Secondary Infertility

Secondary infertility is a common experience for many women, but it is not often discussed.  The struggle with secondary infertility affects approximately 12% of women in the US. It is a unique circumstance because you’re not fertile or infertile, and many women feel stuck between two worlds. This unanticipated stressor can be a frustrating and painful experience filled with grief and disappointment as plans to increase family size do not go as planned. 

Having difficulties conceiving a second child can be a major shock to the ego, leading to feelings of anger, shame, guilt and depression. Women often report secrecy and isolation and no longer belonging to a peer group. Many feel misunderstood and express being viewed as ungrateful since they already have one child, causing them to withdraw from others as their feelings are quickly dismissed.

Maternal identity concerns arise as women question who they are as a mother since having one child may not mean their family is complete. Special considerations may arise regarding current child(ren). Being present with your child can feel conflicting at times; you love your child and are thrilled to be a mom, but they can remind you of possibilities of siblings and adding to your family size. It can be helpful to consciously separate the two parts, and to schedule specific time to focus on fertility considerations when your child is not around.

Many complex issues come up during fertility treatment. Besides the physical and emotional toll of treatment on women, the child may notice if there are suddenly more doctor visits or medicines for mom. Special considerations arise when the decision is made to use assistance from third-party donors after having one biological child. Decisions around what to share with others, including the current child (depending on the child’s age), can increase stress. The emotional toll of secondary infertility also affects couple relationships and intimacy. This can be heightened when partners have different limits around when to stop trying or different ideas about family building.

Resolution takes time and involves grieving losses (physical and of the idealized family), and acceptance of the current family size or growing your family in a non-traditional way. It is essential to be able to move forward feeling grounded in your family identity, however that may evolve.

I was interviewed for a Huffington Post article on coping with secondary infertility. This beautiful piece brings awareness to this issue and discusses the emotional journey of secondary infertility. If you are experiencing secondary infertility, reach out for support. Find someone who can hold what you are going through and take care of your emotional health.

Plan of Attack for Anxiety

Feeling anxious? You are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly 18% of American adults are affected by anxiety disorders. To help manage anxiety, learn a few self-care tools to have handy to take care of yourself and cope with anxiety symptoms. If your anxiety causes severe impairment, please seek specialized help. 

1 Begin to notice thought patterns
Create a thought record to track thoughts and learn to understand the connection between triggers, thoughts and feelings.

2 Challenge unhelpful thoughts
Ask yourself:
Is this thought useful? Is it even true?
Am I catastrophizing or jumping to conclusions?
How will I feel if I believe this thought?
Find another way of looking at things.

3 Practice deep breathing and relaxation daily
You don’t need a formal meditation practice, just take a few minutes each day to focus on the breath, without attaching to your thoughts.

4 Do some sort of daily physical exercise
Even a 20 minute walk will do wonders to reduce anxiety symptoms.

5 Practice good nutrition
Reduce (or ideally eliminate) caffeine.
Eat healthy, nutritious meals.
Drink plenty of water.

6 Practice coping skills to stop anxious or racing thoughts
Take deep breaths throughout the day.
Name it to tame it.
Opposite action.
Utilize distraction. 
Get up and move around to get out of a thinking state and into a sensing state.

7 Practice self supportive statements
I am having a hard time in this moment. I can be kind to myself.
This feeling is temporary - I’m not always going to feel this way.
I can handle this.

8) Increase your self-compassion
Treat yourself with loving kindness as you would a friend experiencing anxiety.
 

Becoming a Mother

What kind of mother will you be? Becoming a mother is an ongoing process. Each stage of  pregnancy and parenting provides an opportunity to examine your life, your childhood, your relationships, and your hopes or fears around this major life transition.

Maternal identity is fluid and evolves over time. Many moms note that their new identity becomes more grounded as they feel more secure as a mother caring for a baby or young toddler. Here are some questions to consider on your journey to motherhood:

  • Who will my baby be?
  • What are my fantasies or fears around the imagined baby?
  • How will I change as I become a mother?
  • What are my hopes around becoming a mother?  
  • How will my day to day life change as I become a mother?
  • What scares me about becoming a mother?
  • How will my relationship with my partner change?
  • What parts of my own mothering do I appreciate from my childhood?
  • What do I want to leave behind from the way I was parented?
  • How will my identity shift as I move from a daughter role to being a mother myself?
  • How will I reconcile my career identity changes?
  • How do I feel about the physical changes to my body?
  • Who can I turn to for support through all of these changes?

It can be helpful to explore your thoughts and feelings around pregnancy, postpartum and becoming a mother. Make space to consider these changes through journaling, talking it out with your partner or a friend, or meeting with a mental health professional who specializes in perinatal and postpartum health.

What Holds Us Back from Change?

One of the primary obstacles for change is getting too comfortable with the way things are. We are creatures of habit, and our defenses can be difficult to break down, especially over time. Change is possible; neuroscience has shown through brain plasticity research that we do have the capacity to form new neural pathways that allow us to make changes in our way of being. Awareness is key – first we need to see that we are stuck in a problematic way of being in order to consider making a change.

How can you begin to shift things and make positive changes in your life?

We can learn ways to mindfully encourage change. It all starts with the understanding that we have the ability to make a conscious shift to do things differently. It’s about slowing down and noticing the patterns of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Awareness leads to insight.

What are you getting stuck on? Start by noticing when you’re thinking, feeling or doing the same things over and over. Track patterns and make a list of common triggers that lead to the same responses. Then begin challenging the old way of being and considering ways to change. Continually ask yourself, “Do I want to keep automatically reacting, or can I find a way to be present, pause and consciously respond?”

We can also benefit from giving up the narratives that keep us stuck. Letting go of core beliefs that hold us back (I’m not good enough, things will never be different, I’m always going to feel this way, etc.) can be terrifying, but doing so allows you to shift your way of being (I’m doing the best I can in this moment, things can be different, this feeling is temporary). Encourage openness and curiosity for the unknown, and a willingness to see what happens when you give up familiarity. With consistency, you will begin to notice that you are embracing change. Make sure to maintain this new way of being and continue to move forward in your personal growth. 

Coping Skills for Infertility Support

Infertility can completely take over one's life. Here are some ideas of how to take care of yourself through infertility treatment and beyond. I contributed this article about infertility and trying to conceive to the GoodTherapy blog. I am hopeful it will provide helpful resources for women seeking coping skills during this transition. 

12 Coping Skills to Center Yourself through Infertility
http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/12-coping-skills-to-center-yourself-through-infertility-0709144