Getting pregnant with our son was easy, so we thought number two would be a piece of cake. But this time, we weren’t as lucky.

Secondary infertility leaves many couples with unanswered questions and no reason why it’s not working for them now. 

couple struggling with secondary infertility

What is secondary infertility?

Couples experience secondary infertility when they cannot get pregnant or carry a baby to term after being pregnant or have no issues with their previous pregnancy. 

“Secondary infertility is quite common,” says OB/GYN Dr. Staci Tanouye. It affects 8-12% of couples across the globe, which is about 4 million couples, she explains.

When we discussed having kids, my husband and I always thought we’d be “one and done.” That changed once our son was old enough to recognize that other kids had siblings and started voicing a desire for one of his own. 

We started trying to conceive baby number two, and I expected it to happen quickly. When it didn’t, we wasted no time to figure out why. 

Common causes and risk factors

Like primary infertility, secondary infertility has many risk factors and possible causes. Some include structural problems of the uterus or medical conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

“It can also result from age, lifestyle choices, smoking, or stress,” says Tanouye. As a woman ages, it becomes harder to conceive due to the naturally decreased number and quality of eggs. 

Society pressures women to have children, so when it doesn’t happen, it can be stressful and make you feel like you’re the problem. But it’s not just a women’s issue. Nearly half of all instances of infertility are due to male factors. Tanouye says common male fertility issues include low sperm count, poor semen quality, and hormonal imbalances.

If you struggle to have your second child, seek medical advice to identify underlying causes and discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider.

After trying for six months on our own, my provider started our infertility journey because I was 35 and had no issues with my previous pregnancy. Unfortunately, my doctors couldn’t pinpoint why it wasn’t happening. 

mother holding her child

Treatment for secondary infertility

Dealing with secondary infertility doesn’t mean you’ll never get pregnant again. But it does mean you may have to try longer, utilize assisted reproductive technologies, or consider being a smaller family. And it might cost you more money than you expected. 

Research and consider which route resonates with your family’s lifestyle and plans. And remember, there are no guarantees. 

We tried intrauterine insemination (IUI) after bloodwork, office visits, and other routine fertility checks. During the IUI process, sperm is collected, cleaned, and prepared. Your provider then gives the sperm a “head start” by placing it directly into the uterus.

IUI improves some couples' pregnancy chances, but it didn’t work for us. We went through three rounds before deciding to stop.

IVF was the next step, but we chose not to go that route. We didn’t want a big financial risk for no guarantees, and I knew how stressful and draining the process was. 

Each option has benefits and downsides, and every family is different. Whatever you decide will be the best decision for you and your family.  

The mental load of secondary infertility

Dealing with any fertility struggle can feel like riding an emotional rollercoaster — one of those old rickety wooden ones, and you’re not entirely sure when it’ll suddenly fly off the rails. 

Between high levels of excitement around the possibility of adding to your family and the extreme lows when another month goes by without a positive test, infertility's emotional impact can profoundly impact your mental health. Dr. Tanouye suggests getting psychological support to help with the emotional challenges

Navigating the ups and downs

The constant question of “Will we or won’t we?” was highly stressful. I’m very in tune with my body, so every cramp or weird feeling made me wonder if this was the time it worked, but it never did.

Distracting yourself is an excellent way to divert your attention and focus on other positives while trying to get pregnant. 

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Unfortunately, dealing with secondary infertility isn’t one of the things you can prepare for, and you have no control over it, either. It helped me to keep a realistic mindset. I couldn’t feel as disappointed if I didn't have super high hopes.

Community is key

Today, more couples share their struggle to conceive a second child on social media and in support groups. Although it’s a community no one wants to belong to, it’s helpful to feel like you’re not alone.   

Be sure not to use others’ experiences in place of medical advice. Consult your physician if you have any questions. And be mindful of how you feel. Take a break or remove yourself entirely if it’s overwhelming. 

Prioritize self-care 

In a whirlwind of appointments and monthly ups and downs, don’t forget to take care of the most important person: you. Get rest, eat nutritious meals, stay hydrated, and do things you enjoy with people you love.

Practice self-compassion too. Be kind and gentle with yourself; remember, this is not your fault. Your family may or may not turn out how you envisioned it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a fulfilling and happy life.

man giving his wife a piggy back ride

Focus on what you can control, and take things one day at a time. Remember, you must take care of yourself before you can adequately care for others.

Accepting secondary infertility and moving on

I got back on birth control shortly after our third IUI failed. I didn’t want the monthly stress to continue, and after trying for two years, we were content being a family of three.

Having one child doesn’t make us any less of a family. Since we decided to stop trying, we've embraced the positives. Our family is very close, we have more money for activities and vacations, and all our love and attention goes to our one and only. I know this is how we were meant to be.

Blair Sharp is a freelance writer who lives in Minnesota with her husband and son. Her words have been published in various publications, including Parents, SheKnows, The Bump, and Insider. Find her writing daily on LinkedIn and check out her weekly newsletter, The Relatable Creator, for motivation to show up and stand out online. Head to her website for more.