To someone unfamiliar with infertility, it may sound bizarre that someone could be second or third generation infertile, since many people think infertility is a complete inability to have biological children. However, since the medical definition of infertility is an inability to conceive after 1 year of unprotected intercourse (or, alternatively 6 months of fertility-focused intercourse), it is possible, even likely, that infertility runs in families.
I didn't know that I had a family history of infertility until we were filling out the gigantic stack of paperwork for the reproductive endocrinologist. Part of that paperwork was the most comprehensive medical history I have ever completed. Not knowing many of the answers, I did what most of us with living parents would do - I picked up the phone and called. That was the first time I had any idea that my paternal grandparents wanted more children; my grandmother was not particularly motherly, so I always assumed that she didn't want any more children, especially since my father had hearing problems from a young age (due to an infection early in life). Instead, it turns out that she suffered from secondary infertility; my father was conceived shortly after his parents married, but no amount of trying was enough for them to have another child. (Apparently even back in those days people would ask about wanting more children; my grandmother started answering that she was worn out from trying.) It took a little while, but a slow burn started inside of me. How could my family have kept this from me? If I had known earlier, would I have made different choices, lived my life differently? Would I have waited so long to start trying or would I have prioritized marriage and family? I've known I wanted children my whole life, but I assumed I had plenty of time.
It's taken some time for me to get over my anger. Who would or should have been the one to tell me? My parents had no problems having the two children that my mother wanted (Dad wanted more, but Mom said "only if he carried them."), so my mother had no reason to bring it up. My grandmother died before I married; besides, such things were not so much discussed in her day. My father? I suspect that the idea that his mother's difficulties could be passed on to his daughter never crossed his mind.
Recently my great-aunt (my paternal grandmother's sister) revealed that her mother had difficulty conceiving after a certain age, significantly before menopause. I don't know exactly what age that was, though she did have three children. However, both my grandmother and great-grandmother married much younger than I did, so what manifested as secondary infertility in them seems to be showing up as primary infertility in me. In some ways, it's hard to know how to respond to this information. Resignation? I think that's part of it; that's part of letting go of the anger, knowing that I can't change the past. Gratitude? That's part of it, too; I am grateful that even though there is much to be learned about fertility, so much more is known now than in my grandmother's and great-grandmother's day. Sorrow? It's hard to think that I may pass this on to any children I might have, though I know that I would make sure that they know about their family history from an early age. Wonder? Despite the problems that my grandmother and great-grandmother had, I am here; it's somewhat amazing that I exist, given my family history.
Hello, my name is Stephanie, and I'm a third generation infertile...