What is Secondary Infertility

Secondary infertility is a common problem. The term secondary infertility refers to the inability to become pregnant or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth following either a previous pregnancy or a previous live birth. This definition, therefore, includes women who have had a previous miscarriage or stillbirth, as well as those who already have a child.

The Emotional Impact of Secondary Infertility

Women who are suffering from secondary infertility have all the normal emotions experienced by any woman who is trying to conceive but they also have added pressures. My patients tell me about feelings of guilt. A guilt that is all consuming. They felt huge societal pressure that they should ‘Be happy and thankful for what they’ve already got’ The guilt from wanting another child and fear of discrimination prevented them from confiding in friends and family, being reticent about joining fertility support groups, contributing to fertility forums and even in some circumstances, seeking advice from their doctor. Infertility can be a very isolating; however, these women found themselves even more alone and marginalised. However, their guilt didn’t end there.

Apart from wanting another child for themselves, the women desperately wanted a sibling for their son or daughter. The guilt of their existing child growing up as an only child was unbearable, and the thought of them navigating life without the companionship of a brother or sister was becoming an unsettling reality.  One of my patients suffering from infertility

The causes of Secondary Infertility

 Secondary infertility affects around 1 in 7 couples in the UK. A study in the US in 2006 estimated that 3.3 million women suffered from secondary infertility, accounting for 6 out of 10 infertility cases. Very often the cause of secondary infertility is unknown, however, the following are common causes:

  1. Age – women are starting families later and are therefore older when they start to try for subsequent children.
  2. Baby weight – Carrying that little extra weight from a pregnancy can mean that it is difficult to conceive the second time around.
  3. Thyroid problems – a previous pregnancy or birth can affect the thyroid and if not diagnoses this is a main cause of infertility.
  4. Scar tissue – adhesions from a previous caesarean section or from an ectopic pregnancy can cause damage to the uterine wall or the fallopian tube.
  5. PCOS or Endometriosis – These conditions can occur at any age and therefore can cause problems in conceiving again.
  6. Stress – some studies show that women with secondary infertility have higher levels of the stress hormone and this may be due to being a busy mum and getting less sleep with a young child.
  7. Simply not having enough sex – a woman might be still breastfeeding, sharing the bed with a toddler, working whilst being a busy mum. All these things mean that there may be less time and energy to make another baby!

 The Financial Impact of Secondary infertility

Secondary infertility is a hidden anguish but add to this the financial impact of secondary infertility and this brings it home as to why it should be considered just as devastating as primary infertility. In the UK there is no IVF funding for women who already have a child. Cruelly, this also applies if a woman’s partner or husband has a child from a previous relationship.

Therefore if finances do not allow, a woman’s only option may be to do all she can to conceive naturally. Getting the right advice on how you can learn more about your body and when you are fertile is a crucial step and research shows that this awareness dramatically reduces how long it takes women to conceive.

If this is you struggling with secondary infertility, you are not alone.  Get the help and support you need.  Talk with your doctor about what you potentially do about it in order to conceive.