Posted by: DD | December 5, 2006

no. 332 – How Does ART Affect A Child?

I don’t like using the term Secondary Infertility when it comes to our diagnosis. I was fertile and now I’m infertile. It’s really just that simple when it comes to semantics.

Except there’s one extra factor that affects most of us who do deal with secondary infertility, and that’s children. It’s not just an issue between the man and woman when there is a child, especially a younger one, in the mix.

I would like to believe that we have been able to keep all of the pain, grief, anger and disappointment from our son. X was just shy of turning three when we lost Vivienne in 2004, which was the turning point in our fertile-to-infertile situation. Back then, the day I found out I was pregnant, I worked with X on how to say he was going to be a big brother to his Daddy when he got home from work. Today I could never imagine being so presumptive, and I cringe when I hear others doing it. If we had stayed pregnant with Wolf, I seriously considered not telling him until he either noticed I was getting fat; or close to 30 weeks so it would give him a couple of months to get use to the idea of being a big brother. I couldn’t imagine what may have happened if X had been almost 5 when we had lost Vivienne as he completely gets the concept of baby sister or baby brother today. To have to explain to him that his baby sister was dead…well, it doesn’t even bear thinking about.

Even though I would prefer to think that X has remained oblivious to what is going on with his Mom and Dad over these past couple of years, I know that the only person I am trying to fool is myself. When I get up at 5:00 a.m. to make a drive to the clinic, he asks his Dad where I am and he’s told simply that I had to go to The Metro. On the occasions that we have had to take him with us for an overnight stay because of an early morning scheduled IUI, we tell him that I have to go see a doctor and he hasn’t questioned it further. When there are the rare moments that I am crying openly in Mr. DD’s arms, X watches in concern, but says nothing. He has never seen me cry when it’s just us two at home (I usually go hide in the shower or laundry room). I don’t know what he would ask, and I sure the hell don’t know how I would answer.

In my opinion, he’s too young for a detailed explanation and certainly too old to ignore or tell white lies to. For example, for his birthday he received as a gift a package of 5 ninja characters, each in a different colored costume. He opened the package shortly before going to bed so he only got to play with them for about 10 minutes. That was Sunday. Last night he noticed one was missing. The white one. I wavered about how to answer because I knew the truth would upset him, but telling him a lie defeats all that we have been working on as far as his recent penchant for story-telling goes. When I told him that I found the white one was broken and had thrown it away, he was upset. He whined and whimpered, but five minutes later he had moved on to something else.

Depending on what happens in 2007 I know that with him getting a older, he is bound to become more inquisitive about the doctor’s appointments (or adoption meetings and possible home study) and I can only hope that when he asks us questions, we can answer in a way that is neither scary ("seeing the doctor…again") or to make him feel guilty ("Mommy and Daddy are trying to get you a little brother/sister, but we are having problems").

Remember when I was worrying about what to tell him about a sibling conceived via donor? In comparison, explaining that seems so much easier than some day in the future having to tell him that Mommy lost three babies and that’s why he doesn’t have any brothers or sisters.

Until then, we do try really hard to keep the worst from him. We have always planned injections after he goes to bed and I take any oral drugs after he goes to school. The physical evidence of our failed cycles is invisible. And I find that strangely ironic because I know it will be the invisible evidence of our failed cycles and our miscarriages that he will see first.



  1. What to tell and not to tell children is a difficult decision to make. Talking with Emma about adoption hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had to kind of feel her out. When I first told her that she grew in E’s tummy, she got upset so I dropped the subject. She brought it up later, on her own, after she processed it for herself. At this point, she’s fine. One thing I thought was that instead of saying you want to make a brother or sister for him, you could tell X that you and Mr. DD want to have a baby and you are needing help from the doctor to do that. Since he doesn’t know how babies are made anyway, he wouldn’t find that to be out of the ordinary. If you choose the route to adoption, you can say something similar. Put the emphasis on whay you want as parents instead of doing this for him. Let him make the connection that this would be a sibling. That way, there is no reason for him to feel any guilt at all.

    You know your son and I have all the faith in the world that you’ll figure this one out.

  2. Noah was four when I had my first post-Noah miscarriage. As things got more difficult and I got more unhappy I told him that I was trying to have a baby, that my body didn’t seem to be working right to help me do that and that I was sad about it. When I had miscarriages and cried I told him that I thought I was going to have a baby but it turned out I was wrong. (I never got far enough along that I was pregnant long enough to *be* pregnant and *live* pregnant.)

    The hardest thing he ever said to me was, “Why am I not enough for you?”

    But we talk about it now that he’s nine and it’s long past and if he remembers this or that and what he remembers about this or that. I don’t know what long-term impact it might have had on him but I believe that it’s certainly not uncommon for parents to have big huge challenges/crises (divorce, death, infertility, etc.) and I believe are children are resilient to the inevitable ups and downs. I didn’t take that as permission to just let my parenting to to hell but I did take comfort in knowing that the impact it might all have on Noah would not necessarily be a terrible thing.

  3. I have no children (other than my dog) so I cannot even begin to imagine what to do in this situation. Sometimes I wish I could “remember” what it was like to be 5 again so I could better relate to kids, but I can’t.

    I know X wants a sibling and I don’t think he will give much thought as to how he gets one, but when to tell him what is tricky. Time passes so slowly for children and they can hold onto details and worry about something we may dismiss. He seems like a very smart little boy and may already be picking up some details – here and there.

  4. I’m on the fence about telling – part of me says it’s SO much easier not saying anything until a new baby arrives because untelling is just the worst thing ever. Another part of me says that kids are SO intuative and perceptive that they already know something is up anyway – that it’s better to include them. In any event – they get through it, just like you do. I’m glad I sheltered my kids from as much as I did… I wish I could have sheltered them from more.

  5. I believe in age-appropriate honesty. Sam knew we were expecting Baby Alex and he knows that Baby Alex died. He knew we were expecting Baby Travis and that Baby Travis died. I do my best to explain what I don’t even understand myself. I can’t make it not scary for him…because it IS scary. And overall, I think he’s doing remarkably well. I don’t think I could have lied or protected him more…because then he would have missed his chance to love his brothers altogether. I know its different with infertility so I can’t claim to have answers for that. But I would like to think that Sam’s already dealt with a lot…something like adoption he could definitely handle.

  6. It is hard, isn’t it? We are debating when to tell The Cutie Pie and its tough. If we tell him, will he then tell everyone else even though we’re not ready? But can we tell the rest of the family and not tell him? So far, we haven’t told him much other than “Mommy & Daddy tried for a long time to have you and we got very lucky, but we haven’t had much luck having another baby. Hopefully someday we will.”
    IF, whether primary or secondary, just sucks.

  7. Our daughter is only 16 months, and I’m sure she doesn’t “know” what has been going on with me. But I do know that she can tell I’m upset. We told her I was pregnant, and if I get pregnant again we will probably tell her as soon as we know.

    After I had my miscarriage I told her that we were no longer going to be having a baby in June and that Mommy & Daddy are going to be sad for a while but it wasn’t her fault and that if she wanted to do something to make us feel better to come give us a hug and a kiss.

    Thanks for sharing how you’ve gone about it, its a horrible situation and one I don’t think anyone knows how to navigate.

    So far I don’t feel like I want to shelter my daughter because to me that means closing off a huge part of my life from her. I’m afraid she’ll get the wrong sense of who I am as a person if she doesn’t know my everyday struggles.

  8. I love the phrase and will use it from now on–age appropriate honesty. That’s what we do.

    I’m at my mum’s right now, so I just went in and asked her about this because (1) she is an early childhood specialist and (2) she told us about her miscarriage when we were 4 (so I’m answering your question as someone who was a child whose mother told her what was happening).

    I remember feeling more upset because my father was crying and my father almost never cried. I just asked my mum if I ever seemed upset or scared and she said, “no.” She just filled us in on whatever we needed to know and moved on from there.

    She recommends telling in an age appropriate way: “you know how you saw us crying? Well, we were growing a baby and it didn’t work. And it makes us sad.” Also her advice–at age 5, they are so self-focused that they can place blame on themselves inadvertently. He may think: “they were crying when I walked in the room. I made them cry.” And then internalize it and feel as if he has done something wrong.

    We’ve been going through this process telling them about stuff because I don’t want there to be a day when they learn about (1) their conception and (2) if there is another loss now, about that loss. I just want it to be part of their memory. We talk about things matter-of-factly. I try not to cry in front of them, but if I did, I would just explain it and then try to move out of the room to finish the cry.

    This is such a good topic–the blessing which also makes the decisions of the second journey so much harder.

  9. P, having just turned 3, has no clue about infertility–but he did come across me crying once at the end of a cycle when he was about 2 (I’d thought he was watching a video, so I went up to the bathroom in our bedroom. He still found me…he wanted a cup of milk). He asked “Mama sad?” and practically started crying as he gave me a big hug. I don’t want our infertility to affect him, but I know he’s had to deal with some of the emotional side effects on days when I’m feeling blue and just don’t feel like playing as much.

    It’s really hard to know what to do–more so, in your case with the losses of Vivienne and Wolf.

  10. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have one child and then all of a sudden have troubles having another. I can only imagine that there are a lot of assholes out there that think “gosh, but you already have one, aren’t you grateful for him?”

    It’s got to be this different type of hurt. Especially in the grand scheme of “well, my body WAS functioning normally.” I almost wonder if that would just burn me up more.

    As for not telling X. I totally think you’re on the right path. He doesn’t need to see that right now, especially since he’ll only understand so much.

  11. Well, I think it’s all been well said already.

    Having experience with my own children…I must say that they can be far more perceptive than we realize, and for this reason we must practice the “age-appropriate honesty” policy. Else they make up their own reasons for seeing what they see and internalize it the wrong way.

    You know your child the best, tell him as much information as you think he will understand, actually, you should probably tell him a little bit more than you think he’d understand because he’s likely to understand more than you think.

    I am constantly amazed at the things children say, they have such a clean and innocent perspective that when they explain something…it makes total sense. Children have an amazing knack for putting things the right way. I think sharing information with your child can actually help you just as much as it helps your child grow.

  12. I wish I could offer some advice, but I have no experience with what should be shared and how much should be shared with young kids. I’m still worried about what we’re going to say when Leah asks about sex. I’m getting all squirmy just thinking about it! I always thought answering vaguely was a good idea and if and when they asked more detailed questions, then you answer them as best you can.

  13. Miss V definetely picks up on my moods (it’s not that hard, I am just terrible at hiding them), and during tough times she gets really clingy. I am convinced that my infertility gig has impacted her quite a bit.

  14. I had two miscarraiges before I had my son. I am going to have to take this into consideration if we do ever decide on trying for another, and in case it fails (because that’s reality, right?)
    My mother had four miscarraiges between my sister and me (seven yrs. apart) and didn’t tell us till we were a little older. I think I was about eight or so…

  15. I’m not sure how my siblings feel about this, but this is how I feel… I am the youngest of 4 (1 is adopted, 2 are from my mom’s previous marriage and then there’s me the product of my parents marriage). I grew up knowing that I should have been number 13. My mom was pregnant 12 times – once with twins. I’m not sure how or when I learned this news, but it feels as if I’ve always known. I think you’ll figure out the right way to handle the topic… honesty is always the best policy – but figuring out the right words and time well that’s the hard part.

  16. My son felt a void having no siblings; he would lament it often. Over the last five years, he’s realized that I very much wanted more children and his father didn’t – ha, on that last one. My son is wise and could digest this information; he also realizes that it is one reason that the marriage didn’t make it. I figure it’s best for him to think it’s something other than him, than think it’s him causing the marriage to fail, per what kids often think. There are plenty of other reasons the marriage didn’t make it, but I presented a sound reason that covered a number of bases for failures. It tugs at my heart, but the BOY really wanted a baby SISTER from the age of three or four. Makes me ill I couldn’t be the one to give her to him.

    So, I think from the age of 4 or 5, they are better off with some kind of explanation that a void.

  17. I agree with Catharine. Each child is different in development and what they are able to understand, take in, cope with. You will know when and what to tell him when the time comes DD.

    You’re such a good mother. I’m learning so much from you.

  18. I cannot give you and advice here. You will know what is appropriate for X to hear and when. I agree with a lot of the previous comments.

  19. Thank you so much for writing this. You anwered so many questions I’ve had for myself.

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