Fertility challenges can be one of the most challenging and heartbreaking experiences a couple goes through. For couples who have previously conceived a child and are now struggling to conceive or carry to full- term a healthy baby it can devastating. It is a rollercoaster of emotion parenting a child while grieving the inability to provide a sibling. Most couples facing secondary infertility report feelings of confusion, anger, anxiety, depression and fear but don’t know where to get support.
Couples experiencing secondary infertility are often made to feel their fertility challenges are less significant or painful because they already have a child.
While couples can be extremely grateful for the child they do have they can still long for additional children. In fact, the feelings couples with secondary infertility face are often similar to couples who are struggling to conceive their first child.
Secondary Infertility is Generally Under-diagnosed
In general, couples facing secondary infertility receive less social support when compared to couples who have not previously conceived a child. OBGYNs and general practitioners often miss secondary infertility due to the expectation that a couple who conceived naturally in the past can not have infertility.
Physicians can often downplay the concern and encourage couples to “keep trying” well beyond what is recommended for couples with a known fertility challenge.
We know that a couple’s fertility can be affected by numerous factors, most significantly age and underlying health conditions. Both of these can change with advancing age and medical changes. As the average maternal and paternal age continues to increase, it is no surprise the number of couples experiencing secondary infertility is growing. Couples who conceived a first child naturally in their early or mid- thirties can face challenges conceiving additional children as they age. This is especially true for women trying to conceive who are over the age of 35. While still possible to conceive a healthy child, a woman’s fertility after age 35 significantly declines.
Medical complications, due to aging or prior pregnancy complications from pregnancy or childbirth can leave couples with a new reality and limitations as they try to conceive additional children.
When to Seek Help from an Expert
If you and your partner have been activity trying to conceive for over a year or you are over 35 years of age and have been activity trying for over 6 months it is time to see a fertility specialist. Additionally, if you are over the age of 30 and have a history of pelvic inflammatory disease, irregular mental cycles, painful periods, or miscarriages it is advisable to seek support from a reproductive endocrinologist.
Men may not have any noticeable symptoms of infertility, other than erectile dysfunction. Making sure male partners understand the essential role they play in the fertility equation is key.
How to Know If You Have Secondary Infertility
The only way to assess your fertility is to consult with a fertility specialist. Fertility specialists are generally reproductive endocrinologists who are experts in the field of infertility and reproduction. Often a panel of test can be performed to assess and diagnose the cause of the infertility.
One third of infertility cases in the United States are caused by issues related to women, while another one-third of fertility issues are due to sperm-related issues.
Your specialist might order several kinds of tests. One of the most common and simple assessments is a test of egg reserve, which indicates the number of available eggs. This test allows you to understand if your egg reserve is within a “normal” range. Egg reserve plays a key role in the ability to conceive at any age. Other tests commonly ordered include blood samples to assess hormone levels, including thyroid function and progesterone levels, which effect ovulation. Blood work can also test FSH level, the follicle-stimulating hormone that triggers ovaries to prepare an egg for release each month.
You may also undergo a saline ultra sound and an X-Ray to check your ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes. Some sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia can also affect fertility so many physicians will order an STD screen to rule out this as an underlying cause.
Male partners are also encouraged to provide a sperm sample to assess sperm quality, count and mobility. It is important that both partners undergo fertility testing.
The Emotional Toll of Secondary Infertility
Many couples experiencing challenges conceive a second child can feel isolated and confused. They may be reluctant to talk about their experience with other couples around them for fear of not being understood. They may be grieving and feeling powerless to produce a sibling for their current child. Feelings of sadness and jealously towards couple and friends around them conceiving children and growing their families are normal and common in secondarily infertility.
Looking for Support?
Sage House Therapy, located in Reston Virginia, is a practice dedicated to supporting individuals facing fertility challenges. Our clinicians are specially trained and offer compassion and understanding where all feelings are welcome. Schedule your complimentary phone consultation today.
Kate is the Founder and Clinical Director of Sage House Counseling & Art Therapy. With nearly ten years of clinical experience, I partner with you to connect back to your authentic, true self. The self that desires happiness, abundance and greater self-compassion. I work with clients just like you because I believe we all have the innate ability to heal and grow when we are heard and supported.