Misty Busch will never forget what it felt like to long for another baby and to find herself unable to conceive. “My first-born was four-and-a-half years old at the time,” recalls the Aldergrove, B.C., mom. “My dream had always been to have a sibling for her and it just crushed me that I might never have the opportunity to provide her with that. I would look at families with lots of children and wonder if I would ever be lucky enough to become a mom again.”
What Busch experienced is not uncommon. According to data published in the medical journal The Lancet earlier this year, between nine and 12 per cent of women who get pregnant easily the first time around will struggle to have another baby. It’s called secondary infertility and it can be a very lonely experience. Those who face it will typically receive less support from family and friends than others who experience fertility problems before welcoming their first. “Sometimes you’re made to feel greedy for wanting another child,” explains Busch, now a mother of three and leader of a secondary infertility support group.
20 Things You Need to Know Before Having a Second Child
Louise Kirkhope, a Nanaimo, B.C., registered clinical counsellor specializing in reproductive health, agrees. “There’s a real lack of understanding when it comes to secondary infertility. Other people may think, ‘You got pregnant before; surely you’ll get pregnant again.’”
How to Cope with the Overwhelming Feelings that Accompany Secondary Infertility
- Accept Your Feelings: “Recognize and accept the emotions you have as valid and normal,” says Kirkhope. “If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, remind yourself that it’s okay to be feeling this way.”
- Reframe Negative Thoughts: “If you’re thinking, ‘I can’t get pregnant because I’m not good enough,’ reframe that as, ‘I’m a loving, dedicated mother and I’m doing everything I can to have a successful pregnancy,’” Kirkhope suggests.
- Be Open with Your Partner: “Set aside a specific amount of time to discuss the fertility stuff so that it doesn’t become an all-consuming focus of your relationship,” says Kirkhope. “You want to be able to discuss hopes and dreams in other areas of your life, too.”
- Try Mind-Body Therapies: Investigate treatments and practices like acupuncture, hypnosis, meditation, yoga and good old relaxation. “Doing some deep breathing every day can be helpful. Anything that promotes mind-body wellness will boost your resilience,” says Kirkhope. “What’s going on in your mind is going to affect your body and vice versa.” While couples struggling with infertility hate being offered trite advice like, “Just relax and you’ll get pregnant,” research has shown that women who participate in support groups are more likely to conceive than women who don’t.
- Be Present For Your Child: It’s easy to be distracted by worries when you’re experiencing fertility problems, and that can take away from your enjoyment of life as a parent. “But if you’re playing a game with your child, be right there in the moment,” says Kirkhope. When nagging thoughts and worries crop up, let them go. “You don’t want to look back at this time in your life and think, ‘We missed so much in our first child’s life because we were so consumed with getting pregnant again.’”
- Seek Professional Help: If you feel like your life is being impacted significantly—you’re having difficulty sleeping or you’re no longer pursuing things that you enjoy—you may want to talk to a counsellor or doctor.
- Reach Out: Misty Busch recommends joining a support group that focuses specifically on secondary infertility, as opposed to one in which the majority of members are struggling to have a first child. In 2009 she launched the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada’s first support group in her area for couples experiencing secondary infertility. The association now offers both online and face-to-face support in cities across the country. “We share the ups and downs together,” says Busch, who also serves as the IAAC’s regional manager for Western Canada. She likes to cite the example of two women she knows who met at an IAAC infertility support group and then started walking together as a means of stress relief. “They went from walking puppies to pushing strollers together.”