“But you already have a child, so surely you can have another one?!” If this statement sounds familiar, then you are likely to be experiencing the challenges of secondary infertility. This is the term used to refer to anyone who is having difficulty conceiving after previously giving birth. Many people believe it relates to those who have just one child already, but in fact, it refers to anyone who has given birth before – this could be to more than one child or to a baby that may not have survived to full term. It is every bit as emotionally draining as primary infertility and raises several other challenges and questions for couples who find themselves in this boat. What is particularly painful is the feeling that you should be grateful for the child or children you might already have and some people can pass judgment that it can’t possibly be a painful as it is for those who are trying for their first baby. These opinions can often lead to couples isolating themselves from the TTC community and feeling as though their worries aren’t as painful or valid. A couple can be extraordinarily thankful for their existing child and still long for more children.
Why does this happen?
Infertility can affect anyone at any time, however, it is more common in older women as fertility declines with age. It would therefore make sense that women may struggle to conceive again if they are significantly older than they were when they had their first child or children. If a woman has had surgery, she may have developed endometriosis or she may have always suffered with this but it has become worse over the years and is now having a detrimental effect on her fertility. She may have developed a hormonal imbalance as a result of her previous pregnancy. The lifestyles of both men and women may change meaning we might be experiencing more stress at work, consuming an unhealthier diet, drinking more or have taken up smoking again. Moving to a new location could also have an adverse effect due to environmental factors that are thought to affect fertility.
In short - any of the factors that can be a negative influence on a couple’s chances of conceiving their first child can affect those trying for more children after previously having a child without any issues. People change and are not exactly the same throughout our lives, and therefore we cannot take anything for granted in these circumstances. For more information about the factors that can affect men's and women’s fertility and the steps you can take to seek support, have a look at some of our previous blog articles.
What Support is Available?
Infertility in any shape or form is emotionally challenging on so many levels and couples who may now find themselves going through this should know that they are not alone. Thankfully there are many wonderful avenues of support whether that be through your GP, with clinics offering holistic therapies, specialised fertility clinics, or as part of the large community of support groups both one and offline to help look after your mental and emotional well-being.
The Natural Fertility Clinic team does not underestimate the stress caused by infertility of any kind. We are here to support you and take your fertility as seriously as you do. Our expert team of therapists are skilfully trained in traditional Chinese acupuncture and reflexology, as well as offering advice on nutrition and lifestyle. Every couple of months, we also run a free face to face support group, providing a safe and comforting environment where people can discuss their issues but only if they want to. Some people come just to listen, others come to feel less alone. We also have a private Facebook support group. For more information on both of these, click here.
My Personal Experience of Secondary Infertility
This is a subject that is very close to my heart as my husband and I found ourselves struggling to conceive after having our daughter. In fact, it took us nearly two years to fall pregnant the first time around and we had actually started fertility investigations when I finally fell pregnant naturally – something we were obviously elated to discover.
Soon after she turned one, we decided to start trying for another baby and naively thought that because we had conceived naturally before, we would be able to again. After a year passed, it soon became apparent that once again this was going to take us a little longer than we would have liked and we went to see our GP who began the basic fertility tests. These went on for a further two years, with all tests coming back ‘normal’ and investigative surgery highlighting no obvious issues. We were officially classed as having ‘unexplained secondary infertility’. Our consultant explained that our only options were to either keep trying and hope for the best, or IVF.
We had now been trying for three years to give our daughter a sibling and had seen our friends and family having many children – something that obviously gave us great joy but was also tinged with much pain too. Why couldn’t we have another baby when we had one already and there didn’t seem to be any clear reason for us not be conceiving again? This was a difficult time for us. We felt we should be so grateful for the beautiful daughter we already had and that our desire to have another so desperately may be perceived as us not being thankful for this blessing. I found online support groups hugely helpful during this time but even these forums would sometimes prove painful when the topic of secondary infertility came up and those members who were yet to conceive their first child would openly criticise people in my situation for being selfish and ungrateful for having what they so desperately wanted. Some of the regular comments were along the following lines: ‘How could you possibly understand the pain we are going through?’ ‘At least you know what it’s like to be a mother!’ ‘You clearly can have children so it will obviously happen for you again.’ To be isolated from a community you should be able to gain support from is painful to say the least and only added to the negative feelings I had during this time. Of course we were content with having our daughter; I cannot tell you how many conversations we had about giving up trying and concentrating on living a happy life as a family of three. We knew we were lucky to have what we had and if that’s what our future was meant to look like then we would be more than ok with that. But having siblings ourselves, we couldn’t shake the desire to give our daughter the same and so agreed to at least try all avenues before calling it a day.
Around four months later we started our first round of IVF and were thrilled to later discover that it was successful and I was pregnant. We learnt through this process that the issue we may have been facing when trying to conceive naturally was that our eggs and sperm appeared to be reluctant to come together in the petri dish. The doctors said that sometimes they can be less compatible and simply ‘aren’t interested’ in fertilising. If our first round hadn’t been successful, then they would have suggested we try ICI (where they physically inject the sperm into the eggs in order to increase the chances of fertilisation.) So, at least we would have had something closer to an explanation for our years of difficulties in getting pregnant again and a positive path going forward if needed.
By Suzanne Higgins