurd as that sounds. I’ve actually said that to people in futile jest. The receiver of my poor joke is typically shocked, but I joke about it because I’m coping, because my grief turns my usual unflappable joy into a stroke of immaturity where I say something outlandish just to deflect pain. But part of me can start to believe my jokes. Being deprived of another shot at God’s most important gift in marriage makes me second guess if the Lord considers the whole arc of my life as anywhere near fruitful. Maybe the only real spiritual fruit I bear through this is a testimony to failure.

When you’ve made a kid already, it brings some consolation. But there’s a trick that secondary infertility plays on the mind: when you can’t make another, you wonder if there’s some kind of cosmic power at play. Because our bodies are still the same. My wife hasn’t even crossed into her 30s, so what changed? What did I disrupt in grand divine order and which fertility god has been given new mythic life just to harass me? And so I’m lulled into a spiritual battle that otherwise has no business knocking at my door.

This may all seem terribly irrational or even extreme, but secondary infertility can do that. Fertility is perhaps the sole biological function that humanity has linked to God’s favor, the Virgin Mary herself having been addressed with “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” In other words, there’s no holy favor attached to sneezes, coughs, twitches, blinks, or yawns. The entire biblical account is rich with God bestowing a blessing of children upon those He favors. So in my human weakness, I find myself thinking that my spiritual progress is truly personal regress, and perhaps I missed something critically important about grace along the way. It’s a mosquito that saps a bit of life every month. It tricks me into thinking that I’m a fraud masquerading as a meek marriage sage who sits atop a lonely internet mountain.

I once posted on social media that I hated watching my firstborn grow up because I can’t get those earlier moments back. A friend of mine replied, “That’s why you make another!” And that’s the hope that I’ve carried with me: one day I’ll hold another featherweight, doughy joy in my arms. I’d relive that awe of creating something that I never knew I could love so much. Every newborn teaches us the boundlessness of love, but here I face the prospect that my education is otherwise complete if God doesn’t intervene. The baby bottles will remain boxed up. The clothes remain stashed on the top shelf of my boy’s closet. The pacifiers will be tossed out to decay on their own useless time.

And that’s what’s so crushing: my whole world is still filled with the enormous anticipation of new life. We didn’t pack these things away just so I could watch my wife weep after every failed pregnancy test. We didn’t intend to permanently stow away our love alongside the baby bassinet. We didn’t buy a new glider recently just to sit in waves of monthly self-pity.

Yes, there’s adoption and foster parenting, and doing so reaches to the pinnacle of selfless love. One day, yes. But it’s not something you say to someone who thinks their body and soul are potentially broken. It will come in time; I’ve only gotten to this point I’m at right now, some 29 months after I first saw my son.

So, all this said, what is my relationship to God now? Where are we going? Do I still see grace in every moment of family life, poured out completely? Well, yes. But it’s grace seen through the lens of a battle against the little lies that want to make a false god out of the Living God, and this battle will refine what my faith will become. Sure, I’ve just been hit by a massive biological uppercut and a spiritual haymaker, and I’m laid out on the floor. But I’m not worried about getting up, because I will be picked up and consoled by Him who “makes firm the knees of the weak.” My weakness will ultimately have to be about Him, because He is the author of this part of my story that I cannot control. My cast of characters may be slimmer than expected, but He will write a story through my life about how He is Father to me no matter how many children I father.

The story continues in the next post in this series.

 

(Feature image above: At the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in 2017, praying for another child.)

 

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2 Comments

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  1. I appreciate your writing about secondary IF. During primary infertility, I was always so bugged by those who wanted more. Couldn’t they see they already had their miracles? But it is hard the second time as well….it’s easier to distance yourself from the pain when you have no kids, but you’re immersed in mom (and dad!) life and babies all the time. And to know how beautiful the gift of creation is firsthand? Tragic to be then denied. And the questions from your kiddo as they get older are heartbreaking as well. The guilt over spending their childhood sad is…just sad. But, I found solace in the Holy family…I would of teen ask Mary in my prayer…was Jesus really enough for you? Did a part of your long for more? And of course the answer is a resounding yes. He is enough for her. And me. He is enough.

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    • A beautiful reply, Alison. Thank you so much.

      You are right about kids asking questions as they get older. I have a friend whose sole child wrote to her, “I don’t want to be the only one!” It was heartbreaking to say the least.

      And I do consider primary infertility, in general, to be harder on a married couple than secondary infertility for the reasons you point out. All fertility issues have their own unique struggles, and the fact that so many people have come forward to me about their own issues—primary, secondary, or otherwise—has been a great show of solidarity.

      And your last few sentences are just spiritual gold. Just beautiful–they are a sign that a soul is submitted radiantly to God.

      Like

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