Answer from: Elli Papadopoulou, BSc
Let’s start by defining secondary sub-fertility – it is individuals, couples and families that have a child or more, already, and are unable to conceive and deliver another one.
Statistically it is more common than primary sub-fertility.
There are ways that secondary infertility differs from primary infertility.
One way they are different is that the social environment of people facing secondary sub-fertility– their friends and family – don’t get it or don’t sympathize as easily as in the case of primary infertility – ‘You already have a child, why would you need a second one, don’t be ungrateful.’
You may get stinging comments from other infertile women, too. After all, you have one child, shouldn’t that be enough?
Now in terms of your own emotions. You may have either had it easy the first time and you are totally confused why it’s not happening again.
Or even if you went through Assisted Reproduction, you did get the results you wanted, why can’t it work a second time…?
And you may feel that you desperately want a second child, a sibling for your first child, a bigger family for yourself and your partner. But you can’t get it and the frustration can be overwhelming…
Research indicates that even though they already have a child, women with secondary infertility report similar depression and anxiety symptoms as those with primary infertility.
Now coming to the second question:
How do you overcome secondary infertility?
In similar ways as primary infertility, and with some adjustments.
For example, should you seek for support in a support group, look for women who face secondary infertility, and are on the same boat and journey as you are.
It is also important and useful to acknowledge and attend to your feelings and their validity. Listen out for the messages and the learnings of your feelings.
Make sure you are clear about YOUR reason why, WHY DO I want to become a parent for a second or third time and for WHOM? That is an issue we often explore with women in ‘In Vivo Fertility’
Something additional to consider with secondary infertility is to be very mindful of your first child and how your quest for the second one may affect your relationship and family dynamics
I have had parents who feel as if they are missing their first child’s childhood because they are too focused on getting pregnant for the second child.
Evaluate your priorities and consider of what to say and how to share your thoughts and plans with your first child. How you do that depends on your family and your parenting style – what is right for YOU and YOUR FAMILY AS A SYSTEM. There are tools and techniques that I use within the framework of In Vivo Fertility to support such exploration.
So as a closing remark – Considering and treating YOUR FAMILY SYSTEM AS A WHOLE is essential in secondary sub-fertility.
Answer from: Wendy Martin, Developmental Psychology
There are a lot of couples who have a baby quite quickly and easily. Maybe after just a few months of trying. That’s lovely and wonderful and they’re really happy to have a baby. The little child grows up and then they begin to think okay it’s time for us to have our second baby because most people generally speaking want more than one. Some don’t but most people do and some people want three or even four but let’s begin to try for a second baby…then you’re trying and you’re trying and you’re not getting pregnant. It’s taking a bit of a long time, much much longer than the first but maybe a few years have passed. You think “oh well maybe it’s to do with my age” but then it’s become clear that this second baby is not coming along and gradually you might become a little bit worried and a bit anxious and depressed and a bit low and unhappy about this and begin to get a little bit obsessed..”are we ever going to have a second child”? Then maybe you might even have to go for some fertility tests to see what’s happening because it was fine before and perhaps either nothing is found or something is found sometimes. Something the woman’s AMH, their egg reserve may have gone down in those few years..and suddenly there is this kind of sense of urgency about having a second baby. This worry that what if it doesn’t happen, this second baby and then there’s all these feelings about “oh my god my first child what if we don’t provide a sibling for her or him and they’ll be all alone and when they grow up, they won’t have anybody to play with and when we get old, they’ll be the only ones”…There are all these considerations that come into play, that never came into play when people were first trying for a baby. Then, what happens is that you might start to become rather obsessed with this second child and start to become really desperate and really focused on it.Then there’s a whole load of guilt that comes with that often, that you start to feel bad that you’re actually thinking about the second baby and not really focusing on your first quite as much because your attention is elsewhere. You may have fertility treatments and that’s a whole thing, where you’re having to go for tests and investigations and scans and appointments and consultations and then the worry is gradually mounting and mounting and in the meantime everybody’s saying to you” oh you should just be grateful for what you’ve got”, “you’ve got one”, “you have one child and you’ve got a lovely husband and you’ve got a lovely house” and “you’ve got a nice job”, “you’ve got your beautiful child” and “you’ve got a lovely family just be grateful for what you’ve got” and basically “accept it that you’re only going to have one”. That is only ever said to women who are desperate for a second baby, it’s never said to people who say “we’re trying for our second now” no one says well “why are you trying for a second surely you’re you’re content with one, aren’t you?”, “why would you want a second surely you should just appreciate that you’ve got one?”. People only ever say that to those who are starting to really despair that they will ever have a second child. I guess it’s said as a way of trying to be helpful or trying to be kind of like to help them manage the grief that they’re feeling and the worry and the anxiety. To me, in my experience, I always say that if I had two women sitting in a room and they were both to tell me how desperate they were, how unhappy they were, how worried and anxious they were about whether or not they were going to get pregnant, I would not be able to tell the difference between one who has no babies and one who has a child already. I use the example, there’s this a trick candle that you can have for children’s birthdays and you light the candle and the flame burns and then you blow it out and then a few seconds later it reignites by magic – it’s got a little bit of like gunpowder or something in the wick and to me that represents the this maternal drive that it burns the flame, burns if you put your finger in it, it hurts that’s the first pre baby but once your baby comes, candles blown up – everything’s fine and you’re fine and you’re content for a while and then sure enough, sometime later, that little flame ignites again and you put your finger in that flame and it burns just as hard and as painfully as the first time.
It’s a strange thing, most people do not understand the pain and sorrow and worry of secondary infertility and because it’s also now to do with the welfare of the existing child and the desire to do the best for that child and if you believe in your heart that to have a sibling for your child is the best thing that you can give that child, a little brother or sister, then that’s what is driving you and that’s what’s pushing you along.
Also, most women want to have a second baby – why wouldn’t they? It’s not asking anything extraordinary. I just think that most people do not actually really recognize and understand the pain, the sorrow and the heartache and the guilt that comes along with trying unsuccessfully for a second baby and it can be very very difficult indeed and what it’s made worse by the fact that very few people really understand and really empathize with with that degree of pain.
How do you overcome secondary infertility?
Most of us do not know that secondary infertility is as common as primary one. The stress, anger and anxiety felt by a couple who is struggling to conceive another child might be greater than in case of primary one. Why is that?
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