Just about all of us envision a story of how we would like our lives to look. If the story you pictured for your life involved having more than one child, the pain of having trouble conceiving a second or third time may feel unbearable. Studies show that the emotional effect of secondary infertility are identical to those of primary infertility (source). Maybe you grew up with siblings and want nothing more than to give that gift to your child, or perhaps you are in a second marriage and want to have a baby with your new partner, or maybe you just don’t feel like a complete family unless you have 2 or more children. Whatever your situation, secondary infertility is hard. Here are some things you may face, and what you can do to help ease the stress and pain.
With secondary infertility, you face several situations that couples with primary infertility do not face. You may feel isolated if people are disregarding your pain since you already have a child. Family and friends may have the best intentions, but may tell you that you should be grateful for having one child already. This may make you feel misunderstood and alone. It’s also more difficult with secondary infertility to escape into childless adult activities (such as focusing more on your career or travel) when you already have a child at home. Also, by having a child already, you may have built a support group with other new parents who are now having more children, and you may not feel as much a part of the ‘club’ as you used to. The same is true if you are part of online mom groups, and the chats are about being pregnant for the second time or what it’s like having a third. All of these situations may make you feel isolated and sad. Consider using social media to your advantage and join in on a secondary infertility group. Having a community or someone to talk to that is dealing with the same issue will help to feel less isolated.
Jealousy is a perfectly natural reaction, so don’t chastise yourself if it comes up. When jealousy does occur, observe and respect your feelings. Write in a journal and do something that makes you feel good. When you write in a journal, acknowledge your feelings but use positive affirmations in your writing to help move away from negative thoughts. If you feel that jealousy is impeding your daily life, consider speaking with a counselor or a therapist to help you through this time.
Unfortunately, social media is no help here. If you have friends posting cute sibling pictures, the pain and jealousy may be overwhelming at times. It may be best to take a break from social media for awhile. Know that it is OK to be both happy for others while still feeling jealous. As Amy Wruble wrote in ScaryMommy, “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s possible to be genuinely happy for others while still being insanely jealous. At least there are always cute babies available to hold.”
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If you feel guilt, don’t give in. It’s perfectly natural to be grateful for the little one you have AND feel sad or angry about having difficulties having another. You are not selfish for wanting another child. You are not unreasonable to spend money on fertility treatments. To protect your emotional health, allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings and take time for yourself when you need to ‘reset’. This is especially important after a disappointing pregnancy test or a miscarriage. It may also help to set aside quality time with your child each day where the focus is only on her/him. One simple exercise that has helped many people during hard times is to write down one thing you are grateful for, every day.
Feelings of anger may stem from a couple of things: tt may come from actually being sad or disappointed; you may feel angry that you have to take time away from your child(ren) for fertility treatments; you may feel sad about not getting pregnant. You may feel angry that the age difference or age gap between your children will be more than you wanted it to be. You also may feel angry and stressed about getting older and how long it is taking to get pregnant. Or the anger is from other people telling you to be grateful that you already have a child. It’s ok to be angry, just make sure you get your anger out in ways that don’t hurt the people around you. Go ahead and scream into a pillow, punch a bag, or do the opposite type of healing and meditate or practice deep breathing. Whatever you do, don’t repress your anger - find an outlet that allows you to own your anger instead of letting it out on your family, and carry on in a healthy way.