Secondary Infertility

The Heartbreak of Secondary Infertility

A silent and heartbreaking form of infertility remains largely unacknowledged and invisible. One in seven couples in the UK is affected with infertility, but the number may be even higher if those who are dealing with secondary infertility would come forward. Secondary infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children. It's a confusing and painful type of infertility because the couple has already given birth to a child, or children. The fact that they have already produced a child makes coping with the inability to produce another difficult. They hold the thought that fertility insures future fertility.

Self-Blame and Guilt

Even though secondary infertility occurs more frequently than primary infertility, couples are less likely to seek help or treatment. At times, even physicians may treat the situation lightly and encourage the couple to keep trying and not to worry. However, couples who are dealing with secondary infertility usually blame themselves for the inability to have another child. As time goes on the chances of pregnancy dwindle because the older a woman is when she tries to conceive, the more difficult it is. Usually women who are experiencing secondary infertility are well into their 30's and they feel time is running out for them. Even if the couple does seek treatment at a later time if the treatments are unsuccessful, the guilt and regret for not getting help sooner can haunt them.

Statistically, the numbers indicate that about 84% of couples will conceive in a year's time by having regular unprotected sex and 8% will conceive within a two year period, making the total 92% of couples who try to conceive and succeed. Although this is good news for most couples, those suffering from secondary infertility usually take little comfort in the numbers. They experience the condition as the loss of a child, the loss of pregnancy, and the loss of childbirth.

The Emotional Effects on a Couple

Emotionally, they find themselves dealing with feelings of anger, grief, depression, isolation, guilt, jealousy, self-blame, and being out of control. Added to these painful emotions is the guilt of how their pain is affecting the child they have birthed. Sorrow at not being able to give their child a sibling and feeling like failures for not being able to continue in a parenting role all contribute to an emotionally strained existence.

Seeking Help

Often the cause of secondary infertility cannot be distinguished. However, when doctors have been able to find the cause, it is usually the same as primary infertility. The problem can occur without warning and at any time. It may involve a woman's reproductive system, her partner's reproductive system, illness, or issues with both people. Some women develop hormonal disorders as they get older and these can affect her ability to conceive. Men can end up with semen quality being affected by such things as illness or environmental exposures. There can be any number of reasons, but not knowing what causes "unexplained infertility" is both frustrating and wearing.

It is particularly important for couples with secondary infertility to have an early diagnosis and treatment, especially as they get older. If the woman is over 35, then after six months of trying to conceive without success, an appointment with the gynecologist is necessary. The onset of menopause causes hormonal changes that can affect the ability to conceive.

Obviously, the entire process can be stressful, especially having to face the reality that there is a problem that came up after the uneventful and successful birth of a child. Stress does all kinds of things to people, so it is important to find a support group or obtain counseling while working through the situation.