By Andrea Bryman
The clinical definition of secondary infertility: the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children. The birth of the first child does not involve any assisted reproductive technologies or fertility medications.
The layman’s definition of secondary infertility: for some ungodly reason, I can’t get pregnant again! I did this once, why can’t I do it again and why can’t someone figure out what the heck is wrong with me!
According to RESOLVE, approximately 12 percent of women in the United States have secondary infertility, and it accounts for more than half of all infertility cases.
People suffering from secondary infertility often hear comments from friends and relatives such as, “Just relax, you’ve done it once, you can do it again.” or “Why are you so upset, you already have a child?” “You should spend more time appreciating what you have then what you don’t have?” They don’t understand why you don’t want to attend another baby shower or accept their requests on Facebook to see their beautiful child that was just born and hear how unexpected it was.
Do they not understand that your desire to have another child has nothing to do with the child that you have already? You love your child and want the world for him/her. Sometimes you love them so much that you want to have a sibling for them. There’s nothing wrong with that. They have no clue about all the unanswered questions that run through your mind every day. “Why me?” “What did I do?” “When should I see a doctor?” “Is it me or my partner?” “Do we have money to pursue fertility treatment?” “Am I too old?” “Should I not have another child?” “Why can’t I do this again?” “Why does it feel like this is consuming me?
So all your own thoughts together, with what feel like callous responses from others, may often lead you to feelings of anger, grief, depression, isolation, guilt, jealousy, self-blame and feeling out of control.
Admit it, you know these feelings. It’s easy to feel this way. It makes it easier to justify your behavior, plus you almost feel entitled to feel this way because it’s not fair and because you didn’t do anything to deserve this. No one gets you – not your partner, not your parents, not your friends, not your siblings, and sometimes not even your doctor. So give yourself permission to feel this way for a while, or at least take ownership for your emotions.
Now here’s the hard part, how do you create a balance in enjoying your life and family while pursuing your desire to have another child? Are they mutual exclusive? Can you have one without the other? Does wanting another child, really mean that you don’t love the one you have. I think not.
The most important factor is taking care of yourself and acknowledging your feelings. Talk to your partner, talk with your family and friends, and talk with your doctor. Tell them your fears, whether they are about your frustrations, your lack of control, your financial concerns, really the list is really endless…. The less you hold inside and the more you share with others, the easier it will to enjoy those around you. It’s not simple. Emotions and desires are complicated. The key to finding balance in all this madness is building a support system around you– often we find balance through validation. Don’t hide. You don’t have to go through this alone. The less you share, the less people can understand what you are going through. Sure some people will continue to pass judgment but perhaps they’ll have a different perspective and gain sensitivity to your plight. Advocate for yourself and your family. Take control of the things you can – call the doctor, find support groups, lose the embarrassment and shame. Take time-outs when needed. Hug your child and partner. Advocacy often leads to empowerment. Empowerment builds inner strength. The stronger your approach to facing secondary infertility, the more balanced you will feel in your life.
Andrea Bryman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialty in assisted reproduction, which includes mental health assessments and evaluation of egg donors and surrogates. Andrea’s focus on assisted reproduction stemmed from her own personal experience with infertility over 15 years ago when she was beginning her family. Since that time, Andrea has had three children, two with methods of assisted reproduction. She continues her professional growth in the field of infertility through research and involvement as a professional member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine including their mental health professional group, the American Fertility Association, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology and Resolve. Andrea is the Past Psychological Chairperson on the board of directors for the Egg Donation and Surrogacy Professional Association. She currently serves on the board of directors for Fertile Action and the advisory board of Parents Via Egg Donation.