Dividing Women: Primary vs. Secondary Infertility

I. Don’t. Have. Secondary. Infertility. Thankyouverymuch.

Secondary Infertility, as a medical diagnosis, is new-onset infertility after previously having a naturally conceived, biological child.  According to RESOLVE:

Secondary infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children. The birth of the first child does not involve any assisted reproductive technologies or fertility medications.

Secondary Infertility, as an infertile community label, is “you have a kid so I don’t want to hear it.” I’ve seen some horrible comments directed toward women experiencing secondary infertility.  For example,

Why would women be so heartless to write to an infertility site, when there are baby sites, and doctor sites out there, if you have questions. IF you’re pregnant or had a child “YOU’RE NOT INFERTILE”.

I think it is sad that, as women, we divide ourselves like this.  Now, trust me, I completely understand the sentiment behind the above comment.  I’ve been there.  Days when it is too hard to even look at a mother with her child.  Days when I HATED every mother on the planet. But even at those moments I knew it was me and not them.  My feelings weren’t “wrong” – I don’t think feelings can be wrong and denying them only eats you up inside – but acting on every feeling we have in a way that hurts other people would be wrong.

I guess I’m participating in the labeling if I so adamantly don’t want to be called “secondary.”  I feel like that diminishes the ten years of “primary” infertility that we struggled through.  I mean “secondaries” have no idea!  They got knocked up easy, right?  They’ve experienced normal fertility so I am way more infertile than them!  I’m a “primary” after all.

We can label each other in so many ways.  I often think of women who were infertile for 2 years before they had a successful ART cycle are – pfft – clueless.  I mean *I* tried for TEN years.  Then I think I got so lucky on my first IVF.  What about women who had 5 IVFs before success?  5 miscarriages?  A still birth?  Who still don’t have a child?  Are you less infertile because Clomid worked for you? IUI?

What is the threshold of pain a women needs to experience before she can be in the club?  Who decides that line?

None of our stories are the same.  We’ve all taken different paths in our journeys.  Secondary Infertility has its own unique set of pain – often exacerbated by feelings of guilt that they “shouldn’t” feel pain – just as primary infertility and parenting after infertility do.  I can’t know your pain and you can’t know mine.  But, we can come together and support each other.  I can be sensitive to the pain of the childless and refrain from discussing my child.  I won’t say “boy my PIO shot hurt and my baby kept hitting me in the injection site!” because that would have really hurt me 2 years ago.  In turn, don’t judge that you know my pain.  If I slip up and say something hurtful give me the benefit of the doubt that I had good intentions.  I will do the same.

We are sisters. I wish you a quiver full of children as I hope you wish the same for me.  I’ll never say you should be satisfied or you “should” be happy.  I’ll take you where you are if you’ll take me.  When I’m having a “good” day and feel hopeful – I’ll be there for you to comfort you when you are having a “I hate the world” day.  Will you be there for me?

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10 thoughts on “Dividing Women: Primary vs. Secondary Infertility

  1. Thank you so much for writing this.

    I often feel like i shouldn’t write anything on infertility boards because i do have two children now. But i also feel i could help. I could sympathise. I’m just not sure it would be welcome.

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  2. Well done on talking about a much needed topic . I am a mother of two IVF miracles age 7 and 3 and actually found secondary infertility much harder than primary infertility . All those days at the school gates , being asked when I would be providing a sibling and really knowing how great it is to be a mum but having to hide my feelings of incompleteness .

    I now work from one of the UK `s top fertility clinics the London Womens clinic as a fertility support coordinator and couldnt agree more with you question , at what point do we determine the threshhold of pain is good enough ? !

    Pain is pain and Infertility is Infertility . Its tough on everyone .

    Thanks again

    Anya Sizer

    fertility support coordinator for the London womens clinic

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  3. As a Secondary Infertile I did find it hard to find resources and sometimes acceptance. Sometimes it was my own guilt, sometimes the prejudice of others. But even after my struggles ended, I have always put myself out there for support. Partially because I feel the same way that you so eloquently posted. And partially because I do feel that there is a need out there for support in the SI world.

    Thank you for this post.

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  4. I was taken aback by this blog, it was absolutely spot on with regards to the divisiveness of Primary & Secondary Infertility…Having been on both sides of the fence, I realised then as I know now and through all of my childhood..”Never Judge a book by it’s cover”…No one knows each others stress, pain or struggles to have a child and for some, fertility treatment IS the only option.

    I’m sure if you was to ask every mother who has conceived a child through or as a result of fertility treatment, they are more than grateful for what they have if all else fails trying for number 2, but it doesn’t mean that their journey through the pain or struggles are any less than a primary infertile candidate just because one treatment succeeded for them and theirs did not..

    I’m launching my Infertility resource centre in the UK in July but this article just shows that no matter where you are on either side of the pond…The issues are still the same. Support is universal!

    Wonderful Article and Thank You x

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  5. I really like this post…I wonder with you…why must we divide over these issues instead of honoring all that we share together? I am starting to feel anxious that we are not conceiving although we already have one child but would never come out to say that. Thank you. Wonderful post!

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  6. We do this in so many ways, don’t we? Divide ourselves up according to level of suffering. When it would be great if we could all just honor each other’s pain and be supportive through it. I remember Swistle writing about wanting a 6th child and her husband saying no, and how she self-deprecatingly wrote about her grief over that, considering she already has 5. But we all have our own dreams, and one person’s pain doesn’t diminish another’s — at least not while you’re going through it!

    I’m going to look for ways I do this hierarchy-of-suffering thing in my own life. I can already think of a few (whoops).

    Thanks for writing this so well, and I do wish you all the children you want.

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  7. I love your site.

    I was a teenage mother to and abusive sperm donor. I got a tubal when I was 21 and had three kids.

    Now I’m 41 and married to Mister Wonderful, and trying to get preggers, but, obviously can’t. We’ve done IVF twice (first time resulting in a little boy), but I never feel like I fit in on the IVF boards. Part of it is that I don’t feel like I experienced the proper heart break to fit in, but part of it is that as soon as women find out that I have kids, they write me off as “fertile.”

    I love the idea what we are all sisters and we all need to support each other, not label each other.

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  8. I agree that those going through primary and secondary infertility both have a tough time in their own way. I struggled with primary infertility for 4 years. During that time I thought there was no pain like primary infertility. I wanted to be a mom and it at times seemed like it would never happen. Then I conceived our little miracle after the doctors told me it was basically impossible. I am so thankful for my daughter who is now 3 1/2. Now I am going through secondary infertility and am seeing the pain that can accompany that. For me it is not as intense as primary infertility because my dreams of becoming a mom have come true. But I am starting to have those pains of wanting a sibling for my little girl to grow up with. Also people are “telling” me that I should have another. I grew up an only child and always wished to have a sibling. I don’t want my kid to be lonely like I was but I know that if I don’t have another, her life will turn out alright.

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  9. Thank you for blogging about this. I was thinking about the us/them divide, and the choices we have around them. I miscarried 10 times, and had a son on my 8th pregnancy.

    I remember a specific time, after my 3rd miscarriage, and I cringed at seeing a neighbor and her newborn daughter. It stung, and I thought of my own inability (at the time) to have a child. Then I had a moment of realization – that if I put up that wall between me and the rest of the fertile world, I was in danger of becoming a bitter old child-hating woman, and I decided that I would just enjoy the kids I encountered, without falling prey to the inner critic.

    I think it is the same with the primary/secondary divide – it’s not about the parent at all – it is about the loud inner critic of the still infertile woman that, if not silenced (and beheaded), looks at peoples’ kids and says “YOU’RE NOT CAPABLE OF ACHIEVING THAT”. I think this is a reaction more typical of someone who hasn’t yet realized that they do in fact have a choice and can own their responses. 🙂

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