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Struggling with Secondary Infertility


A blog by Ellen Glazer

“But you already have a child — what are you complaining about?” This is the curse of people experiencing secondary infertility. It feels even worse if you have two children or three and are struggling to expand your family. Other people — including some of those who are closest to you—may simply not get how difficult it is to already be a parent and be struggling with infertility. Here are some of the things that people should know about secondary infertility:

  • Don’t ask someone if they have “children?” Ask if they have “any children” or if they are “a parent.” It is hard, all the more so when you want another, to have to keep saying, “I have a child.” It gets worse when the questioner then says, “An only child? Are you going to have more?”
  • Secondary infertility can be even more isolating than primary infertility. With secondary infertility, you are a parent among parents. That may sound great to someone without children and indeed it is, but being a parent means that you are more likely to find yourself among parents having their second and third and fourth…You walk into the preschool or kindergarten class and there are pregnant women and new babies. Your child has an event at school and other parents ask you how old your “other” children are. Family members and friends, unaware of what you are going through, are likely to ask what you are waiting for or indict you for making your cherished child “an only child.”
  • People with secondary infertility worry about all kinds of things that don’t plague those with primary infertility. “Are we being ungrateful? Will we be punished for asking for too much?” “Are we being punished for not being good enough parents?” “What if our children are spaced ___years apart — will they still have a relationship?”
  • Decision-making can be more difficult with secondary infertility than it is with primary. Childless couples and individuals make difficult decisions regarding adoption or gamete donation because they deeply want a child. At some point their childlessness becomes so painful that other paths to parenthood become more attractive. However, with secondary infertility, it can be more diffiicult to opt for an alternative path. You find yourself asking, “Will I love them ‘the same?’”

When I do a support group for people considering adoption or egg donation, there is usually one member — perhaps two — with secondary infertility. Initially, this can be difficult for her as well as for other members whose first reaction is envy and perhaps resentment. However, what quickly becomes apparent is that the common themes of loss, helplessness, uncertainty, isolation and regret connect women dealing with infertility regardless of whether they are already mothers.

Comments (1)

As a woman dealing with secondary infertility, I continue to experience everything that has been described by Ellen. While I am immensely grateful for my one biological child, I will probably always wish I could have more. At the same time, I feel guilty for wanting more biological children, kinowing that there are people who are wishing for even one. Secondary infertility feels like a double-edged sword.

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