Secondary Infertility

What is Secondary Infertility?

Secondary infertility can be described as infertility on the second or later natural pregnancy. It is the inability either to get pregnant or carry a second or later pregnancy to full term.  Research shows that one in seven couples in Ireland struggle with secondary infertility and it is estimated that 60% of infertility patients are secondary.

How age contributes to Secondary Infertility

One key factor in secondary infertility is “time”, as women are holding off starting a family.  It is medically believed that between the ages of 35 and 40 egg quality diminishes.  Therefore, if you fall into this age bracket and have experienced six months of trying to become pregnant without success, it is important that you talk to your doctor.  The same applies after 1 year of trying if you are under 35. Other medical issues may also be the cause and in certain cases, sadly no clear cause is found.  IVF is the normal route of treatment in these cases.  On a positive note, the overall success of treatment in secondary infertility is high and higher then if you never had a child before.

Coping with Secondary Infertility

A diagnosis of secondary infertility can come as a shock to a couple who have previously experienced a natural pregnancy and birth.  On hearing this diagnosis, knowing the experience of already having a child can lead to a sense of denial and in some cases, an initial inaction to seek treatment.  Couples struggle to identify with infertility when there has previously been a successful pregnancy.

Furthermore, the treatment for secondary infertility is the same treatment for a couple with no children.  Feelings of confusion are often expressed.  Then having chosen a course of treatment with your current family in tow, presents the challenges of juggling; childcare, doctors appointments, courses of treatments, which is demanding and exhausting. These factors can cause stress, potential strain on your relationship and of course financial stress is also a big factor.

The desire to have a family is incredibly powerful. It is a yearning unlike any other. We are pulled to it somehow and once a decision is made the fun and excitement of sex can whittle away to the drudgery and exhaustion of the act in the hope for a positive pregnancy test. Uncertainty, anxiety, hope and excitement prevails and the utter disappointment when a period arrives. The possibility of the hoped for future lost and roughly 14 days to gather yourself and start again.

Society’s view of Secondary Infertility

There is quite a common misunderstanding within society that secondary infertility is easier somehow, as the couple have previously had a child.  This is not true.  It is important to recognise that the feelings of apprehension and yearning for a baby are no different second, third or fourth time round. Unfortunately as a result, these couples are not met with the same support from friends, family, even health care professionals.  Their loss is in someway dismissed.  The guilt of having previous children makes it all the more difficult to acknowledge and grieve the loss with others, furthering isolation and potential strain on the couple’s relationship.

Feelings of loss associated with Secondary Infertility

For the person suffering, infertility is lonely.  Loss is loss, it is experienced the same.  It is possible to miss the absence of something we never had, the feelings of yearning persist, having a dream of a larger family and it hasn’t come to pass.  It is a journey of grieving that dream while trying in hope for a different future.  When the gravity of this loss is not met with empathy by friends and family “well you have one, some people have none”.  This inhibits the grieving process and fuels guilt for wanting more.  This can fuel further inner isolation.  Looking around, lots of people do have their desired family, it is understandable that the “why me”? questions can play on your mind.

It is reported that women themselves hold back from sharing there feelings with their partners and it becomes a private struggle.  Infertility can feel like the ultimate failure.  This sense of failure can bleed into everything else, particularly relationship, affecting a woman’s sense of worth and being.  Family questions can feel insensitive about another little sister or brother for the first child. Even more difficult when the first child themselves, requests the appearance of a brother or sister to play with.  It is no less than heart wrenching.  Secondary infertility becomes complicated when the joy of having one child is robbed by the grief of wanting a wider family and then the guilt of wanting more when there is already one when some have none.

How can counselling and psychotherapy help with Secondary Infertility?

Talking it out with someone impartial such as a psychotherapist can facilitate the acceptance of the diagnosis and what it really means to you on the infertility journey.  It is indeed a journey from time of diagnosis to the end result, whatever the outcome.  Aspects of life that may have been taken for granted are now thrown up in the air, be it your own expectations, your relationship, misunderstanding from family members and friends, your identity as a women and your place in the world may have all been questioned as well as your relationship with your body – perhaps even rejected and hated for a time.

It is important to give space for your emotions and time to heal from your current sense of loss.  It is important to remember that most treatments are successful and try to turn your attention to what you do have rather than the lack of.  Gratitude can offer a great sense of peace in such a difficult time.

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