by Iris Waichler, L.C.S.W.
Secondary infertility is a diagnosis that many people don’t take seriously. It is often an overlooked part of the infertility journey that people take as they attempt to build their families. Secondary infertility occurs about 30% of the time infertility occurs. That may surprise you. It simply means a woman has been successful having a child and then is unable to have another child. There is nothing simple about secondary infertility.
There are a number of causes for secondary infertility. One of the most frequent reasons for infertility is age. As women get older, the quality of their eggs decline and the chances for a healthy pregnancy diminish. Lifestyle is another contributing factor. Research indicates that poor diet and obesity contribute to infertility. Irregular menstrual cycles can block attempts to conceive. Lifestyle habits can change after the birth of a child. Men can experience health problems that impact sperm quality or the amount of sperm produced. Women can also suffer new medical problems like endometriosis which inhibit the ability of the egg to maneuver through the fallopian tubes.
People who have been successful at having a child may be less likely to seek medical assistance based on the false belief that once they have had a child they are indeed fertile and can have children again if they try. They can enter this new phase of family building with false expectations about their probability of conceiving another child.
The failure to achieve a healthy pregnancy after a successful conception and birth creates feelings of anguish and confusion. These emotions can be amplified by thoughtless reactions by friends and family. Responses like, “What is the big deal, you already have a child” are not uncommon. Sadly, health professionals sometimes can echo this sentiment. This type of response only creates a sense of heightened isolation and perpetuates feelings of helplessness and stress for those experiencing secondary infertility.
These dynamics can create lots of stress on the relationship between a couple. It can also impact upon your ability to parent your existing child as you try to cope with emotional damage.
Don’t wait more than six months to seek assistance if you do find evidence of secondary infertility. Treat it as you did when you first experienced infertility. Contact a doctor to get a medical workup for both partners to try to determine the source(s) of the problem.
Think about the first time you experienced infertility and which people, (professional, friends, and family) were a source of comfort and support. How did you approach them, or, how did they approach you to offer help? Revisit these people and repeat successful past patterns of communication. You may need to help them to understand your desire to build your family again is just as strong as before and that the inability to succeed is perhaps even more emotionally painful.
Finally one key to coping with secondary infertility is to keep the lines of communication open between you and your partner. The stress created by coping with a new round of infertility can become overwhelming and harm your relationship. The potentially lower level of support from others who don’t understand the impact of secondary infertility means the help you receive from your partner is critically important.
Remind yourself that it is OK for you to want to expand your family and the familiar feelings of sadness and grief are normal.
I wish you luck with your treatment of secondary infertility, seriously.