Secondary infertility is the inability to conceive or carry a baby to term after you have successfully given birth to a baby without difficulty or assisted reproductive technology. Secondary infertility affects more than 3 million women in the United States alone. The causes for secondary infertility share many similarities with primary infertility.
Secondary infertility is different from primary infertility as the couple has been able to successfully have at least one child previously. Primary infertility occurs when a couple has been trying to conceive without birth control for over one year without success.
Research shows that there are many different possible causes for secondary infertility.
- Complications of the reproductive system – Fallopian tube abnormalities, pelvic adhesions, endometriosis, ovulation disorders, and/or intrauterine adhesions can all impact the reproductive system. These types of abnormalities or disorders can make it difficult to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term.
- Complications related to surgery or prior pregnancy.
- Male factor infertility – As men age, their sperm quantity and quality decreases. Pollutants and excessive heat can also affect sperm cells. Even testicular damage that may have occurred since prior pregnancy could factor in.
- Advanced reproductive age – As women age their egg quality and quantity decreases. Women are born with all of the eggs they will produce. The average woman is born with around 300,000 eggs. When women reach the age of 30 it is said they have around only 12 percent of their eggs remaining.
- LIfestyle factors – Smoking can affect fertility within men and women. Weight gain and diet can also affect fertility within men and women. These factors can cause issues with the ovulatory process for women and a decrease in sperm production for men. Medications can also affect fertility within men and women.
- Unexplained causes – Much like primary infertility, it is possible that there is no discernible reason for secondary infertility. About 20 percent of cases seen by doctors are unexplained causes for infertility.
Treatment Options for Secondary Infertility
- Infertility medications – Medications can be used to stimulate the ovaries and trigger the release of more eggs.
- Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) – A semen sample from the partner or a donor is placed directly into a woman’s uterus during ovulation. This places the sperm as close as possible to the fallopian tubes, with the hopes of fertilization and conception.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF) – Eggs are combined with sperm to create an embryo outside of the uterus. Then the embryo is directly implanted into the uterus. This can be done with the couple’s eggs and sperm or using donor eggs or sperm.
The Emotional Aspect
Many people struggle with the emotional aspects that arise from secondary infertility. It can be very confusing and emotionally hard on a couple, especially if their previous child/children occurred without much effort or accidentally. It can also be seen as hard because the parent may feel as if they should be happy with the child/children that they have. They may feel that it is wrong to want more. However, this is not true. It is very normal and understandable to dream of providing siblings to your children and bringing another member to the family. Each family is unique as are their dreams and hopes.
Secondary infertility may cause stress, sadness, frustration, and loss to those that suffer from it. It is important to seek out help and support when it comes to facing this condition. Those suffering from secondary infertility need empathy and support from their friends and family, like any other couple dealing with infertility.