Secondary Infertility: What is it and Why Does it Happen?

Secondary Infertility: What is it and Why Does it Happen?

It's an exciting time when you and your partner start to discuss starting a family! It can also be an all-consuming topic that fills your mind with so many questions: Will I get pregnant easily? Will I get pregnant easily but then miscarry? Will we have to go through IVF treatments or any other infertility treatments? Can I even get pregnant? But something that isn't talked about very much is a condition called secondary infertility. We've all heard about infertility problems, but what makes secondary infertility different? What is it? Is it even real? Why is it called secondary infertility? In this post we'll discuss everything you need to know about it, and I'll even share my personal experience with it to help you remember that you are not alone!

secondary infertility

What is Secondary Infertility?

Secondary infertility happens when you can't get pregnant or carry a baby to term after you've been pregnant before and had a baby without any trouble. Secondary infertility shares many of the same causes of primary infertility. It's diagnosed in women who can’t seem to conceive after trying for a year or more if they’re under 35 or for six months or more if they’re 35 or older.

About one in seven couples seek help for infertility, and those who already have a baby are more likely to experience fertility issues than those trying for the first time.

This can be a bit of a shock to many. Since you may have gotten pregnant with your first child in a reasonable amount of time, then shouldn't the second time around be a breezy process as well? Unfortunately that's not always the case.

According to Dr. Jacqueline Ho, M.D., a fertility specialist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, "It can be challenging to give parents advice about secondary infertility, in part because it often isn’t researched separately from general infertility."

struggling secondary infertility

What Causes Secondary Infertility?

Having babies changes your body, not just the outward appearance of it, but hormonally and mentally as well. This plays a great factor in how your conceiving journey will be next time around. About 1 in 5 cases of secondary infertility are identified as unexplained. And though there is no one answer as to why secondary infertility happens, here are some factors that can increase the risk of fertility problems:

  • Age
  • Weight gain (in men and women)
  • Egg reserve
  • Scarring in the womb
  • Blocked fallopian tubes
  • Complications from previous pregnancy or surgery
  • Male infertility (usually having to do with low sperm count)
  • Lifestyle factors including smoking and heavy alcohol use
  • Certain medications

How to Treat Secondary Infertility

The good news is that there is a way to treat secondary infertility! And just like fertility treatments used for primary infertility, the treatments will be the same for secondary infertility and have the same high success rates.

The treatments done can include IVF, fertility medication (something I used for my secondary infertility), and IUI. Your doctor can also give both you and your partner physical exams, blood work, run tests to see if you're ovulating normally, see if your fertility-related hormones are at a healthy level, ask what your lifestyle is like, and even ask what contraception you were using. All of this can give them an idea of what can be affecting your fertility.

Your age can play a factor in knowing when to seek professional help. If you're under 35, you should seek help for infertility if you've been trying to conceive without success for a year. For women ages 35 to 40, you should seek help after six months, and for women over 40, you should see a doctor after three months of unsuccessful attempts. 

In general, among all couples who have troubles conceiving, about half of those who don't conceive in the first year of trying to conceive naturally do so successfully in the second year.

struggling secondary infertility

My Own Experience

Dr. Stephanie Beall, a fertility specialist, put it well when she said, "Couples who are struggling with secondary infertility tend to have more guilt, feel as if they are selfish and feel they should be happy with the children they have."

I definitely felt this way while we were trying for our second child. I spent a year trying to conceive a second time around and had to take medication to help us get pregnant.

I was told again and again to just be happy that I at least had one child, and that the moment I stopped worrying or stressing about it, I would become pregnant.

I was sad and worried! But I felt ashamed for feeling the way that I felt. I felt like I couldn't really express how I was feeling because no one would understand what I was going through, or I would be put down or misunderstood.

I know my struggle wasn't the same as other women who have gone much longer trying to conceive, or aren't able to have kids on their own at all, but someone told me that just because my experience was different than what other mothers were going through, it didn't mean that my trial wasn't hard for us. My feelings weren't something be ashamed about. 

If you have someone in your life who doesn't seem to understand what you are going through, consider sharing with them this post that has Tips on how to comfort someone struggling with infertility.

You're Not Alone

Secondary infertility can be surprising and stressful. The causes of primary and secondary infertility are nearly identical, but the emotional impact can be very different from each other in different ways.

You want a child, but the unique situation you are going through makes it different. No matter if you are going through infertility for the first OR second time, know that it is very difficult to cope with, and that is okay! You are worried about what people will say to you, and you are longing to hold a baby in your arms.

Know you're not alone in your journey and that your feelings matter and are nothing to be ashamed about! There are success stories such as mine and many others, so don't give up, momma! We are cheering for you!


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