The Emotional Impact of Secondary Infertility
The inability to conceive a pregnancy after having given birth to at least one baby is called secondary infertility. It is estimated that the numbers of couples experiencing this form of infertility exceed that of those who experience primary infertility. In the UK, one in seven couples is infertile.
Coping with secondary infertility is difficult for couples, especially since most believe that the fact they had a successful pregnancy and birth means they are fertile and should be able to continue having babies. When month after month goes by and there is no conception, the idea that help would be appropriate becomes embarrassing and difficult to swallow. By the time some couples finally get around to getting help, fertility treatments don't work.
The Emotional Roller Coaster
The emotional side of secondary infertility sees a layering of painful emotions, from anger and grief through depression, isolation, guilt, and self-blame, topped off with a profound sense of being out of control. Pain at not being able to produce a brother or sister for their child, feelings of inadequacy at not being able to parent again, and guilt for pouring their frustration onto their child all contribute to a volatile and intense emotional situation. Feelings of pain and jealousy cause them to step back from relationships that were supportive when they had their first child.
What They Need Least
While these couples need a lot of support, often they receive less social support than couples dealing with primary infertility. Since they already have a child and their infertility is unacknowledged, the pain from the infertility goes unnoticed. An additional arrow into the heart comes in the form of people who tell the couple (once they've been told they are dealing with secondary infertility) that they should be thankful for the child they have and to quit making such a big deal of things. The implication that the couple isn't grateful for the child they have is stabbing. Additionally, why should they not want to expand their family? It's mentally and emotionally taxing.
It is important for the couple to educate family and friends about the emotional trauma secondary infertility brings with it. The couple needs the love and support of family and friends but they will isolate themselves if they can't communicate their emotional state. When a woman with secondary infertility declines an invite to a baby shower, it is important that the people understand that the reason for declining is pain and grief not a lack of interest.
How It Plays Out in the Marriage
Within the marriage, dealing with the emotional strain of secondary infertility can cause serious challenges to arise. Each partner has their own way of dealing with the issue and their methods may cause alienation and distance. If one partner looks for answers and gathers information as a way to relieve stress and the other partner thinks it is best to just leave it alone and it will all sort itself out, then the tension is increased and they become out of sync with each other. Anger is the first reaction in these cases, blaming one another for the infertility or for not seeking help soon enough are just two of the myriad emotional outbursts that can occur.
The negative emotions snowball as they affect how the couple views finances - how much money should go toward treatment, and their intimacy most surely suffers. If a couple cannot communicate positively about the situation, then tensions mount and tempers flare as the chasm grows. It is imperative that a couple seek counsel and step away from treatments for a while if they find they are at each other and unable to talk or be intimate without feelings of pain and failure.