What Is Secondary Infertility And How To Cope With The Emotional Fallout

Despite the recent coverage that's been given to infertility and pregnancy loss, infertility can be an extremely personal and highly sensitive subject. While some may understand infertility in clinical terms as the inability to get pregnant after 12 months of trying, there is much more to infertility than its physical implications. Infertility and its pursuant treatments, including in-vitro fertilization (IVF), can be mentally and emotionally draining — where those attempting to get pregnant may experience extreme highs and lows. For those who have experienced infertility twice, this toll can be compounded. Infertility can occur more than once.

There are two forms of infertility: primary and secondary. There are no differences between them in terms of cause, aside from the fact that a previous pregnancy or birth could have affected one's current fertility. Primary infertility simply describes someone looking to conceive who has not conceived before, and secondary infertility describes someone who has had a successful pregnancy but is having trouble conceiving again. There are several unique issues that come with secondary infertility, and for those who were able to conceive with the assistance of IVF, the social stigma surrounding trying again after a successful pregnancy can be particularly jarring. For those who conceived without IVF, experiencing secondary infertility could be a confusing new challenge. 

How to cope with secondary infertility

Infertility often entails a host of emotions and emotional processes, from anger and sadness, grief and loneliness, to jealousy and guilt. Those who have conceived via IVF know the time and resources that the process demands, and even then, conception via IVF is not guaranteed. Perhaps you have experienced failed embryo transfers, or have experienced reoccurring miscarriages as you try to conceive again. Each of these outcomes can be devastating when you want nothing more than to grow your family. But those experiencing secondary infertility may face additional social stigma or apathy. Blane Bachelor describes in her piece for The Cut that her friends and family did not understand why she wanted to continue trying when she already had a child, as though she took her child for granted. Other birthing people may feel isolated, caught in between the world of infertility and the world of parenthood. Others still may feel in denial when they have previously conceived without the use of IVF. 

First, understand that however you feel is completely valid, even when it might not seem that way. Connecting with a community of people experiencing the same emotions can be freeing when those around you simply do not seem to understand; Facebook in particular has a robust network of private and public infertility support groups. Those experiencing secondary infertility also often describe feeling guilty about wanting more children, and these connections could help alleviate the emotional distress that this guilt can bring. Spending quality time with your child can also assist you in feeling grounded as a parent, to experience joy amidst the heartache you might feel. 

How to support someone with secondary infertility

For those who have loved ones dealing with secondary infertility and might not know how to support them, know that many choose not to openly talk about their infertility with those closest to them. But this does not mean you should take a hands-off approach when it comes to showing your support. Fertility specialist Dr. Eve Feinberg tells Northwest Medicine, "You don't want your friends and family to feel abandoned, but you also don't want them to feel pressure, like they have to constantly give you updates on how they are or where they are in treatment," she says. Instead, listening should always be prioritized over sharing your personal thoughts, feelings, or suggestions. Glossing over the realities of the emotions and circumstances of your loved ones might not be intentional, but acknowledging the delicate position they face can be more helpful than avoiding it. And, this should go without saying, but encouraging your loved one to consider the "upsides" of not having another child, is never appropriate. However, educating yourself about infertility is a fantastic way to both take that burden off of your loved one's shoulders and to be a better support to them overall.

Infertility looks different for everybody. If you are struggling with secondary infertility, remember to be kind to yourself.