A common misconception in the world of infertility is that when an individual has successfully conceived a child, they will always be able to successfully conceive a child after that. Unfortunately, that is not always true. So, what is secondary infertility? Secondary infertility is the inability to become pregnant for a full term or conceive after giving birth to a baby. This community of individuals who experience secondary infertility are often forgotten about because they have had children prior to experiencing infertility. They may even be guilted or shamed for being upset about their secondary infertility, because they already have a child.
But that isn’t fair.
Secondary infertility is as real as primary infertility. Approximately 3 million women in the United States are affected by secondary infertility. The emotional burden that comes with it is as real for many families.
Infertility, regardless of whether it’s primary or secondary, is only truly understood by those who experience it. Has anyone said to you, “but you already have a child” “you should be grateful for what you have,” or, “just keep trying” ? These pieces of “advice” are NOT supportive.
You may be surprised to experience resentment from other couples with infertility who are unable to have their first child.
Some critics may even go so far as saying you’re not spending enough time with your current child, or you are spending too much money, jeopardizing your current child’s future. That kind of negative energy isn’t welcome. People have no business undermining the struggle and hardships of infertility, secondary OR primary!!
Confide in the friends, family and other support systems that do not try and tell you how to navigate your fertility journey. Surround yourself with people who you know will act as the shoulder to lean on. People who encourage you to take control of your fertility journey. Secondary infertility can be overcome!
Secondary infertility can be confusing. When someone was easily able to conceive a child once, what could have possibly changed to prevent them from having a second one?
Let’s break it down:
It can occur in either men or women due to several reasons:
· Hindered sperm production, function or delivery in men
· Damage to the Fallopian tube
· Disorders regarding ovulation
· Endometriosis among other uterine conditions in women
· Complications related to prior pregnancy or surgery (Ashermans)
· Changes in risk factors for one of the two people involved (age, weight and use of certain medications).
· Heavy alcohol drinking can impair sperm production and disrupt hormones in men while in women it can increase the time it takes to conceive.
· Smoking can damage sperm DNA in men or damage eggs and affect ovulation in women.
· Uterine fibroids which are non-cancerous growths in or on a uterus can close off fallopian tubes or crowd the uterus
· Endometriosis (when the uterine lining cells grow outside the uterus.) This results in inflammation on the ovaries and fallopian tubes, which affect egg quality and the embryo implantation.
· Endometritis (sounds similar to endometriosis) is where the uterus becomes inflamed and impairs the ability of an embryo to properly implant into the uterus.
· Pelvic inflammatory disease resulting from a previous cesarean
Normally, it is suggested that those who are over 35 and have been actively trying to conceive for over 6 months should visit their primary care physician or ob-gyn. However, this is not the same for everyone. Those who have experienced pelvic inflammatory disease, painful periods, miscarriage, irregular cycles, or a low sperm count, definitely should not wait for a year before confiding in their physician. They should do so sooner.
During your appointment, the doctor will begin with questions about your current health as well as your medical history. This provides them with sufficient background information. They will also collect a blood sample and perform ultrasounds to find out whether you’re ovulating and to check your egg supply. Performing an X-ray would help identify blocked fallopian tubes and a semen analysis establish the sperm count and quality. All these measures will enable the fertility doctor (reproductive endocrinologist) to get a better understanding of what has potentially changed since the last time you conceived a child.
Maybe prior to finding out about your infertility openly discussed a possible sibling. Or maybe you simply want to explain to your child why you are upset sometimes. You can always tell them you hope to bring them a sibling. If you prefer not to hint at a possible sibling but, have already mentioned a sibling in the past, remind them that they are everything you ever wanted and so much more. Let them know how much they mean to you.
Strategizing is key. Whether you opt for assisted reproductive technology, gestational surrogacy, adoption or any other option, having a plan is important. All of these options require investing time as they can sometimes be a handful to navigate. So, take it step by step. Self-care is critical. Reach out to your support systems. Eat well. Rest. Hydrate. Say NO. Say YES. Take social media breaks. Budget. Self-care can look like so many things other than a “spa day” – every mom knows that spa days are hard, if not impossible- to come by!!!
Most people fail to understand the misery and feelings of hopelessness that accompany secondary infertility. That doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there who are enduring the same struggle as you. If you feel uncomfortable approaching your usual support systems such as friends and family, reach out to a group who specifically addresses the hardships of secondary infertility. Find a support group in your area and share your story. Resolve has some great resources. By listening to others’ stories, you’ll also be able to connect and know you are not alone.
Treatment of Infertility: Secondary Infertility by Resolve The National Infertility Association and “Secondary Infertility” by Resolve The National Infertility Association.