Mummy’s not sharing – the secret bitterness of secondary infertility

My brother and me

I’m lucky. I feel lucky. I’ve got the most beautiful daughter in the whole world (apart from yours, of course, if you’ve got one). She brings me joy every day.

I would love her to have a sibling, though.

A hundred per cent of my childhood memories involve my brother. We argued, we wrestled (literally – Granny Breakwell rang the bell to mark the start and end of each round). I kicked him in the nuts on purpose. He elbowed, pinched and punched me in the same place over and over to see if he could scar me for life.

My brother and me

I told Paul’s friend that he thought about a girl he fancied and snogged his pillow. He told all my friends he’d caught me counting my new special hairs. We bickered and framed and sabotaged at every turn. But we loved each other so much.

I slept in his room every Christmas Eve – we wore our sleeping bags over our heads and brought each other to the floor by any means necessary. We did sadistic blindfold tastings of Neapolitan chocolates (the devil’s best work) and jumped off the haystack on our Welsh farm holidays. We perfected impressions of our parents and their friends. We giggled at the dinner table and made constant in-jokes. We must’ve been a nightmare.

Back when we were still cute

My brother is gone now. He went running six years ago and collapsed (maybe I’ll write about that another time). But my point is, I can’t imagine my childhood without him.

I’ve never been an only child and they are still a conundrum to me. I marvel at their normality. Surely they should be inscrutable psychopaths who join taxidermy clubs. But the ones I’ve known are, without exception, well adjusted, sociable and apparently happy creatures. I saw a big group of Chinese only-teenagers last summer at the college where I teach. They were making a total racket (yeah!) and having a whale of a time.

But I still can’t get my head around it. With textbook confirmation bias, I just can’t convince myself that childhood minus siblings equals fun.

When Maya had just turned one, I got pregnant again. It was a surprise but we were happy. There would only be one school year between them. It would be hectic. But they’d be close and that’s what we wanted. They’d have what we’d had. Eight weeks in, we lost the baby. Another three miscarriages followed.

It didn’t hurt too badly the first few times. Again I am lucky. I was never tormented by visions of the children that might have been. I was sad but hopeful. The fourth time was harder. We saw a heartbeat at seven weeks but by eight it was gone. Still early, but much more painful.

I’d felt really sick, an encouraging sign. This time I cried a lot. When the bad news came, it began to feel like our chances were ebbing away. It’s seven months since I last miscarried and I’m still not sure if we’ll ever have another. I’m 40. We might need IVF with pre-implantation screening. The risk of Down’s Syndrome would be high even then. We’re not sure what to do.

Maya’s need for people is palpable. She loves them. She wants to be where the action is. When she leaves a playdate with siblings, she feels wrenched away from the fun. She cries real tears. She asks for a baby sister. It stings and feels cruel. My interpretation of her upset is always coloured by the sadness that there’s no-one at home to play with.

Most of the time I’m fine. I think of the pros of having only one child, of which there are plenty. But sometimes I can feel the tears trying to come and I just won’t let them. It can happen at the news that someone is pregnant with their second. Or sometimes with friends who have two. It hurts to see siblings having fun in their own little world. Maybe it’s the pain of losing my brother. He was so important to me and now my daughter can’t have one of him either.

With people I don’t know that well, the question of another child hangs in the air. I don’t want to tell them. Why should I be forced to share my pain with them and field their sympathy? Other times, the questions and comments flow in: Do you think you’ll ever have another? Here we go. You’re wise just having one. Please don’t. Don’t leave it too late to give her a brother or sister. Shut up shut up shut up! It has officially started to hurt. And I’m finding it hard to confide.

I never find it easy to say I’m in pain. I crave admiration, not pity, and I’m fiercely, pigheadedly independent. That might make me a narcissist but I reckon I’m not that rare. Something childish in me wants to be right out front, winning and pretending not to love it. Losing four pregnancies feels like defeat.

So I keep quiet when I’m hurting and disregard all advice with defiance. I don’t want other people’s judgment clouding my own. I don’t want people to know when I’m low. Low is vulnerable and never aspired to and I’ll be fine tomorrow anyway. When I’m good again, I don’t want them asking how I am and regarding me as weaker than they are. My proud denial of pain ensures that rarely happens. It’s primal and pathetic but it works and it insulates me against the perceived risk of perceived inferiority.

So it’s no real surprise that my silly pride is now driving a wedge between me and honest friendships, throwing up a wall of protection that is starting to distance me from people I like and love. People do care. They’re not all being smug when they tell me it’ll be okay. I don’t want to be a fool but I think I’m pretty foolish for refusing to admit there is pain.

So I’ve decided I’m going to try. I’m going to be more honest and say that I sometimes ache. I’m going to try not to worry about whether people pity me and stop lamenting and resenting my position of vulnerability.

I don’t buy the ‘meant to be’ philosophy. I watched a programme about 9/11 once where a couple who got back together after he survived it gazed at each other and suggested their reunion was down to fate. I nearly smashed the TV on behalf of everyone who’d lost their own life or someone they loved.

But I do believe that most bad luck can result in some good.

Maybe in my case, being unable to have another baby (now or forever) will force me to address my pride, be more honest about how I feel and care less about what people think of me. Maybe I’ll start trying harder, worry less about failure and get more out of life. And it’s not my motivation, but maybe people will admire me more, not less.

Have you had problems with secondary infertility? I’d love to hear how it’s felt and how you’ve managed…

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