Whether you’re trying to conceive your first, second, or third child, struggling with infertility is never easy. When you have secondary infertility (the inability to become pregnant after previously giving birth), there’s an added element to the experience: talking to your kids about trying to conceive. While it may be tempting to hide your sadness and the pain of your infertility, children are incredibly perceptive and will pick up on your emotions whether you talk about them or not. When this happens, you run the risk of confusing your child about why you’re upset. The best course of action is different for every family and even for every child within a family. Here are 5 actionable tips for talking to your children about infertility.
1.Keep the infertility conversation age appropriate
A 5-year-old and a 12-year-old have different levels of comprehension. Your 5-year-old may understand that you want a baby but won’t know how a baby is made (and it probably isn’t the right time to fill them in on all the details). Your preteen likely knows all about intercourse and may feel uncomfortable getting into a deep conversation about why you’re struggling to get pregnant.
It’s important to keep what you tell your kids about secondary infertility age appropriate, while also considering how much they need and want to know. Instead of unloading a bunch of information on them, a good way to start the conversation is by saying something like:
“Mommy is trying to have a baby but it’s taking a little longer than I thought it would. I’m going to take some medicine (or another type of fertility treatment) to see if that can help me get pregnant. Do you have any questions?”
From that point, you can leave it up to them to ask the questions on their mind. Be sure to let them know they can come to you with questions at any time.
2. Answer questions about infertility honestly — and simply
Depending on the age of your child, they may have a million questions or they may not have any at all. Whatever questions they do have about infertility are best answered with honesty and clarity. The more direct you are, the more comfortable your child will feel coming to you in the future. Here are some common questions kids have about infertility and some honest, simple answers.
- When am I going to have a baby brother/sister? — “I’m not sure right now.” or “We’re trying to give you a little brother/sister but it’s going to take awhile.”
- Are you sick? — “No, I’m not sick. I’m taking medicine to help me have a baby.”
- Why are you getting shots? — “I’m getting shots to see if they can help me get pregnant.”
- Do the shots hurt? — “A little bit but not that much.”
- Why are you crying? — “I’m feeling sad that I don’t have a baby in my belly but I’m so happy that I have you.”
- Do you have a baby in your belly? — “Not right now but when there is I’ll let you know.”
Of course, you’ll want to adjust your answers based on the age of your child. These answers are suitable for answering the infertility questions of 5- to 8-year-olds. The older your child is, the more detailed you may want your answers to be.
3. Don’t expect your children to keep your infertility to themselves
Kids, especially young ones, have a knack for blurting out sensitive information that you would have preferred the entire playground full of kid and their parents not know. Keep this in mind when you’re talking to your children about infertility. If you’re keeping your treatments between you and your partner, it may be wise to hold off on telling your young children.
Older children (age 12 and up) are more capable of keeping secrets but asking them not to talk about something that impacts their lives can be a burden to them. They’ll likely want to talk to their friends about it. Asking them not to may not work in the first place but if it does, they could end up feeling resentful.
How much you tell your children about your infertility issues depends on their age and how much you want people outside of your family to know. That said, if you’re telling friends and family about your challenges with infertility, be sure to let your kids know first. Finding out from a well-intentioned aunt or family friend can make them feel like outsiders and cause problems long-term.
4. Reassure your kid(s) that you love them
When you have one or more children and are struggling to conceive another, it’s common to have feelings of guilt. After all, shouldn’t you just feel grateful for the child you do have? While common, there’s no need to feel guilty. Two emotions — wanting another child and deeply loving the one you have — can exist at the same time.
Just as you may be struggling to navigate the guilt that often comes with secondary infertility, your child may have feelings about it, too. They may worry that you want a new baby because they aren’t enough for you or develop concerns that you don’t love them, causing them to have negative feelings about you trying to get pregnant. On the other hand, your children may feel sad that they don’t have a baby brother or sister on the way. These emotions exist in a range and can change as you go through your fertility journey. Your child feeling this way is normal and shouldn’t cause you to feel more guilt.
Reassuring your child that you love them and are so glad you have them can help them feel more confident in their place in the family. The more secure they feel, the easier the journey and transition to being an older sibling (one day) will be.
5. It’s okay to share your feelings but don’t use your child for emotional support
As a parent, it’s natural to want to protect your children from any kind of negativity. Researchers agree that hiding your emotions from your kids can do more harm than good. Jessica Grogan, Ph.D. points to “a recent study of emotional regulation in parents suggests that when a parent holds back or disguises negative feelings, there are negative consequences for parents’ well-being and for the parent-child relationship” (Le & Impett, 2016).
When children don’t have an accurate representation of the range of human emotions, they can learn harmful behaviors — like keeping their emotions inside or being unable to control their emotions. Struggling with secondary infertility is emotional, there’s no denying that. While it’s fine to share how you’re feeling with your children (at an age-appropriate level), you want to make sure you don’t skew too far in the other direction.
Be sure to share your emotions but not in a way that makes your child feel responsible for making you feel better. You can ensure this doesn’t happen by using language that makes it clear that, while you may feel sad, you’re going to be ok. Don’t forget to reassure them that you love them so much and are happy that you have them. Your child shouldn’t feel burdened with your emotions — they have plenty of their own to sort through.
Parenting is hard. Infertility is hard. When you’re trying to do both at the same time, it can be challenging to give each of them the attention they need and deserve. The most important thing is that your child feels loved and supported throughout your infertility journey. This will help them feel secure about their place in your life and help ensure that when a new baby does come, they’ll be excited to have a sibling.