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.