Let’s talk about secondary infertility…
The general public seems to be significantly more aware of the concept of infertility as evidenced by increased social media posts promoting compassion around holidays such as Mother’s Day, as well as celebrities sharing their pregnancy loss, IVF and surrogacy experiences. However, there is an infertility subset that is often overlooked and sometimes dismissed in the mainstream infertility world that I believe deserves a special shout out...the secondary infertility crew.
Similar to a primary infertility diagnosis, secondary infertility is also defined by the inability to conceive or carry a baby to term within a specific time frame based on age and heterosexual means of conception- (yes, this is discriminatory and deserves an entirely separate post) with the caveat that this occurs after previously giving birth.
Other similarities may include:
A deep desire to have a baby
A reproductive story that is not occurring with the expected time frame or imagined path
Overwhelming emotions such as grief, anger, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness
Many have also experienced primary infertility and carry the burden of knowing what’s to come
Those with secondary infertility may also have additional unique experiences in comparison to their primary infertility counterparts including:
One common coping technique for those living with infertility is to remove themselves from child-centered celebrations or events such as baby showers, children’s birthday parties or Halloween festivities. Although those with secondary fertility challenges may want to engage in these events with their child, there may be conflicted feelings as well as inability to avoid these activities due to having a child who may want to participate in said celebrations.
Additionally, those living with secondary infertility are also more likely to find themselves in child-centered environments such as school settings or the pediatrician’s office where they can’t avoid the presence of pregnant parents- a reminder of what they are having difficulty achieving and of what their child doesn’t have in comparison to their peers (a future sibling on the horizon).
Navigation of child’s family-building questions
It’s infertility status quo to have your fertility interrogated by friends, family, strangers- but what do you do when it’s your own kid asking all the probing questions? Secondary fertility challenged folx can’t dodge their child’s family-building inquisitions that come at bedtime... “Why can’t I have a sister? When are you going to have a baby? I want to be a big brother like my friend, Alex. I am all alone. I was the only kid in circle time that doesn’t have a baby brother or sister to talk about.” And then of course there’s additional heartbreak when one is left in the position of explaining pregnancy loss to their child.
People tend to assume that if you have one child you can easily have more- which can lead to…
Unsolicited questions and statements that can ring harsh and accusatory:
“So when are you going to give that kid of yours a sibling?”
“Only children are spoiled, you know.”
“It would be selfish of you to not give your child a sibling.”
“You don’t want them to be too far apart in age or they won’t be able to play well together.”
Over the last three years I’ve facilitated a general fertility support group that welcomes both individuals and couples with both primary and secondary fertility diagnoses. I make it my practice to create a safe space that allows for all family building experiences to be shared and supported, and it seems to be working, as everyone keeps coming back. However, the one population that routinely struggles with seeking support are my secondary infertility peeps. No one ever wants to believe that they are “qualified” for a support group, but secondary infertiles take it to another level with fear and guilt that they won’t be accepted by the general fertility-challenged because “I already have one” or “I might appear greedy for desperately wanting another child when others haven’t been able to achieve one.” Because of these fears I often witness participants share their primary infertility experience at length to build connection, omit their secondary infertility status completely, or not mention the struggles of trying to undergo fertility treatment and its grueling physical and emotional time commitment while simultaneously caring for one or more children.
So, it is with great pleasure I can share that starting in September 2021, Family Tree Wellness will be facilitating a monthly Secondary Fertility Support Group. Please visit our website at www.familytreewellness.org to learn more and register today!
At the end of the day, there is no “better” diagnosis--- primary versus secondary infertility. Every struggle matters. Fertility challenges aren’t about the number of children, it’s about the deep desire to have the family you imagined and believed you could achieve. You deserve care and support.
Written by Jamie Van Zanen, LCSW