One of the biggest secondary infertility misconceptions is probably believing it actually exists! Too few people know of the condition, fewer use the term and due to its sensitivity, very few people ever talk about it. So is it any wonder that there was so much feedback when I asked members of the Secondary Infertility Matters Facebook group, what they thought were the biggest misconceptions about secondary infertility?
After whittling them down, lots of couples shared the same frustrations so here are the Top Ten Untruths:
Only affects couples with one child
Secondary Infertility, or the inability to conceive another child, can affect a couple whether they already have one, two or ten children. A large proportion of those affected do only have one child, but this may simply be down to chance. What is clear is that you can have conceived any number of children easily but suddenly and inexplicably be unable to get pregnant again.
“I am married with two beautiful children that I am very grateful for. We have had the dream of having four kids though, and we did plan to have them all two years apart, but it seems we’re experiencing some delay.” Melissa.
Couple must have had trouble conceiving the first time
How the first child or children were conceived has no bearing on whether a couple will conceive again. Many couples describe how they got pregnant without trying, or who got a positive result after just a couple of months tracking ovulation and most talk about how they would never have dreamt they would ever have difficulty getting pregnant again. Many onlookers often wrongly assume, and frequently comment, that the couple must have had IVF treatment for their first child too.
“My son took us a year to conceive. And it was hard, there were a lot of ups and downs but out of the blue we naturally conceived. So when he was two we thought we would ‘try’ for number two and I never imagined that two and a half years later we would still be trying.” Keren Mother to son aged 3.
“When people say, “was your first IVF too?” I feel so insulted on his behalf for some reason! It’s like me asking “what position did you conceive your son in?” As a matter of fact no actually, we weren’t even trying but it’s none of your business anyway!” Angela, Mother to sons aged 9 and 5.
Only affects women who are 40+
The stereotypical image of ‘woman having fertility trouble’ might be dried up, worked up, lonely, selfish, career queen who now wants to hang up her power stilettos and fill the void of board meetings with soft play and nappies. Not so. Secondary Infertility can strike at any age and whilst with any baby making attempt, age is never on a woman’s side, there are many women in their twenties and early thirties who are struggling to conceive a second or third child, for a variety of reasons.
“When I was 17 I found out I was pregnant, we weren’t trying, he wasn’t planned. We fell into the teen pregnancy statistic and I graduated from high school eight and a half months pregnant. My now husband and I went on to have another son. Many tell me to just be thankful for the two I have, they are healthy and happy but I always wanted a large family and my yearning for another child, a daughter, is not just because I want a baby girl, it’s because I never had a mother & daughter relationship with my own mother. I crave that bond, I want it with my own daughter.” Kirsten, 26, Mother to children 9 and 4.
Only affects heterosexual couples
The official definition for Secondary Infertility in my opinion is a little blurred because in today’s society, when you strip it back to the nuts and bolts of pound notes, if you already have a child, you are ineligible for fertility funding, whether that child is from your existing relationship or from a previous relationship. So, in my opinion, the definition should be clearer and most definitely including step children and same sex relationships.
“My two children are from my first marriage and myself and my ex husband had no problem conceiving. The marriage didn’t last and I’m now engaged to my partner Suzanne and we have been trying for three years to have a child together but after two IVF attempts with two sperm donors we are starting to struggle with the fact it might never happen. It’s really hard to find people to talk to who understand firstly our relationship and desire for a child as a same sex couple and then secondly, why I’m so upset when I already have two children who Suzanne also adores. It’s been really difficult.” Jane, Mother to two children aged 14 and 13.
There is funding available for secondary infertility treatment
Incorrect. If you have a child or children already, either in this current relationship or if either of you has a child from a previous relationship, you are not eligible for any funding for fertility treatment. This is extremely distressing for couples who simply don’t have thousands stashed away, or in particular for couples where one partner has had a child early in life with a former boy/girlfriend and have now married but are unable to have a family with their wife or husband.
“Our options to help us have another baby are basically zero. We have paid our taxes all our lives, we haven’t cheated any benefits but because my husband had a daughter with a girlfriend when they were in their teens, we are now unable to get any funding for fertility treatment to help us have a family. We have to support his former partner for his daughter and have just bought our first home after being together 6 years, so have literally no money of our own to pay for IVF. I feel heartbroken all over again.” Claudia.
Must be having IVF
When some people hear the word ‘infertility’ they automatically assume you are having IVF these days. Many couples are struggling with not getting pregnant a second time but one or both of them feels completely averse to ‘meddling with nature’ and therefore discounts intervention. These couples may however still be adjusting diets, taking supplements and any number of other methods to help them succeed still.
“My husband has told me he isn’t keen for IVF or anything of the likes, he wants another with me, but is content with two if it doesn’t happen naturally.” Melissa, Mother to two children.
Must be the man’s/woman’s fault
In many cases the ‘cause’ of Secondary Infertility is no ‘cause’ at all, indeed unexplained. Despite 1001 tests, there is inconclusive evidence that either partner has a condition or symptoms that are preventing conception or successful pregnancy. This can be hugely frustrating for couples, but not nearly as frustrating as when onlookers ask or suggest that it might be down the shortcoming of either one of them!
“We are dealing with unexplained secondary infertility – no reason, nothing! I don’t know if it is worse than having a diagnosis but if there was a reason there would be purpose to rectify it. ‘It’s because of this… so we are going to do that’. It made me feel angry that I went through all those invasive tests for nothing but at the same time having to find the positive that hopefully it means it’s just a matter of time and timing for us.” Keren Mum to a son 4.
They should stop trying, have a holiday and relax
Many couples struggling with SI could afford a round of IVF if they had a pound for every time they had been told to “just relax”. For sure, excessive stress can be a factor in any infertility but certainly going on a holiday or stopping trying is no sure solution to getting pregnant. Just ask the thousands of couples who’ve tried!
“When you’re facing complex issues like major male factors and/or female factors plus repeated miscarriages, it takes a lot of willpower to not punch them in the face but smile sweetly and say “yeah I hear you”.” Jade Mother to children aged 21, 9 and 7.
“It’s not like buying that pair of shoes you know you can’t afford – you can do everything right, eat right, sleep right, take vitamins, exercise, have all the tests, analyse every part of your sex life and still here you are with no baby – no control!” Keren.
“People see my two children and think, it must be an easy fix. It wouldn’t be infertility if it was just an ‘easy fix’!” Suzi, Mother to children 5 and 3.
They should be happy with the child/children they are lucky to have
I bet my own kids that there is not a couple on this earth who is struggling with Secondary Infertility that isn’t happy with the child or children they already have and that they would be the first to say they are already blessed. One of the most important and worrying things for me was that my son should never feel he was never enough for me, when he is old enough to read my book. He was, is, the world to me, indeed I wanted another child as a gift of sibling for him.
“Definitely the “they should be happy with the child they have” comment is upsetting. It’s like we’re bad parents just for wanting a sibling.” Suzanne.
Couple already have a child so not conceiving doesn’t hurt
Secondary Infertility is still infertility, and it hurts. It really, really hurts. One contributor to the Real Stories page on my website wrote “I’m writing my story with tears flowing down my cheeks, my eyes so full I can hardly see to type, but it feels good to let it all out. My fingers are doing the talking my mouth couldn’t ever do.” The fear or hurting those who are yet to have one child, means those with SI bottle up their emotion and upset, which only adds to the grief and isolation.
“You should be happy that you have one child! There are women out there that cannot have children at all, you at least have one.” I mean, really? People just don’t get it! I’ve suffered with primary and secondary infertility and they both hurt the same way, there’s no difference whatsoever no matter how many children you might have. Judy Mother to son aged 3
“These feelings are real and valid. I think to be honest there isn’t anything that can help, just time”. Catherine, 40, mother to 3 year old.
Helen Davies is the author of ‘More Love To Give’ available from Amazon £9.99.