Secondary Infertility

How Common Is It?

Even people who have had one or more children may have trouble conceiving or carrying a child to term again.

This is known as secondary infertility. It’s more common than you might think, and people who suffer from it often get less sympathy than people diagnosed with primary infertility.

What It Is

Secondary infertility is defined the same way primary infertility is:  you’re under 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for a year without success, 35-39 and have been trying for six months, or 40+ and have tried for three months.  The difference is, someone with secondary infertility has already had one or more children, while someone with primary infertility has not had a child.  It’s estimated that 30 percent of infertility cases are secondary infertility, about three million women in the U.S.

Sometimes friends and family dismiss the emotional pain it causes because the couple has already started a family.  But longing for another child is not lessened by the fact that you have one.

What Causes Secondary Infertility

Often secondary infertility is due to a woman’s age.  The age of the egg is the most important factor in the ability to conceive.  The quality and quantity of eggs decreases sharply after age 35.  Someone who had no trouble getting pregnant in her late 20s may run into difficulties when she’s over 35.   Men can be affected by male factor infertility, experiencing diminished sperm quality and quantity due to age, disease, or lifestyle factors.

Obesity, diabetes, smoking and excessive alcohol usage can negatively impact the fertility of both men and women.  PCOS also causes fertility problems in women, although it’s not clear if the fertility issues are caused by the weight gain associated with PCOS or if PCOS itself causes obesity.

Treating Secondary Infertility

What can you do if you’re struggling with secondary infertility?  It’s important to see a reproductive endocrinologist and get the right treatment plan for you.  Especially if you are over 35, don’t wait to get help.  Your fertility specialist will test both partners of a male-female couple to determine possible causes and come up with an action plan.  IVF is often a successful treatment, either using your own or donor eggs.

Remember to reassure the child or children you have that your distress is not caused by anything they’ve done.  Make it clear that you love them and that your family is fine just the way it is.  You just want to bring even more love into it!  It’s your decision whether you want to pursue fertility treatment, adoption, or fostering to add to your family, being thoughtful of the money and time commitment involved.