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Coping with Secondary Infertility

Unique Aspects of Secondary Infertility and How to Cope With Them


Updated April 09, 2013

Secondary infertility, or infertility after you already have at least one child, is more common than

Secondary infertility, or infertility after you already have at least one child, is more common than you think.

Photo: Mel Yates / Getty Images

Secondary infertility, or the inability to have a child after one year of trying despite having already had at least one child, creates many of the same emotional stresses that primary infertility causes.

Couples facing secondary infertility may experience shame, depression, and anxiety, as with primary infertility. Couples in both groups experience a sense of loss of what "could have been", and mourn the loss of the family they imagined.

However, there are some unique emotional aspects to secondary infertility.

Guilt Over Wanting Another Child

Couples experiencing secondary infertility may feel guilty for wanting another child so much. They realize what a blessing (or even miracle!) the first child or children were. So why can't they just be happy and "get over" wanting another?

Also, others may comment insensitively, "You already have a child, isn't she enough?"

Remember that wanting to have more children does not mean that you do not love and cherish the children you have. It does not imply that they are not "good enough" or that you are not grateful for their blessing.

An Extra Veil of Silence

When a couple has no children, people usually assume that they don't want kids, are still waiting to have them, or are having problems conceiving.

When a couple with a child stops having more children, people assume that they just don't want any more kids. Rarely do people consider that there may be some medical problem.

Also, in the media, primary infertility is most talked about. While it has recently become more common to mention secondary infertility, the vast majority of news stories talk about primary infertility - not secondary.

However, secondary infertility is as common as primary infertility. In fact, 4 million couples -- up to 50% of couples who experience infertility -- are experiencing secondary infertility. You are far from alone.

Inability to Avoid Baby and Child-Centered Social Activities

Sometimes the emotional pain of infertility makes it difficult to be around pregnant women and babies. For couples experiencing primary infertility, avoiding child-centered family gatherings or activities may be doable.

For couples experiencing secondary infertility, it can be very difficult to avoid babies and child-centered gatherings. From play dates to school yard chattering, couples with secondary infertility are often surrounded by growing families.

Not being able to get away from reminders of what you don't have is not easy.

Denial of the Seriousness of the Loss

Whether self-denial or denial from others, couples with secondary infertility are usually not taken as seriously as those with primary infertility.

You may tell yourself that you already have one or more children, so why should you feel upset? Others may accuse you of making a big deal out of nothing. "It's not like you don't have any children."

Certainly the pain of primary infertility is different than secondary infertility, and it is a wonderful blessing to have the child or children you already have.

But that does not negate the loss of what you imagined your family would be.

I used to tell people that it's like telling someone whose mother just died that "At least you still have your father." Having your father alive does not make the loss of your mother easy.

How to Cope

The coping techniques for secondary infertility are pretty much the same as for primary infertility. Some of those include joining a support group, finding a therapist, writing and blogging about your experience, sharing your story, and allowing yourself to cry when you feel the need.

It's also important to remember that you have a right to the feelings you have. It does not help yourself or others to deny how you feel or deride yourself for wanting another baby. Your loss is real. You may not have the family you and your partner always planned for, and that hurts.

More on coping while trying to conceive:

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Chandra A, Martinez GM, Mosher WD, Abma JC, Jones J. Fertility, family planning, and reproductive health of U.S. women: Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 23(25). 2005. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_025.pdf

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