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When you have a baby with relative ease the first time, it’s easy to assume it will always be that way. Most people don’t even know that secondary infertility can be a problem, but when it happens, it’s heartbreaking.
What do you do when, suddenly, conceiving or carrying a pregnancy doesn’t come so easily? You may chalk it up to a strange occurrence and silently bide your time. But just like with any attempt to conceive, it’s worth talking to your doctor after trying to conceive for a year (or 6 months if you’re over 35).
Talking to your doctor is a helpful step if you experience secondary infertility. And since a lot of people don’t even know this exists, we’ve got all the information you need to understand what could be going on inside your body.
What is Secondary Infertility?
Secondary infertility is when a couple or individual cannot conceive or carry a baby to term after having successfully had a child before. This could happen after one baby or ten; no matter what, it’s still considered secondary infertility. In that way, the secondary infertility definition is very specific to the family experiencing it.
One of the most challenging aspects of secondary infertility is that some doctors tend to downplay the severity of a woman’s circumstance because she has been successfully pregnant before. It’s common for care providers to suggest you simply continue trying without medical intervention.
Just like traditional infertility, secondary infertility is not caused by just one thing. There are various common issues that can lead to secondary infertility.
What are the Most Common Secondary Infertility Causes?
In 2019, about 3 million women in the United States experienced secondary infertility.
While secondary infertility causes typically mimic those of primary infertility, there are a few common causes that are more prevalent among secondary infertility patients.
1. Scarring and Other Uterine Problems
So many different things can happen before, during, and after delivering a baby that can be very unkind to our uterine health.
Surgeries, such as Cesarean deliveries and dilation and curettage (D&C), for example, might be necessary, but they do, in rare cases, cause long-term uterine problems.
The best known condition is Asherman’s Syndrome, which causes scar tissue growth and intrauterine adhesions. While Asherman’s Syndrome is considered a rare disease, about 20% of women develop it after having a D&C.
On occasion, women can retain placenta from a previous pregnancy, which could lead to uterine scarring and infections. Thankfully, though, retained placenta only occurs after approximately 2% of deliveries.
Benign growths, like fibroids and polyps, are another common cause of uterine-related secondary infertility.
While we don’t want you to worry that each year significantly lessens your chances of fertility success, age does impact a woman’s fertility.
But please, don’t let your age force you into having another baby before you’re ready. There are plenty of secondary infertility success stories, and while measuring your egg quality is a little tougher, you can test to find out your ovarian reserve.
Here’s the deal. You’re born with all the eggs you’ll ever have, and you produce eggs each month when you ovulate, thus decreasing your number over time.
The number of eggs you still have is called your “ovarian reserve.”
Ask your doctor if you’d like ovarian reserve testing (a test of your AMH and FSH hormones). You can also take matters into your own hands with a test from Modern Fertility.
As we get older, the number of eggs we have available and their quality will diminish. That’s why a woman is labeled as being of “advanced maternal age” at only 35 years old.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), by age 40, “1 in 10 women will get pregnant per menstrual cycle.” In other words, your chance of getting pregnant does decrease with age, but it’s still possible, especially with the help of fertility specialists.
Advanced maternal age can also be a primary factor in miscarriage. Evaluation at a fertility clinic can help you determine your risk factors.
Important note: Male infertility also decreases with age, just in a less predictable manner than female infertility. So it’s not just our bodies, ladies!
There Are Plenty Secondary Infertility Success Stories Among Women Over 35 or 40
A friend of mine struggled to have a third child when she got a little older. There was no identifiable problem other than age causing her secondary infertility, but pregnancy just wasn’t happening.
Eventually, however, luck was on her side, and with a little time, she ended up pregnant with no additional treatment.
We also know plenty of mamas who have gone through infertility testing or recurrent miscarriage testing and have then had successful pregnancies after secondary infertility–some with medical intervention; others without.
While every case is not a success story, we know plenty that have been, and we want you to know about those positive outcomes.
3. Other Secondary Infertility Causes
In addition to these fertility problems, other conditions and circumstances can lead to secondary infertility, including:
- Premature Ovarian Failure
- PCOS Infertility
- Lifestyle Changes, i.e., Gaining Weight or Stress (more on the stress aspect later)
Are There Treatments for Secondary Infertility?
Let’s be honest. Secondary infertility sucks. While it can feel like an impossible situation, the good news is that treatment options do exist.
In fact, there are quite a few of them.
Before you dive headfirst into analyzing secondary infertility treatment solutions, speak with your gynecologist.
If your physician is able to determine a probable cause, you can start pursuing infertility treatment options, such as:
- Fertility-related medications, i.e., Clomid, Metformin, Gonadotropins, etc.
- Hormone therapy, which includes the use of hormone drugs, like Progesterone and Estrogen
- Various types of artificial insemination – Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the most commonly used
- In vitro fertilization (IVF) – one of the most successful secondary infertility treatment options–a fertilized egg (embryo) is transferred directly to the uterus
- Egg, sperm, or embryo donation
Natural Remedies for Secondary Infertility
Before you read any further, let’s just be clear. I’m not going to tell you to change your diet and use essential oils and all your problems will be solved.
That said, improving our general health and wellbeing is good, and I’m continually searching for natural substitutions instead of typical treatment methods.
And while I’m personally convinced that just about anything can be cured by popping some Vitamin C, meditating, and drinking tons of water, there are certain medical conditions that can’t be hydrated away, though–like infertility.
While many families experiencing secondary infertility will require more traditional treatment methods, alternative options to help get your body into optimal health can be a great addition to your life.
In fact, if you’re interested in less invasive solutions, there are several natural remedies for secondary infertility you can try before going straight to options like IVF.
1. Infertility Diets
Some scientific research claims consuming particular foods and nutrients can increase a woman’s ability to get pregnant naturally. There are even specific diets, like a PCOS infertility diet, that has been designed for this exact reason.
Foods like avocados, salmon, and green vegetables, for example, are rockstars among the fertility-friendly food category.
There is even some belief that pineapple and implantation success go hand-in-hand.
There are also foods and drinks you should avoid, such as:
- Lots of caffeine
- Bad saturated fats
- Sugary desserts
2. Acupuncture and Herbal Treatments
While acupuncture and herbal treatments can’t be used for every type of infertility condition, there is research that suggests a positive correlation between them.
The American Pregnancy Association has even touted acupuncture and herbal treatments as a beneficial option for treating infertility diagnoses, such as: thyroid conditions, pelvic inflammatory disease, and endometriosis.
3. Managing Stress
As someone who’s struggled with stress and anxiety for much of my life, I’m a prime example of the way these mental health conditions can affect many different areas of our lives.
When I feel consumed by worry, obsessively overthink every situation, and feel that edginess that comes hand-in-hand with stress and anxiety, my body feels worn down.
I’m tired, moody, and experience a general kind of malaise. I can only imagine what that stress is doing to the parts of my body I cannot see.
The relationship between stress and infertility is no exception.
A 2014 research study found that women who are stressed have a higher number of alpha-amylase enzymes. These can prolong the amount of time it takes a person to get pregnant.
If you’re looking for natural remedies for secondary infertility causes, stress management is a simple solution that could provide beneficial results.
I know what you’re thinking – but how do I manage my stress levels? Lucky for you, we’ve got some great suggestions!
- Regular exercise
- Communicating with friends and family
- Date nights with your spouse
- Taking up a new hobby, or practicing an old one
- Throw on a funny movie and laugh
- Use essential oils, such as lavender, frankincense, or bergamot
- Practice meditation and yoga
- Cut back on caffeine
But let’s be really clear here: when people tell you that you need to “just relax” and you’ll get or stay pregnant, it’s okay to want to punch them. That’s likely not your only problem. But the evidence is there to say that stress is worth managing, so we want to help you do that.
Secondary Infertility Success Stories Do Exist
Before you fall down a rabbit hole of pity and regret caused by a secondary infertility diagnosis, remember that you are not alone.
While it’s an unfortunate club to belong to, the number of women and couples battling secondary infertility is immense. Thankfully, however, there are many success stories.
Whether you opt for natural treatments or go with a solution like IVF, there’s a chance you’ll become one of the secondary infertility success stories you long to be. And if that doesn’t happen, please know that you aren’t alone.
Our community understands how much adding another child to your family can mean. That’s why we believe that it’s so important to remain hopeful and open to the variety of treatment options that exist.
Have you overcome fertility troubles? Tell us about your own secondary infertility success stories!
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.