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Primary & Secondary Infertility – Similarities and Differences Blog Feature
Lisa Rosenthal

By: Lisa Rosenthal on April 19th, 2016

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Primary & Secondary Infertility – Similarities and Differences

secondary infertility | Primary Infertility

Secondary InfertilitySecondary infertility. Defined as the inability to conceive for the second time, or, more accurately, the next time. Defined as having had a live birth.

Primary infertility. Not having had a child by birth. The inability, thus far, to have conceived and carried to term a baby.

Primary & Secondary Infertility Differences

The glaring, huge difference between primary and secondary infertility is the Mommy or Daddy factor. With secondary infertility, you are Mommy. Or Daddy. With primary infertility, there is no child in your home and arms and heart. There is no Halloween, trick or treating; Thanksgiving with your own child to be thankful for; no first holiday season; no mother or father’s day; no pictures for family and friends to ooh and ah over. There is no child calling you Mommy or Daddy.

So, yes, big difference between primary and secondary infertility. Big, glaring, obvious difference.

And, having said that, secondary infertility has its own special heartaches. When you have that beloved first child, there is no avoiding any of the following:  children’s birthday parties; other women’s easily achieved pregnancies; announcements of other families second, third and fourth children; play dates with newborns that make your heart ache; new uncomfortable, upsetting questions. Guilt that you even want a second child when other’s have yet to have their first.

Questions Asked About Having Another Baby

Here are some new versions of questions that you will hear:

  1. When are you going to have your second child?
  2. Don’t you want your child to have a sibling?
  3. It’s not fair to your child to only have one.
  4. Isn’t it time to have your next child?
  5. Aren’t you afraid that you’re getting too old to have another child?
  6. Don’t you want a second child?
  7. Aren’t you grateful for the child you do have? (Usually you get that question when you offer up the information that you would like to have a second child.)

And so on. Bet some of you out there have some real winners of insensitive, unpleasant questions.

The Emotional Side of Secondary Infertility

With secondary infertility, different things will make your heart catch at different times. The smell of a newborn that is out in the world for the very first time. That sleeping crumpled up little face, so small and so complete at the same time.

Or maybe it’s the innocent chatter of yes, another pregnancy. Morning sickness and perhaps the added comments about how much harder it is because the first child is so active and there’s no time to rest. Stretch marks, exhaustion. All the things you wish were yours.

Having to find the right things to say. Trying not to cry. Wondering if you will be able to experience that for yourself; seeing your child with a sister or brother. Having to answer questions from your child about having a baby brother or sister, just for them.

So, differences, yes, definitely. Even huge differences, yes, I think so.

Ultimately, the pain of not having the child you are dreaming, hoping, praying, wishing for unites us, not separates us.

We get it. What it feels like not to have the family of your dreams. Whether it’s the first or the second. We do get it.

It hurts.


Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in 2010.


About Lisa Rosenthal

Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her. She was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has been with RMACT for eleven years and serves as Patient Advocate and the Strategic Content Lead.

Lisa is the teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support men and women on their quest for their families through gentle movement and meditation.

Lisa’s true passion is supporting patients getting into treatment, being able to stay in treatment and staying whole and complete throughout the process. Lisa is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, which is helpful in her work with fertility patients.

Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.