There are plenty of misconceptions about infertility, like it’s mostly a woman’s issue (it isn’t), and guys have no biological clock (they do). But one that often gets overlooked is that couples who have already had a child are fertile (not necessarily).
Secondary infertility is the inability for a couple to get pregnant after having given birth one or more times, and it’s more common than you might realize. It’s especially painful emotionally when parents are faced with the “When are you going to have another?” question from well-meaning relatives and friends.
According to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 3 million women in the U.S. struggle to get pregnant again, and approximately 800,000 are considered infertile. Resolve, the National Infertility Association, says that more than half of all infertility cases are secondary infertility.
So how does a couple who had no trouble conceiving all of a sudden struggle to reproduce? And what can be done about it? Here’s some insight into secondary infertility.
What Causes Secondary Infertility?
While there’s no clear cause of secondary infertility, there are some factors that can contribute to fertility issues in existing parents.
For women, the most common issue is aging eggs. Women with secondary infertility tend to be older, and eggs suffer chromosomal damage over time, which makes it more difficult for them to be fertilized. Women’s fertility starts to decline after age 30, and more significantly after 35.
But it’s not just women. A guy’s age factors into secondary infertility as well. Sperm quality and quantity decline as men age. Guys over 35 are half as fertile as guys under 25, and a man’s semen starts continually decreasing starting at age 20.
Along with the natural reduction in sperm count, other factors can impact a guy’s fertility such as prostate infections, STDs, diabetes, weight gain, or complications from medications.
“If a couple was able to get pregnant before, in most cases something specific must have changed,” Dr. A.F. Haney, professor at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, told Parenting Magazine.
However, about 20 percent of secondary infertility cases are unexplainable.
How Couples Can Address Secondary Infertility
Secondary infertility can be emotionally challenging, not only because of the usual frustrations with infertility, but the unspoken stigma that comes with it. Couples are expected to be grateful they already have a child, not frustrated for not being able to have another.
But the truth is, secondary infertility it is just as heartbreaking, particularly because what worked before is no longer producing results.
The first thing couples should do is find out what may be the cause of it. Guys, in particular, should get a sperm test to see if their sperm production has changed. Men’s fertility tests are less complicated and less expensive than women’s tests. It can even be done at home with an over-the-counter male fertility test—Sperm Check—which lets guys know their sperm count within minutes.
Whether the man is having sperm production issues or not, couples should consult a physician to explore their options.
Regardless of what option you decide to take, it’s important to find support. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or an infertility support group, dealing with the issue alone always makes it more difficult.
Secondary infertility is not discussed often, but it is a common issue. If you’re already parents but have had trouble conceiving for six months to a year, it may be time to check your fertility status and consult your doctor.