Navigating Secondary Infertility | Fertility Out Loud

Struggling to Conceive the Second Time Around

By Michelle Byrd, LCSW 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult your doctor, or a mental health professional, for the most appropriate treatment.

They say, “When are you going to have another one?” without knowing how much one question can hurt.

Whether you’ve been trying to conceive in secret, or sharing openly, you may be finding yourself consumed by the often unseen battle of secondary infertility. It’s a path that can seem both intricate and fragile to tread. You see, longing for a child is an emotion deeply understood by those facing primary infertility (meaning you’re experiencing infertility the first time around), but making the journey through struggling to have a second child can feel somewhat complex to traverse.  

The journey to parenthood this time around, or expanding your family after having your first child, can suddenly lead you down unforeseen paths. Secondary infertility is one such path. It’s perfectly okay to experience a whirlwind of emotions, from hopeful anticipation to profound sadness, and even sheer overwhelm. Like many others, the answers and results you’re yearning for in your family planning journey are yet to materialize, but it does not lessen the emotional complexity that infertility brings along. Remember, you’re never alone on this path, and it’s okay to feel, to hope, and to grieve. 

It’s estimated that secondary infertility is a condition that affects 11% of couples in the United States. Navigating and coping with secondary infertility can be a complex maze for many. It presents its own set of unique hurdles and is a journey that can be both emotionally and physically taxing. 

What is Secondary Infertility and Who Experiences It?

Secondary infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term after already having achieved at least one pregnancy. Although there are many factors that can contribute to fertility issues the second time around, some of the most common causes of secondary infertility include ovarian dysfunction (also known as primary ovarian insufficiency or POI), fallopian tube blockages, low egg quality, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, uterine abnormalities, and age-related fertility decline. 

In some cases, physical conditions can upset the hormonal balance and interfere with regular ovulation, making the chances of conceiving a greater challenge when trying for your second baby. But let’s not forget, the story doesn’t end with challenges in the female reproductive system. Male infertility can also play a significant role in secondary infertility. Issues with sperm production, low sperm count, poor sperm motility (movement), or abnormal sperm shape (morphology) can all influence male fertility, and can all change with age.

With the right care, support, and guidance from healthcare professionals and fertility specialists (or reproductive endocrinologists), along with a range of fertility treatment options available, you and your partner can navigate this journey armed with resilience and hope. Remember: every challenge is a new opportunity for growth and understanding. 

A Balance of Grief & Gratitude

In my practice, many have expressed the joy of having the experience of successfully having a child. They feel lucky and grateful for their first pregnancy and first baby. They meet others who are struggling with infertility and feel so much gratitude for what they have. 

But now, with secondary infertility, there’s a gentle pull at their heartstrings. Thoughts about how they’ve always wanted to have more than one child, and for their children to be close in age. A wave of emotions come when they feel gratitude for what they have at one moment, and then become filled with grief when they see their child’s friends being picked up at daycare or preschool with their siblings. The sadness can come up in many different ways, and in many different situations, when you’re reminded of what you’re navigating in trying to achieve a second pregnancy.

Building Resilience in the Face of Challenges

Know that you are not alone in this experience. Countless individuals and couples have faced similar challenges with trouble conceiving and have found strength in their resilience. Resilience is an extraordinary quality that lies within each and every one of us. It’s an inner strength that allows us to rise above adversity, bounce back after setbacks, and keep moving forward even when the odds seem stacked against us. Life has a way of throwing unexpected challenges our way, testing our resolve, and pushing us to our limits. But it is through resilience that we find the courage to face these challenges head-on, to dust ourselves off when we stumble, and to keep pursuing our dreams with unwavering determination.

Having a child is a shift in your identity that demands your constant presence and love, keeping you tied to their side. Balancing your own needs with the needs of your child can be challenging, and this can be especially true when navigating your secondary infertility journey. When faced with fertility problems, being with your child may bring you joy and even distraction, but you may be sacrificing much needed moments of solitude, or moments of fun and fulfillment that come with the hustle and bustle of life outside of your child. This is just one example of the delicate balancing act between gratitude and grief.

What You May Be Experiencing with Secondary Infertility

Secondary infertility is like riding a rollercoaster of emotions with many highs and lows. Some emotions come from the physical experience, whether you’re tracking ovulation, navigating pregnancy tests, or going through fertility treatment like intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). There are constant changes in your body, which can also affect your mind. Many express feeling an increase in anxiety and depression. You may feel pressure with timing, both in terms of your own age as well as wanting your children to be a certain amount of years apart. 

Unfortunately, when you’re having trouble getting pregnant again, a lot feels like it’s been taken out of your control. Some of the common things I hear in my practice are:

  • Feeling isolated, shameful, and betrayed by your body
  • Struggling when someone asks about having more children and pressure to provide a sibling
  • Family and friends not being able to understand, mostly because you were able to have a previous pregnancy

Practical Tips for Dealing with Secondary Infertility

Find the time to express what you may be feeling

Create a safe space with a friend or family member who may be able to listen when you need it. If there is no one in your life that you feel you can talk to, find a professional, like a fertility coach or mental health specialist, and let that be your safe space. Having a place to process your emotions can feel like a release, and allows you to not have to carry these emotions alone. 

Make time to find a connection

Having time to connect with your partner and current child is essential. Your journey (and fertility treatments, if you’re in them) through secondary infertility can consume your life. Being intentional to set aside time to be present for those who are in your life can make the family feel in alignment during this process.

Know your support circle may become small

This is a time when infertility becomes something that most do not understand. You will need a support system that can support you through the wave of emotions this process may bring. Someone that is experiencing secondary infertility may find it helpful to have a support group with similar challenges. Resolve, the National Association of Infertility, is a great place to look for that. While social media may be triggering for many reasons (and you are more than welcome to avoid it all together), it may also be a place to share your story, and connect with others going through secondary infertility. There are also other digital programs you may find helpful, like YouTube, with channels like Fertility Endurance that offer a haven of support, understanding, and camaraderie, especially for those embarking on the often solitary journey of conception.

Take care of your needs

Self-care as you face infertility is important. It’s easier said than done, but it is critical that you learn what your needs are when facing hard times. Have a ritual of doing what makes you feel good after each cycle. Find a weekly activity that helps you feel refueled. This might be window shopping at the mall, or going out to a comedy show (because as we know laughter is good for our mental health). Let me be clear: this will not take away the hard feelings that you will still feel, but it will help you to know that taking care of yourself, and your family, is within your control.

Move your body

Think about it. How do you feel after a brisk walk or a session of yoga? Refreshed? Re-energized? Renewed? That’s the power of movement. It’s like a magic key unlocking the door to a happier, healthier mind. It’s a natural stress-buster, mood-lifter, and clarity-bringer. I’m not telling you to run a marathon. Just try to move your body. It’s not just about physical fitness, but mental wellness too. Every step you take is a step towards a healthier, happier you. Not because you have to, but because you deserve the burst of positivity, the wave of calm, and the shower of self-love it brings. You deserve to feel good, inside and out. 

In the midst of the isolating world of infertility, know that we see you and we hear you. Many clinicians have their own stories of infertility, and we understand the profound challenges you may be facing. We want to emphasize the significance of finding solace in your community and support groups of individuals who can relate to your circumstances. We are here to offer helpful information, to guide you towards building the resilience you need. We know it’s not easy, and it’s important to acknowledge the magnitude of what you’re going through, as secondary infertility is no easy feat.

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