Every Saturday I take my three year old to her soccer game and see dozens of happy parents. I don’t know what kind of struggle it took to get them all there, to this place of parenthood, but finally, as much-wanted babies grow into three and four year olds and begin soccer practice and attending preschool, the field has leveled. What I’ve noticed though is often accompanying those happy parents to soccer practice, is the cuddled up infant in a baby carrier or a stroller, still asleep. As an infertility counseling specialist, I’m reminded of a much less talked about type of infertility, called secondary infertility.
A woman or couple can be diagnosed with secondary infertility if they have already given birth to one or more children and want another, but cannot get pregnant. Now infertility can be a very lonely experience. Women are surrounded by friends and family members that seem to get pregnant effortlessly while they feel more and more isolated. Often times I’ve recommended for my clients to take a break from baby showers or take a vacation during the next extended family holiday to have some respite from this intense emotional pain. There are also numerous places of support for people with primary infertility. But for the couple who already has a child, they are often lost for support. They must accompany their child to school where they see half of the moms either waddling out pregnant or with a baby strapped to their chest. They are already immersed in the world of children and there feels like there is no relief.
With secondary infertility it is difficult to feel supported by those experiencing primary infertility. I often hear, “at least she already has a child.” Which is fair for her to feel, but this woman still needs support, and a primary infertility group is not the place to get it. The woman with secondary infertility also may feel guilty for not feeling like participating with the children she already has. What’s important is that we don’t compare experiences or expect a person to feel a certain way. A woman can experience secondary infertility even if she already has four or five children. What matters is her inability to have the family she envisioned for herself. If she is one of three siblings, and she always thought she’d have three children but cannot conceive the third, she can have a similar emotional experience as the person who doesn’t have any children.
I’ve seen women that had no problem conceiving their first child, so to have trouble conceiving their first is an entirely new experience. Yet they are already engaged in the world of children. They might have a three, or four, or five year old child by this point, and they have to see the mom friends they made with their first baby begin to have their second and third children by this time. They bring countless casseroles to people’s homes, wishing it could be her turn soon.
What to do:
Take some time away from children and babies. As anyone who experiences infertility knows, trying to conceive is stressful. But as a mom, you have different obligations to your children. It may be really hard to go to that soccer game every week where pregnant women and newborns abound. You want to support your child, but I encourage you to strike a deal. What if you traded attendance with your partner/the child’s grandparent/other support person so that you could shield yourself and have some time to relax and do something for you? If you skip a few soccer games you are not a bad mom. Schedule some one on one time with your child later that day.
Get support from the right people. If you have a friend without children who is going through infertility, it can be difficult to meet each other on the same level. It might be difficult for her to validate your pain, as she deeply wants what you have. It might be helpful to hang out with some people that don’t have children and don’t want them, people with older children, or older adults who have children that have left the house. There are other parts of you besides your yearning to complete your family, but when it is your focus 100% of the time, it can feel draining.
Participate in the things that are hard to do with a child under the age of one. If you’ve been struggling to conceive your next child, chances are your youngest child is at least 2 by now. That means she has gained independence, and possibly attends playdates or daycare. Is there a class you’ve been wanting to take? A hobby you’ve wanted to learn or participate in? Doing something for you will help you to relax and remember there are other parts of life you enjoy in addition to your child/ren.
If you are having trouble conceiving your second child, please see your Ob/gyn soon. She can help to make sure you’re getting the help you need and doing everything you can. And if you’re experiencing secondary infertility and need help navigating the stresses of parenthood please reach out to a therapist who specializes in infertility to help you learn the skills you need to get through this difficult time.
Allison Ramsey is a licensed professional counselor and certified grief counselor specializing in grief and infertility in the Asheville area. She’s a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. www.ashevilleinfertilitycounseling.com