I never thought I would be someone who had to go through IVF. Real talk, and I’m not proud of this: for years, I thought IVF was something emotionally unstable Octo-moms chose to do when they wanted to have a litter of babies. They’d pop out eight kids, go on Oprah, be gifted a minivan, a year’s supply of diapers, and a trip to Disneyland and call it a day. Shit, was I wrong.

Vince and I were high school sweethearts who—after going to two different colleges, where we dated as many people as we possibly could—got married at 27. When my job as a magazine editor moved us from Chicago to Manhattan on my 29th birthday, we put off having kids for a few more years. In Chicago, my best friend had just had twins. But in New York, we didn’t know anyone or anything. We were building a life from scratch, and we needed to make some friends and figure out how to take the subway without getting lost before we could even consider having a baby. 

When we decided to start trying, it happened pretty quickly—month two or month three. Our daughter, Ever, was born on September 24, 2009, when I was 35. I was beyond smitten. On her first night on this planet, when the nurses took her to the nursery so I could get some sleep, I stayed awake all night looking at pictures of her on my phone because I missed her so much.

diagram of embryo transfer for alison and vincent prato

For three years, a second kid was the last thing on our minds because, like all new parents, we were whooped. We could barely keep it together with one kid, much less two. We weren’t in a rush, because it had only taken us two months to get pregnant with Ever. When the time came, what could go wrong trying for kid number two?

We eventually decided to go for it, but in a shock to us both, I had miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage. Four in all—each more heartbreaking than the next. From 2012 to 2015, I found myself in an endless cycle of tracking my ovulation, trying to get pregnant via clunky sex on demand, getting pregnant, losing the baby, spiraling into depression, and fighting with Vince. I was lost. We were lost. I was sad. Desperate. Heartbroken. Pissed.

Being a mom is my favorite thing on the planet, and once we decided to try again, I wanted kid two more than anything. With three members, our family didn’t feel complete. I couldn’t figure out what the hell we were doing wrong. And so, at 38, I buckled into the roller coaster ride called “secondary infertility”—as approximately three million women do each year—with no idea how it would end. 

But here’s another confession: I didn’t realize at the time that I was going through “secondary infertility.” I had never even heard of that term. Even as I was in the thick of it, laser-focused on getting pregnant (i.e. ovulation kits, pregnancy tests, fertility acupuncture, chiropractors, IUIs, miscarriage prayers, progesterone creams, brutal workouts, apps with names like “Maybe Baby,” supplements, weird-smelling teas, woo-woo elixirs, smoothies packed with baby-promising ingredients, magic wish papers you light and release into the sky, a trip to a psychic, weekly therapy) the term secondary infertility never came across my radar. 

Even after (spoiler alert!) I finally had my son in 2015, I still hadn’t heard of secondary infertility. Weird, right? Why was no one talking about secondary infertility? 

What is secondary infertility?

I know now that secondary infertility is defined as “the inability to become pregnant or to carry a pregnancy successfully after previous success in delivering a child,” but I had no idea there was a medical term for it while I was going through it.

host of infertile af podcast alison prato pregnant

When I launched my podcast, Infertile AF, in April of 2019, I had a few goals in mind. The most obvious was to get as many people—men and women—sharing their stories about trying to have babies. I wanted to talk about all of the different paths to building modern families, including same-sex couples, single parents, and people who had tried to have babies but were ultimately unsuccessful. Mainly, I wanted people who were going through infertility to feel less alone. I wanted to get people talking about infertility—and secondary infertility

Now that I have 34 episodes under my belt, I’ve learned a few things about secondary infertility, because it has come up again and again.

Hard Truths About Secondary Infertility

1. Some people don’t take secondary infertility as seriously as they do “regular” infertility, and that’s bullshit. 

I’ve said this on my podcast a few times, and it bears repeating: it doesn’t matter if this is your first baby or your 10th, infertility is hard EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. This is not a competition; pain is pain, no matter what point in your journey you are experiencing it. 

2. If you are going through secondary infertility and you feel “guilty,” because you already have one kid (or more), don’t.

Just because you have a child (or children) already, you do not need to feel guilty for wanting another child, for wanting to raise another baby, for wanting to do the mom thing all over again with another precious, tiny human. If that is what you want in your heart of hearts, you must go with it and honor it. You are not selfish or greedy.

3. And DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT let anyone else make you feel bad about it, either.

People might say stupid things like, “But you already have one baby—why can’t you just be happy with what you have?” Or “At least you have one.” Clearly, those people have never gone through infertility, because with infertility there is no “at least.” People also seem to think that if you’ve gotten pregnant before, you should have no problem getting pregnant again. Obviously, this is not true. As time goes on, so much can change in your body, in your partner’s body, in your behaviors, and in the environment. You may not even know what’s causing your secondary infertility, but you should know this: it’s real. And in the fertility world, it no longer needs to be thought of as less important or less than. 

When I was going through secondary infertility, my no-bullshit counselor worked hard at trying to get me to accept “life as a family of three.” I have no problem, conceptually, with only children. My husband is an only child of two only children, and he had an extremely happy childhood and adores his parents—but it just wasn’t how I was picturing my own life. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I finally, hesitantly, choked it down. Together, we decided the best shot for my happiness was to try to change my perspective—to be okay with not having that second child—because it was causing me so much anger and depression. In the interest of happiness and staying married, I changed my mindset and decided I actually didn’t need a second baby. I was fine. We were fine. That lasted five minutes.

secondary infertility warrior ali prato taking a selfie in a hospital gown

Some days, the pain was physical. I swear I could feel shards of my heart breaking off and careening through my body. A Pampers commercial in heavy rotation, where a woman was holding her newborn skin-to-skin for the first time, caused me to spiral. The guttural feeling that my life would not be complete without another kid wasn’t going away. In fact, I’d never wanted anything more. And as much drama as it was causing in my brain and my personal life, I couldn’t shake it.

My OB-GYN tried to make me feel better: “You’re frustrated with your body, but in reality, your body is doing the right thing by getting rid of unhealthy pregnancies.” It made sense, but I was still devastated.

Although Vince was adamant against IVF for a few reasons, I didn’t think I could ever be truly happy if we didn’t at least try. And so, in the summer of 2014, after 1,000 arguments and 100,000 tears, we decided to give it one shot and one shot only. If it didn’t work, it was time to move on. We needed this chapter to end. 

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I found a reproductive health clinic, where a calm, gentle doctor did a sonogram, sketched my ovaries on a piece of paper, and told me that my issue was age-related: I was 40, and while I had a lot of eggs in my “reserve,” the quality of those eggs was not good. Many of them carried genetic abnormalities, which meant that even if they were fertilized, they would create unhealthy embryos, which in turn meant more miscarriages. I wasn’t having trouble getting pregnant, but I was having trouble staying pregnant.

The odds were against us. Although I felt like a smug mofo when my egg retrieval netted me 23 eggs, at the end of the cycle and after doing pre-genetic testing we only had one healthy embryo to implant. My doctor said I had roughly a 1% chance of having a healthy baby. He wanted to freeze the embryo to let my body recover from all of the drugs and hormones, and also because studies showed that frozen embryos were more likely to “stick” than fresh embryos. He knew the embryo’s gender, but I didn’t want to know. Losing another baby would be gut-wrenching enough—I didn’t want to make it even harder knowing if it was a boy or a girl. 

alison prato's daughter and newborn baby at the hospital

In April 2015, 10 days after my embryo transfer, I went to the clinic at the crack of dawn for a pregnancy blood test. “Go home and take a nap,” the nurse told me while sticking on a Band-Aid. Go fuck yourself, I thought. 

Five hours later, the office called. I was pregnant. I was so shocked and elated that my reaction was like a movie cliché: tears shot out of my eyes horizontally, my jaw went slack, and I dropped the phone on the bed in disbelief. 

“Call us when you deliver,” the nurse said. They were the greatest five words I’d ever been told. (And sorry I implored you to go fuck yourself, I thought.)

Sonny Vincent Prato was born on December 11, 2015. He’s almost four now, and not a single day goes by that I don’t look at him and say, I still can’t believe you’re here. I’m not sure what worked, or why. Science, and modern medicine. But I also believe that luck and magic had a tremendous amount to do with it. And open lines of communication.

This is my secondary infertility story, and I hope it inspires you to talk about yours. 

alison and vincent prato with their children

Ali Prato is a Brooklyn-based journalist and mom-of-two who went through IVF after struggling with secondary infertility. She is the creator and host of the InfertileAF podcast, in which she talks to women—and some men—about the messy, frustrating, painful, heartbreaking, absurd, and sometimes hilarious paths to building modern families and having babies. (Or in some cases, not.) She is also the Co-Founder of Fertility Rally, a membership community for those struggling with infertility. You can follow Ali on Instagram at @infertileafstories.