Most couples who fall pregnant easily with their first child, are surprised when they encounter problems conceiving a second time. But secondary infertility – difficulty falling pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to full-term when you have already had a child – is actually quite common. In fact, it affects 1 in 7 couples, making it more common than primary infertility.
From an emotional perspective, secondary infertility can be a trying experience. Sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and guilt are common emotions that couples feel as they ride the fertility rollercoaster every month. And for couples experiencing secondary infertility, there are some additional challenges to face:
- The desire for a sibling: Couples trying for their first baby will often be focused on their desire to become parents and to raise a child together. For those trying to conceive a second time, the focus shifts to being able to provide a sibling for this child. Couples might feel that they are “failing” their child if they are unable to give them a brother or sister and can carry an enormous around of guilt around this.
- Lack of validation: When a couple opens up about their fertility struggles, they may not always get the response they want or need. This is particularly true for couples experiencing secondary infertility. Reassuring a couple that they will fall pregnant because they have had a baby or advising them to be grateful for the child they have, can invalidate the grief they are experiencing and subsequently leave them feeling guilty for feeling sad.
- Delaying treatment: Couples who have conceived naturally, may hold off on seeing a doctor because they assume that they will eventually fall pregnant again. This is true for most couples but not the case for that 1 in 7. Some GPs may even hold off on referring patients to a fertility specialist if they have fallen pregnant without assistance previously.
So what advice can we offer those experiencing secondary infertility?
- Be honest about how you are feeling; with yourself, your partner and family and friends.
- Avoid judging your emotions – you are entitled to feel sad, worried and frustrated when you’re having trouble falling pregnant; whether you are trying for your first, second or tenth child.
- Surround yourself with supportive people – talk to friends and family who will validate your feelings and offer helpful support. If you need to distance yourself from unhelpful people, that’s okay too.
- Practise good self-care – fertility treatment can be taxing and it is so important to look after yourself by making sure that you’re eating well, getting adequate sleep, exercising and taking any vitamins and supplements prescribed for you.
- Treat yourself – take some time out to do something nice for yourself, e.g. book a massage, get you hair done, see a movie, have lunch with friends. Self-compassion is critical and little things like this go a long way.
- Spend quality time together as a couple – it’s easy to become consumed by infertility, and so important to create a space where you can do something enjoyable together. Bonus points if you can avoid talking about your baby plans.
- Spend quality time with your child – fertility concerns can be distracting and many parents admit that they find it hard to be present when they’re with their child. If this is the case, it can be helpful to find activities that are engaging for both of you, e.g. building Lego, doing a puzzle, baking a cake, playing a board game.
- Be proactive in seeking help – there is no harm in booking an appointment with your GP if you are having trouble falling pregnant. It is recommended that couples > 35 years of age seek medical advice if they have been trying to conceive for 6 months or more (12 months for couples < 35 years of age). On the plus side, most cases of secondary infertility have an identifiable cause.
- Seek Counselling – If you are having a difficult time due to fertility issues and feel that it could be helpful to talk to someone outside your network of family and friends, make an appointment with a counsellor.
Counsellor Georgina Roberts