What is secondary infertility?

Secondary infertility describes the case of a mother who is unable to have a second child after a successful first pregnancy. That first pregnancy did not involve any diagnosis of infertility or a fertility treatment. In other words, there were no indications that there would be any concerns related to the second pregnancy.


How can I tell if I have secondary infertility?

The diagnosis of infertility comes with time. A couple has to have tried to have a child for at least one year without success. If this is the case, a doctor may diagnose the woman with infertility. A series of multiple miscarriages also meets the criteria for infertility. However, not all infertility within a couple is due to the woman. In about 30 percent of cases, a biological concern in the woman causes the infertility, and another 30 percent of the cases can be traced to the man. The remaining 40 percent are either unclear or both partners are involved.


When do I need to see a doctor?

Couples in which the woman is under the age of 35 should wait for at least a year of attempts before consulting a doctor. If the woman is over 35, the couple should only try for six months. In the case of a woman who is over 30 and has a history of menstruation irregularities or similar concerns, the couple should consult a doctor without waiting. Appropriate doctors include OB/GYNs, urologists, and endocrinologists. There are many possible contributing factors for infertility, so it may take time to learn the cause. In some cases, the doctors never learn the cause.


Is this normal?

The common stereotype of infertility is a childless couple unable to conceive. That is just one part of the story, though. In reality, it is not uncommon, but the lack of awareness of the condition makes it more difficult to handle at an emotional level for couples that experience it.


The trauma of secondary infertility

In some ways, this kind of infertility is even harder than ordinary infertility from an emotional standpoint because everything seemed to be going well for the first pregnancy. It comes as quite a shock when the second one encounters difficulty. There is a lack of sympathetic treatment of secondary infertility because of how few people are aware of it. Even within the medical community, there are many doctors who do not understand the condition. Couples often feel angry, guilty, and disappointed during infertility, and they also experience shock and irritation with the lack of support. Furthermore, the couple needs to go through this emotionally difficult period while also raising their first child. That introduces a whole new wave of negativity because the couple can see how this is affecting the child and feels more guilty. They might feel afraid to talk about it because couples with ordinary infertility don’t have any children, so they fear appearing to be entitled.


What can I do as a parent dealing with this?

As difficult as it is to cope with the emotions and the process of infertility, it is important to keep in mind the well-being of your first child. Although this seems like a burden, in truth caring for your child can actually help you contextualize and resolve the emotions. It is common for parents to feel a confusing mix of different kinds of guilt. They feel guilty that they cannot give their child a sibling, that they might not be giving their child as much attention as they would otherwise get, that they couldn’t complete their family the way they planned, and so on. All of this guilt interacts with your relationship with your child.

It is important to know that there is nothing wrong with being upset about infertility. Societally, it isn’t common to talk about it, but that doesn’t mean the pain is not real. Infertility can be extremely disturbing. Embrace the emotions: do not try to suppress them. In many ways, you are effectively grieving for a child you may never have. If you do not allow yourself the time to mourn the loss of your fertility, it will be hard to move on and care for the child you have.


Next Steps

Part of resolving the question of infertility is deciding what to do next. You might try medical interventions or adoption: both of these options are expensive and are not guaranteed to give you the results you want. You might need to emotionally come to terms with the idea that you will be unable to have another child. This is not an easy journey: just learning about the other options for having a child can take a great deal of time, and there will be cycles of hope and disappointment. Reflect on the best course for you and your family. While you may want to seek the services of a professional therapist, the decision is yours to make: they can help you face your emotions, but they cannot decide for you. If you can refocus your attention on your child, then you will be able to find some fulfillment in caring for them. Regardless of your decision, that will help to ease the pain. Don’t try to set a schedule for when to be at peace, either. This is a personal moment and you need to use whatever time you need to resolve it.