This week, Today show meteorologist and co-anchor Dylan Dreyer happily announced she was pregnant following a struggle with secondary infertility.
Secondary infertility? According to Mayo Clinic, secondary infertility is the inability to become pregnant or to carry a baby to term after previously giving birth to a baby.
If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. But if you are dealing with secondary infertility yourself, you’re not alone, either: About 3 million women in the U.S. deal with this, according to Today.com.
Dreyer has been open about her struggles with infertility, including a miscarriage earlier this year. She was about to start in vitro fertilization treatment (IVF) before she got a surprising call from her doctor.
As Dreyer recounts in her personal essay for Today, “The day I was going to start my IVF, I had all my medicines, I brought it down to the Kentucky Derby with me, and the doctor calls and says, 'Don't take anything. You're pregnant!'"
What Makes Secondary Infertility So Difficult?
While Dryer’s story had a happy ending, coping with secondary infertility can be extraordinarily hard to navigate for couples trying to have a second (or third) child.
For starters, it can be difficult to seek or receive social support, as parents may be hesitant or feel guilty because they’ve already had a child. They may feel judged for appearing like they’re not “appreciative” of the child they already have (as if!). Plus, reminders of what you’re missing always around, since you’re already immersed in the world of children, babies, and other pregnant moms.
Doctors may also downplay the seriousness of secondary infertility since the woman has gotten pregnant before. They simply may encourage the couple to “keep on trying.” This can discourage couples from seeking help when they perhaps should be seeking additional support.
Finally, dealing with secondary infertility adds an extra layer of parental guilt. Parents may feel guilty diverting attention or resources away from their existing child, and/or about not giving them the sibling they’re begging to have.
Possible Causes of Secondary Infertility
This type of infertility can be caused by many of the same causes as primary infertility. These may include impaired sperm delivery or production in men, reproductive conditions in women, taking new medications, gaining extra weight, or experiencing complications due to prior pregnancies or surgeries.
Another cause may be the fact that a few years have passed since your first pregnancy. As Jamie Grifo, M.D., Ph.D., program director of the New York University Fertility Center tells Parents, as you get older, it’s simply more difficult to get pregnant.
For most women, fertility peaks at age 25 and drops by half between ages 30 and 40. Plus, as we age, egg quality declines and we're more likely to develop fibroids and endometriosis, which contribute to infertility.
When Should You Seek Help?
It’s important to be your own advocate for your fertility. As Resolve.org (a site run by the National Infertility Association) notes, if you and your partner have been actively trying to conceive over a year or you are over 35 and have been actively trying for over 6 months, it’s time to consult a fertility specialist or at least your OB/GYN. (Read more about secondary fertility and find resources on the site here.)
Finally, remember, you’re not alone. While it’s obviously your personal decision about how much to share about your journey, it can help to connect with other parents going through similar situations. As Dreyer put in her personal essay:
"So many women are going through their own fertility issues, and I want to open up the conversation to get us all talking instead of sneaking onto that baby chat room and scrolling endlessly through the comments hoping to stumble upon someone going through a similar situation as us. Well, here I am, putting myself out there, and maybe it will give just one other woman the motivation to keep plugging along."
You can look for a support group for secondary infertility in your area (or online!), and/or connect with a mental health professional to talk with you through the process.
Wondering how to talk to a friend dealing with infertility? Read this blog to find out what to say, and what not to say, to someone who's trying to conceive.