About 3 million women in the U.S. have one biological child but struggle to conceive or carry to term another pregnancy ― a condition known as secondary infertility.
For some, infertility is a consequence of age, declining egg or sperm quality or medical conditions that may have set in after the birth of a child.
But others may have started off infertile and needed infertility treatments to conceive the child they already have.
Listen to Episode 5 of IVFML Becoming Family below.
For this segment of the secondary infertility population, the notion that a successful pregnancy and birth can “fix” primary infertility has a lot of cultural currency. Like many deeply rooted cultural myths, the idea has a kernel of truth in it.
Research to date shows that infertile people can spontaneously conceive “surprise” babies after infertility treatments, but that it happens for less than 1 in 5 couples.
In this episode of IVFML, we go back to our guests from Season One to ask what life is like now that they had children thanks to infertility treatments and whether they are trying to add to their family.
Infertility is a diverse diagnosis, experts say, and whether couples will be able to conceive spontaneously depends on why they were deemed infertile in the first place.
Some people, like Season One guest John Murray, were able to spontaneously conceive a child after infertility treatments. Other guests, like Silvija Ozols or Nam and Aubrey Tran, may hope for a similar outcome but may be more resigned to plunging back into infertility treatments when it comes time to bring more children into the family. Our final guest for the episode, Candace Wohl, knew from the beginning that she would never conceive that “surprise” baby. Wohl had her uterus removed as part of cancer treatment, and thus cannot carry a pregnancy.
“For many couples, the diagnosis of infertility is more gray,” said Dr. Beth W. Rackow, a fertility specialist at Columbia University Fertility Center.
“Some of these couples may be subfertile and can still conceive on her own,” she explained. “However, pursuing infertility treatment can speed up the time until pregnancy.”
And while a minority of patients will conceive spontaneously on their own, the odds are that if you needed help to have your first child, you’re going to need help with your second child, said Dr. Ilana Ressler, a reproductive endocrinologist with Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut.
That struggle may be different the second time around, Ressler said.
“It can be isolating, with less social support, as the couple already has a child,” she said. “They may feel reluctant or guilty reaching out to others for fear of not ‘being grateful’ for the child they already have.”
On the other hand, said Rackow, couples may feel a new ease or lightness when it comes to infertility treatments to add more children to the family.
“Maybe it is the distraction of a child, or a different sense of possibility since they have conceived before,” she guessed.
IVFML Becoming Family is produced and edited by Anna Almendrala, Simon Ganz, Nick Offenberg and Sara Patterson. Send us an email at IVFML@huffpost.com.
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