When someone already has a child it’s common for others to assume that they can have more babies if they want to. In fact it’s not always this straightforward. Secondary infertility is when a couple who have one or more children have been unable to conceive after trying for a year or more. Secondary infertility is very common – it affects 5% of the UK population and 1 in 3 of all fertility treatment cycles are for people with secondary infertility.
The causes may be very similar to those for couples with primary infertility; fertility may have naturally declined with age since the first pregnancy or a previous pregnancy may have caused complications that affected fertility. Some view secondary infertility as less distressing for the couple because they already have a child – they are not faced with childlessness – however these are some of the things which make secondary infertility particularly hard to cope with….
It is unexpected
Particularly if you were able to get pregnant quickly the first time round, secondary infertility can come as a surprise you are unprepared for. It can mean having to adjust your life plans and let go of a hoped for future. For example if you always imagined having two or three children close in age you will have to let go of this dream and come to terms with a different reality which may involve having one child, having a large age gap between your children or growing your family another way such as through IVF, egg or sperm donation or adoption.
Other people assume you are choosing not to have another baby
When you already have a child people are more likely to ask “are you going to have a second?” which can be a painful question to answer for a couple struggling to conceive. Some people make insensitive comments such as “doesn’t she want a brother or sister?” You may feel judged for having an “only child” and this adds to your own distress about wanting your child to have a sibling and not being able to provide one. Fertility is one thing we have no control over in life – we can’t make a pregnancy happen – but those who have never experienced infertility may not recognise how little choice you have over having a second child.
Feeling uncomfortable around other parents and babies
As you are already parents you are likely to know lots of other parents, through toddler groups, nursery or school. You are already part of the parents’ community but may feel increasingly uncomfortable and different from others who have their second or third child already. You have constant daily reminders of your infertility through spending time with pregnant women and babies. You may have to cope with more pregnancy announcements than those who don’t have children yet. It may be hard to talk to other parents about your situation. If they have been able to get pregnant easily they may find it hard to understand what you are going through.
Coping with feelings of guilt and anxiety
Although rationally you know it’s not your fault that you can’t conceive you may feel guilty about not being able to provide a sibling for your child, especially if they are at the age to have started asking for a baby brother or sister. You may have anxieties about them being an only child and worry that the longer you are unable to conceive the larger the age gap will be between your child and their hoped-for sibling. You may also feel guilty that you are so focused on trying to conceive and feeling upset about it that you are not able to give your full attention to your child.
I hope that this blog post helps to raise awareness of secondary infertility and what some of the key challenges are. If you are going through secondary infertility I hope that what I have shared makes sense to you and perhaps helps you feel a little less alone.
Gill Wier runs a course on Coping with Infertility. The next course starts Monday 16th September. See our Courses page for more details.