There was a story on the news recently about younger moms versus older moms. It came as no surprise to me that a growing number of women fell into the latter category and were having their first child after the age of 35.
Count me as one of those “older moms.” The arrival of my firstborn last year was not the result of a personal choice to delay pregnancy, however. No, my husband and I were among the one in eight couples in the United States to face infertility. After trying to conceive for about seven years, we finally heard the news we had waited for – I was pregnant!
As a parent who has faced infertility, I was surprised to find that those years of waiting and anguish didn’t just magically disappear when my son was born. Sure, it’s been an amazing first year, and I love my child with every ounce of my being, but like others who have faced infertility, I found that the scars of infertility didn’t just heal with the arrival of my child. They lingered and affected the parent I’ve become, in good ways and in challenging ones.
Treasuring Every Moment
From Baby’s first word to his first day at school and beyond, there are many milestones to cherish as parents. For those who had difficulty having a child, those special moments are perhaps even more precious.
Ellen Glazer, author of The Long-Awaited Stork: A Guide to Parenting After Infertility (Jossey-Bass; $30) and a clinical social worker, has seen how delayed parenting due to infertility contributes to an awe-inspiring experience for many of her patients as they watch their children grow. “A lot of the people I see are very accomplished in life when they first become parents. They’re used to being experts in their field. For them, parenting is so humbling,” she says.
After trying to conceive for three years, such was true for Chastity and Bo Mitchell of Bellevue. They adopted their son, Parker, last year. Chastity says that parenting has been mostly what she expected, with one exception. “The part that’s been unexpected is how excited you get at every new milestone or each new look that you get. I think having been through infertility is part of that – you treasure everything that your child does,” she says. “I’m sure other parents do that, but for me I feel like that’s why.”
For Mitchell, witnessing those special moments after years of waiting to be a parent played a big factor in her decision to leave her job and stay home with her son. “You don’t want to miss a single, solitary thing. He’ll do something new and I’ll think, “It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and I would have missed this.” It validates my decision,” she says. “It’s so precious to you after wanting it so horribly that you don’t want to miss anything, and that’s what it boiled down to for me.”
A Desire to Be the Best
Waiting years before welcoming your first child doesn’t make you the best parent, but it makes you want to be. Many infertile couples have spent a long time thinking about what kind of parents they want to be before that big day finally arrives.
“We feel our infertility has made us better parents because we had so much time to reflect on the kind of parents we wanted to be,” says Mitchell. “We thought about our discipline styles and goals for our children. Most families might not have thought about that until they had children.”
On the flip side, Mitchell is embarrassed to admit that wanting to be the best parent sometimes leads to overindulging her son. “It is ridiculous the number of toys this kid has,” she says. “I’ll see something in the store, and I just want him to have it. I tie that back to infertility. Whether it’s related or not, it is in my mind.”
Need for Support
Whether your child is 13 months or 13 years, having a support system is important to all parents. This is perhaps especially true for parents after infertility.
Parents with the experience of infertility in common share a special connection, says Julie King, a Franklin mother of two boys who were conceived through assisted reproduction. “You end up discussing such intimate details of your life when you’re going through infertility because it’s such an invasive process and deals with something so personal,” she says. “There’s a deeper comfort level because you know that others who have gone through it will understand.”
King says that having support from parents with infertility issues proved especially helpful after having her first child and deciding to try again. “People sometimes say things like, ‘You should be glad for what you have,'” she says. “Another mom who has been through infertility understands that desire to have another child and how you wish that you didn’t have to go through so much to get there.”
New friendships are common and often blossom as a result of the infertility bond, according to Glazer. “If there’s a silver lining to infertility, it’s the friendships that come out of it,” she says. “I saw a woman who had the miracle IVF (invitro fertilization) baby she wanted but she was like a train wreck when she first came in and miserable about this being what she’d asked for. Then she found other moms in her community, and it was so important to have those people with her on her parenthood journey.”
The Pain That Doesn’t Fade
Having a child after years of waiting is certainly a dream come true for many infertile couples. Putting infertility behind them, however, is another story.
Mitchell says she was surprised that the pain of infertility didn’t go away after welcoming her son. “Even though you have a child and it shouldn’t bother you any more, it does,” she says. “I’m eager to have another child soon and complete our family. That way I can put the journey of infertility behind me and not worry about the next one and how long it’s going to take.”
Indeed, infertile couples may often find it hard to fully appreciate and enjoy their much-awaited child’s arrival before having to think about whether or not to add to their family and when. Infertility treatment often brings with it a timetable based on a woman’s age, and the adoption process can take months or years. In either case, these parents must often make stressful family building decisions before they’re even getting a good night’s sleep.
Glazer says that the loss of control over family planning goes hand-in-hand with infertility. She says it’s important for families to make the decisions that are right for them while trying not to put too much emphasis on the years ahead. “It is crucial people enjoy parenthood and not let themselves be cheated out of the experience they worked so hard for,” she says. “It is also important not to worry about the spacing of children. I think that any spacing can work out well. The children can be a year apart and they can be many years apart. In the long run, spacing does not matter.”
The Legacy of Infertility
While the pain of infertility may never completely fade, parents who have made the journey are often comforted by the lessons they have learned along the way and the joy of having the family they dreamed of for so long.
“I think that the overwhelming legacy of infertility is one of appreciation,” Glazer says. “Infertility teaches us that birth is truly a miracle. I think that leads infertile parents to appreciate their children in ways that many others cannot.”
Liz Cerami Taylor is a freelance writer.