When you’re already a parent, you don’t expect to have difficulty getting pregnant but at least one in ten parents will find it hard to conceive again. It’s a subject that is rarely discussed and it often comes as a real shock to parents to discover that they are experiencing what is known as secondary infertility.
If you’ve been perfectly fertile in the past, you are unlikely to worry when you don’t get pregnant for the first few months, but you may become concerned as time passes. Many parents delay seeking medical advice and even family doctors can be slow to recognise secondary infertility.
So what can change in between one baby and trying to have another to make it harder to conceive? There are a number of problems which could have developed since an earlier pregnancy such as endometriosis, hormone imbalances or sperm problems. Other causes may be related to the earlier pregnancy and birth itself; if you had an untreated infection after the delivery this can leave scar tissue or block the fallopian tubes and women who have had a Caesarean section, especially during the later stages of labour, have a higher risk.
In some cases, no cause will be found and secondary infertility will remain unexplained, although age can be a key factor. As women, we grow less fertile as we get older; a minor fertility problem can sometimes be overcome if you had your first child when you were young, but it can be harder to get pregnant when minor fertility problems are combined with age.
Don’t forget that your lifestyle can affect your fertility too, particularly if you are very overweight or underweight. If you or your partner smoke, drink heavily or take recreational drugs these can all have an impact on your fertility. It is a always a good idea to try to lead a healthy lifestyle when you are trying to get pregnant.
Parents are often uncertain when to seek medical advice if they’re having problems conceiving another child. Generally, if you’ve been trying to get pregnant for more than a year without any joy, it’s a good idea to see a doctor and have some basic tests done. Women who are over 35 and those who had problems conceiving their first child may want to consider getting medical advice earlier. Unfortunately, if you do need fertility treatment you will probably have to pay for it yourself as NHS funding for IVF is rarely available for parents.
Couples who are having problems trying for another baby often find that they don’t get the sympathy and understanding offered to those who are involuntarily childless. People may assume that you should be content with the child, or children, you already have and it’s hard to explain how devastating secondary infertility can feel. Unlike those who are struggling to conceive a first child,you know exactly what you are missing out on by not being able to have another and you won’t be able to avoid pregnant women or babies which can make it harder. What’s more, you may experience feelings of guilt about not being able to give your existing child a brother or sister.
Fertility support groups tend to focus on the childless, and as a parent with fertility problems it’s easy to feel lonely and isolated, but there are sources of support and being in touch with others who are in a similar situation can be incredibly helpful – just knowing you are not alone often makes all the difference.
By Kate Brian – GentleParenting’s Fertility Expert
Infertility Network UK – www.infertilitynetworkuk.com
Fertility Friends – www.fertilityfriends.co.uk