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Secondary infertility or subfertility is an often ignored or misunderstood aspect of infertility. And yet, over three million Americans are affected by the condition.

What is it?

Secondary infertility is the inability to conceive after one or more successful pregnancies. It can happen to both couples who have struggled with primary infertility in the past or couple who were previously fertile. Technically, some couples are classed as subfertile as they may be able to fall pregnant naturally or have done so in the past. These couples may feel as though their doctors or other infertile couples do not take them seriously.

How does it affect couples?

Some women who have gone through primary infertility and assisted conception to have their first child may have embraced all the 'normal' parenting experiences such as playgroups believing that they have left the experience of infertility behind them. However, when other mothers begin falling pregnant easily with their second or even third child- either by accident or design- they may begin to feel isolated and resentful. Flippant references to only children, ideal age gaps or being super fertile can also be hurtful to someone struggling with secondary infertility.

Parents can experience a range of emotions including guilt about wanting another child (especially if they know other couples struggling with primary infertility), guilt about not being able to give their existing child a sibling, and resentment and jealousy of other fertile couples.

Undergoing fertility treatment with a child at home add complications - particularly if no childcare is available. Couples may find it hard to hide or explain disappointment over failed cycles or grief over lost pregnancies and worry about the impact on their existing child.

Finding support.

Finding support for secondary infertility can be a challenge. Fertile friends and relatives often do not understand and previous support outlets (for primary infertility) may now be inappropriate. Joining a support group specifically for secondary infertility or couples with IVF children - either online or in person- may be a better option.

For an indepth discussion of SECONDARY INFERTILITY see this article by RESOLVE on secondary infertility

October 2005