Treatment varies depending on the cause. “The good news is that pregnancy rates with secondary infertility are higher than with primary infertility,” says Dr. Rychlik. “There’s a strong likelihood that if a couple consults with their ob/gyn, urologist, or reproductive specialist in a timely manner and follows a prescribed treatment plan, there will be another child.”
However, for several reasons people with secondary infertility are less likely than those with primary infertility to seek treatment. They may feel infertility is their fault because they waited a long time to have children. They may feel selfish spending money on treatment when it could be spent improving the life of their first child. Finally, couples with secondary infertility may not even be aware of the array of safe, effective fertility treatments that are available.
For Anne Alexander and her husband, at least, there was a happy ending. It took about a year, but Alexander finally became pregnant again. Her doctors prescribed progesterone, which she had also taken during her first pregnancy, and Clexane, a blood anticoagulant that Alexander self-injected for three months. She maintained the pregnancy and eventually gave birth to twin girls.
Alexander advises other women experiencing secondary infertility to seek out a doctor who has experience treating infertility and who will be proactive. “Two of my pregnancies were maintained when I took supplemental progesterone for the first trimester. And my two miscarriages happened under the care of doctors who said, ‘You don’t need that.’ In my case, I think it helped to have a doctor who was willing to go the extra mile. At 41, I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, and I wanted to make the most of every opportunity.”
What to Do About Secondary Infertility
If you’re experiencing trouble conceiving a second (or third) child, here’s what the experts advise:
See a doctor. The kind of doctor you see—an ob/gyn or a reproductive endocrinologist who specializes in infertility—depends on your age and how long it took you to get pregnant the first time. Be sure you don’t waste time with a doctor who doesn’t take the problem seriously. “Some ob/gyns have an interest in fertility, but if a woman feels she’s not being listened to (‘just try for another six months and then we’ll do some tests’), then she should ask for a referral to a reproductive endocrinologist right away,” says Georgia Reproductive Specialists’ Dr. Carolyn Kaplan.
Don’t wait too long.
The older you are, the harder it is to conceive, so see a doctor sooner rather than later. “If it took a long time for you to get pregnant the first time, you shouldn’t wait more than a few months to see your doctor, and if you’re over 35, no more than six months,” Dr. Kaplan says.
Secondary infertility can cause major emotional distress. If you need help coping, join an infertility support group—preferably one specifically devoted to secondary infertility. If you can’t find a support group, try to find at least one person you can talk to who is also in the same boat. “If you run into someone in your doctor’s waiting room with a toddler, talk to her,” Domar advises.
Educate the people around you.
Most people are clueless about secondary infertility. Unless you tell them what it is and how they can help you, they’re likely to disappoint you. “Do what you can to educate your doctor and people close to you about this sense of loss,” Waichler says. “It may help you ultimately build a support network to help you cope.”
Take care of yourself.
Your chances of conceiving and delivering a healthy baby increase if you have good health habits. As the mother of a small child, you may have trouble finding the time and energy you need to exercise or to eat right. “You’re grabbing french fries and finishing juice boxes, and eating peanut butter and jelly crusts,” Domar says. Ask family and friends to help out by taking care of your child while you work out or cook a week’s worth of healthy meals for the freezer. Try to maintain a healthy weight, which will make getting pregnant more likely. Seek professional help if you abuse tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. And try to find time for relaxing, self-nurturing activities such as meditating, listening to music, visiting with friends, or yoga.
“Even without meaning to, people make the most insensitive comments,” Domar says. If this happens to you, take it as an opportunity to educate others. For example, if someone says, “You should be happy you have one child,” you can say, “We are grateful we have one child, but we want him to have the joy of growing up with a sibling.”
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of Conceive Magazine.
Related Topics: Infertility; Infertility Stress; Infertility Support; Secondary Infertility