After struggling to have a baby, once you successfully have one, isn’t it just “case closed” or “problem solved?”
Well, no. Many people who have struggled with infertility continue to have anxiety even after having a child, and their experience shapes their perspective on parenting, even after their success. The “formerly infertile” have different experiences with how their child arrives, and often have high levels of anxiety while parenting their long-wished-for child.
Pregnancy is a Different Experience
Often, people who’ve gone through the roller coaster of emotions with miscarriages, intrauterine insemination and in vitro fertilization have trouble believing they really are going to have the baby that they have wanted so much. Anxiety levels in pregnant women after assistive reproductive technology is significant, with 34 percent of women reporting moderate to severe anxiety in a 2013 study.
“I felt my stress was much higher. I spent the first seven weeks before the ultrasound expecting to get a phone call saying they called the wrong person, or they screwed up lab results and I wasn’t pregnant at all. Then I spent the entire first trimester just waiting to miscarry,” says Candace Fox.
“The entire process of deciding to try and have a kid is inherently stressful. It’s just that going through fertility treatment to help brings everything to the surface every day. Since there’s monitoring and awareness of what’s happening in your wife’s body, you’re constantly aware of what you’re trying to accomplish,” said Allen Brooks, 34, from Burke, Virginia. He and his wife Alisa have two sons, Liam, 6 and Elliot, 3, who was conceived after complications from polycystic ovarian syndrome.
“I was definitely holding my breath, but since it was our second child, I was very distracted with our two-year-old so I didn’t have as much time or energy to worry. I would review the statistics every so often to calm myself, as in ‘If you make it to this many weeks, your risk of miscarriage goes down,’” said Alisa, 32.
For Candace and Chris Wohl, 36 and 35, from Portsmouth, Virginia, the way that they built their family was through surrogacy, which included pregnancy, but with a twist.
“I had pregnancy pictures, but they were of another woman,” says Candace. “I needed tangible evidence that our daughter was going to be coming. I had no fluttering kick, no swollen ankles, no hemorrhoids, my stomach wasn’t rolling.”
While the Wohls were able to see their daughter at ultrasound appointments with the surrogate, they had been through many disappointments prior to this happy process.
“In my experience, the shoe always drops. I hear so many stories that I feel like people with miscarriages are all around me. But every trimester, I’d feel a little more hopeful,” Candace admits.
“We never let ourselves believe that we were actually going to have a child until we were holding her in our hands. After she was born, it seemed much easier for me to work to take care of this creature in front of me than to wrestle with the huge unknown of whether I would get to that point or not,” says Chris.
Their daughter is now two years old, and the Wohls have adjusted to life with a toddler. But even this transition is a bit different.
New Baby Time is Stressful
The arrival of a new family member is inherently stressful, and new babies have special needs to adjust to.
“We took it all in stride. Although it sucks to wake up at 1 a.m. and stay awake for the next two hours while your child battles sleep ferociously, it is way better to be doing that than to be lying awake in bed dreaming, thinking, praying, and almost sneering at the future thoughts of having a child,” Chris says.
“I was so tired. But I would cry because I was there, holding my child. I didn’t think I’d be there in that situation. It was definitely joyful,” says Candace.
In some ways, the long journey to get to parenthood makes it easier to endure.
Cancer survivor Crystal Silins’ daughter was adopted and she loved the new baby stage. “I always felt blessed and thankful for the life I’m living, and for this amazing little girl. Even when I was exhausted, it was always a joy,” she says.
More Pressure to be Perfect
Besides the sleepless nights, the diaper changes, the feeding schedules and the laundry, there’s additional pressure.
“There’s social pressure on being a mom already—with judgement about sleeping, feeding, breastfeeding—and then self-pressure to make sure you nail mommyhood. You feel like you can’t complain since ‘you wanted this, you asked me to fundraise and pray for you. Are you complaining about lack of sleep or being projectile vomited on?’ But on the flip side, “people are so happy for you, especially if you shared your challenges,” says Candace.
Parents of all kinds feel stress about protecting their children from the dangers of the world. For parents who’ve worked harder to have children, it can be even more stressful.
“I am terrified about my daughter’s safety. At the same time though, it is our responsibility to make sure that she is ready for the scary, snarling world out there and keeping her from every little thing that is an injustice to her,” says Chris.
And sometimes they have to fight the pervasive pressure of parenthood, just like everyone else.
“The perfect parent is a myth. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being there,” says Allen.
Infertility Still Limits the Family Size They Want
Even after success in having a child, or more than one, infertility makes achieving the family size they desire much more daunting.
“We have great kids, and we have a great family, but my wife suffered some very scary hemmoraging after Elliot’s birth, which puts future pregnancies in the ‘very dangerous for everyone attached to each other’ category. With all of that, making the decision to not continue to have kids was pretty easy, but it is never easy to completely close the door like we did,” says Allen.
Chris and Candace would love to have another child, but their options are limited.
“We are in the process of figuring out how to go from a family of 3 to a family of 4 in an affordable fashion and really, there are 3 main considerations: space, attention and money. Although it is a difficult territory to navigate, I am confident that Candace and I will be able to make room for a fourth family member,” says Chris.
Silins’ says that many people ask when they’ll be having a sibling for their daughter.
“At times, people would ask if we’re going to adopt another, which puts a little bit of pressure on us, because we would like to have two kids, however, it’s not cheap, and we are loving all our focus being on Brianna right now. We’d like to think it’s an option if we can save up enough money for it again, but we’re in no hurry currently,” she says.
Pain for Those Who Wait
While parents are delighted for their opportunity, they often carry guilt about the people who were there for them, supporting each other through infertility.
“Mother’s Day is hard for women with infertility. My first Mother’s Day was hard for me to get excited. I was so happy for me but so sad for the person who was ‘the next me.’ I know how bad that day sucks,” says Candace.
Both Chris, Candace and many other people who shared their experience for this series continue to advocate for infertility issues, through RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association.
“It is the obligation of the cured. My duty is to pave the way for the next me, the next generation. We go to Advocacy Day every year to share our stories. It’s so incredibly important in allowing people dealing with infertility to have access to affordable care and family building options. I know that it could be my daughter who has infertility—so if someone doesn’t do something now, who will?” says Candace.