Tonya Wertman's son

When your child asks for a sibling

My husband and I decided not to shield our 3-1/2-year-old from the daily shots and handfuls of vitamins and herbs, but it wasn’t until recently that I wondered how our quest to have another child might be affecting our son.

At 3-1/2 years old, our son, Lucas has started asking for a sibling. Some days it's a little sister and others it's a brother. Either way, it's heartbreaking and my only response has been, "Mommy and Daddy are working on it." He has no idea to what extent.

It's not unusual when we are in the middle of a cycle to hear Lucas yell at my husband, "Daddy, you need to give Mommy a shot!" He doesn't know what the shots are for, and as long as I'm not sick, he's happy.

"I can't tell him when we will have another baby."

Sometimes I have to take Lucas with me to an appointment with my reproductive endocrinologist. The staff loves him and looks forward to his visits. He looks forward to playing with my iPhone and enjoying a lollipop while I'm spread eagle getting an ultrasound or having blood drawn. He always asks me if it hurts when the nurse inserts the needle and despite my wincing, I reply, "no."

After the first time Lucas asked when he would have a little brother, I visited my local library and bookstore only to find there isn't a book for parents dealing with secondary infertility to prepare them for this type of conversation with the child/ren they already have. Discussing the topic of infertility with a child is daunting because it's emotional and there is so much uncertainty. I can't tell him when we will have another baby.

What other moms are saying

Jenny C. says her 4-1/2-year-old daughter "doesn't know much more than we want another baby and we hope that it happens, [and] it's hard since she doesn't understand. What hurts more than our desire is hers, to hear her include us in her prayers every night and yearn for a sibling."

Kerry M. adds, "I had to take my 6-year-old to a few of my appointments and I didn't really tell him much. When he asked what they were taking X-rays of, I simply said my 'lady parts.' I told him I'd explain it to him if he wanted, but he opted for 'no!'"

"Our daughter had to be at all of our follicle ultrasounds," says Francie C., "so we were very up front about what we were looking for and why, but we were pretty casual about it with her and never made it a regular topic of conversation so she didn't get amped and heartbroken when things didn't work out."

What the experts say

According to Claudia Pascale, Ph.D. and director of Mental Health Services at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science at Saint Barnabas, New Jersey, "Parents' infertility struggles need not be shared with children until one is pregnant in a stable pregnancy. Children do not have the cognitive capabilities that adults do."

"Parents' infertility struggles need not be shared with children until one is pregnant in a stable pregnancy. "

Dr. Pascale goes on to explain, "I think this is one of the reasons why secondary infertility is so difficult, the parents (especially mom) have one foot in each camp (the parent camp and the infertility camp) and therefore can’t really adjust to one because she, like primary infertility patients, have not fulfilled their family, but like other parents, feel badly about not being satisfied with what they have. When one is in primary fertility treatment they don’t have to monitor or hide their sadness or difficult feelings from a child but when one is in secondary infertility, the task is so much greater because of having this child already in their lives."

"One can say to a young child that they are having a bad day or feeling sad, which is helpful for a child to see Mommy and Daddy having a bad day every now and then. But if the feelings related to the infertility are interfering in their parenting or care of their child, it is a good idea to find a resource, like a support group or therapist that can help them deal with these feelings," advises Dr. Pascale.

Coping with the guilt

For me there is a huge amount of guilt that comes with struggling with secondary infertility. Sometimes I am so focused on having another child that I feel like Lucas is being slighted. But I have no lack of gratitude for my son and I don't believe that means I can’t long for another baby.

The wonderful thing about children is that they have an innate ability to provide unconditional love and affection even when we are hurting and sad and feel unable to provide the same level of love and affection back. I always try to remember that Lucas does understand on some level and with that my dream of becoming a family of four carries on. I want another baby for me, for my husband, but mostly for our son. I want another baby to make our family more complete.

Photo credit: Stephanie Ann Photography

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Staying grateful while facing infertility
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Comments on "How infertility is impacting my child"

Sarah March 08, 2014 | 4:48 PM

This article was very helpful emotionally for me today. Sometimes I feel guilty i have a child, but the pain of a constant "no" every month is really hard. ( we've been trying for 2 years). It's nice to know I'm not the only one struggling.

Amie January 07, 2014 | 3:41 PM

As I sit here and read this I have a 3 and half year old Lucas wanting us to have a baby!!! We have been trying for 27 months!!!

Melissa April 17, 2013 | 6:22 PM

This article really hit home. I'm so glad I found it. I too have a 3 1/2 year old son and have been struggling to get pregnant through IVF and getting through miscarriages. The most devastating feeling is looking at my son and knowing that we haven't been able to give him a sibling, which both my husband and I have. I too deal with the guilt of wondering why I can't just be satisfied with the one amazing child I have. Although I have my husband to cry to about these feelings, I have no one else who might understand so thank you for this article.

Erin Margolin April 09, 2013 | 2:27 PM

I agree, Anne. Unless you've walked in someone's shoes, just hush up. If you don't have anything nice to say, just don't say ANYTHING AT ALL.

Nichole April 09, 2013 | 11:30 AM

I know the pain of secondary infertility all too well. We've been trying for one last baby for 27 months now. Wanting another baby doesn't make you greedy. Secondary infertility is no less painful than primary. I know this because I have suffered from both. And those who sit in judgement, well, to them I say, no good ever comes from measuring our own pain against someone else's. That's not a competition you want to win.

Robin | Farewell Stranger April 09, 2013 | 11:16 AM

Tonya, I can absolutely imagine how hard this must be. Well, I probably can't, but when it looked like we might not have a 2nd child (because of PPD, not infertility) I was incredibly sad. Wanting another baby, and wanting your son to have a sibling, is a totally normal, not selfish thing. I know how very much you are grateful for Lucas and I hope every day that both he and you get your wish to expand your family.

Laura | Mommy Miracles April 09, 2013 | 10:46 AM

I can't imagine how hard this must be. When I was little, I always thought you got babies by praying to God and he gave babies to people. (I don't know how I got that information. Maybe I inferred it from the Christmas story...). But really, in order to explain what is going on to a young child, you kind of need to explain how babies are made, and that is just so much information for a young child. {And by the way, grieving during secondary infertility is completely and 100% justified. You are NOT selfish. xo}

Sam April 09, 2013 | 10:09 AM

I'm very sorry Anne, but unless you are in our situation, suffering with Secondary Infertility, you will NEVER know what it feels like. It is extremely hurtful comments that you have written that we face day in day out. Please keep your insensitive comments to yourself in future and take a moment to think of the hurt you will cause with your words.

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