What's So Hard About Secondary Infertility?

Parenthood (no matter how it is come by) is different for everyone, but it’s fairly universally accepted that no matter how you do it, parenthood is hard work, and the infant part, is really really hard.  It’s so hard, in fact, that it can boggle the mind just how many parents choose to go through it multiple times.  But sure enough, just as they are saying goodbye to bottles and nighttime wakings, and the thousand thankless chores of caring for an baby, parents get this idea in their heads to try to get pregnant again.  And even though they know it is going to be brutal, possibly even more brutal the second time around, they take the plunge and start trying.

Now for most folks the story goes on from there -- the double stroller is ordered, the newborn clothes are fished out from the closet, and adorable pictures of the older brother or sister holding the infant baby are posted to Facebook.   

For some, that is not how the story goes.

Secondary Infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children (when the birth of the first child does not involve assisted reproductive technologies or fertility medications). As with primary infertility it often goes unnoticed unless it is spoken about (people just assume you had one child out of choice) and also like primary infertility it can be incredibly stressful, painful, and consuming. Yet because parents struggling with secondary infertility already have a child (or children), many people have a hard time understanding how difficult secondary Infertility can be. If you know someone who is struggling, take a minute to learn what they might be going through so that you can be a better support for them.


1.  Hearing, “Well, at least you already have one child. You are so lucky.”  If you venture to open up about your struggles with secondary infertility, you will undoubtedly hear something similar to this phrase.  Constantly hearing this, instead of, “Wow.  I’m so sorry.  That must be really hard,” can make you feel selfish and even unreasonable for feeling sad about wanting (and not being able to have) more than your one wonderful child. Further, this comment makes you feel that your pain is not valid because, after all, you do have one wonderful child, how bad can it be? Well, it can feel pretty bad.  It can feel terrible not to be able to create the family you have dreamed of, it can be devastating to suffer through multiple miscarriages, it can be frustrating to feel like your body is giving up on you. It’s not that you don’t know that having one child is a gift, and you are NOT being selfish, ungrateful, or unrealistic.  You want another child and all the wonderful, horrible, jumble of stuff that comes with it.  There is nothing wrong with wanting that, and do not let anyone make you feel otherwise.

2.  You want to give your existing child a sibling.  We want to give our children everything.  It can feel excruciating to not be able to give your child the sibling experience if that is something you had planned and hoped for.  Many toddlers start asking for a brother or a sister once their friends start having them, and suddenly, you are not only letting down yourself and your partner (and possibly the grandparents who are clamoring for more grandchildren), but also your own child.  

3.  You are surrounded by pregnant women and infants.  If you have a toddler or preschooler at the time you are going through infertility.  It is likely that everyone around you will be pregnant.  As you are slogging through another TWW or trying to squeeze in a visits to a fertility doctor, you are bringing meals to friends who just got home from the hospital with a newborn, attending blessingways, and sorting through your old stuff for things to loan or give away (wondering if you will ever use them again).  

4.  Fertility treatments are expensive, time consuming, stressful and emotional.  When you are pursuing treatment and raising a child (and having a job, friends, etc), you are faced with a double dose of things that are expensive, time consuming, stressful and emotional. You may feel that you are neglecting your existing child while you rush around to doctors appointments, are off balance because of the hormones you are taking, or are distracted in general by focusing on your infertility and/or pregnancy losses.

5.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.   Should you seek fertility treatments?  Should you adopt?  Should you stop trying? Many couples feel that the stakes are higher when trying for second child.  They may not be willing to risk having twins, or put tons of money into adoption or fertility treatment when they already have one child who needs them so much.  They also might not be willing to wait years to finally bring home a second child for fear the age gap between the children will be too great.  Sure, these might be concerns born out of the privilege of already having one child, but they are complicated and difficult decisions none the less.  


If you are going through secondary infertility, my heart is with you.  I will never tell you to be happy that you already have a child.  I will not judge you for crying your eyes out that you can not give your child a sibling.  Your grief is real, valid, and totally appropriate.  If you’d like to talk about it, let’s set up a time to talk.