Secondary Infertility (or Secondary Subfertility) is defined as the inability to conceive or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more children.
It is possible to fall pregnant once and then struggle to conceive a second time. You may be diagnosed as having secondary subfertility if you have been trying for one year and are under 35 years old, if you have been trying for six months and are over the age of 35, or if you have suffered multiple miscarriages following previous births without the use of medical interventions.
If you conceived with relative ease the first or second time around, you may feel completely caught off guard by not falling pregnant as easily the next time, wondering why it is so difficult. Your GP may even be telling you that you should simply keep trying as you have previously conceived and given birth, downplaying the possibility of secondary subfertility. This idea can manifest itself in parents' minds, where they may not want to believe they are an "infertile couple" as they have previously carried a baby to term.
It can be an extremely emotional time for parents, often inciting feelings of anger, depression, grief, jealousy and self blame. It can be, sometimes, a harder burden to bear than those suffering primary infertiliy, as they could be viewed as "lucky" for previously having children and that they should be simply happy with what they have already. It may feel like there is a stigma attached to it and that you are unable to grieve in the way those without children might. Secondary infertility is a less visible heartache and is often kept well-hidden from friends and family, resulting in feelings of isolation and stress. This means those suffering may receive less support from others than couples experiencing primary infertility as it is a less visible loss.
Whilst those who may be experiencing primary infertility can try to avoid being in situations where they may be reminded of babies or children, this is an impossibility for a woman experiecing secondary subfertility. They are confronted by babies, children and pregnant women on a daily basis whether at the school gates or mum and toddler groups. They are constantly going to be reminded of a dream they are unable to fulfill. Often the hardest part of secondary subfertility is the feelings of guilt at not being able to provide a sibling to their current child. Many parents feel that they have failed their child by not providing a sibling for them to play with. However, it is important not to let feelings of grief affect current children as they can usually pick up on parents' feelings of melancholy.
So what are some of the possible causes of secondary subfertility?
Age: One of the most common reasons for experiencing difficulty in conceiveing is a woman's reproductive age. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have and as each year goes by, their egg quantity and quality will diminish. In addition, the chance of miscarriage increases the older you are. These facts remain the same no matter whether conception was easy or hard the first time. And as women are typically having babies later in life, age is more likely to play a large part in the inability to conceive second or third time around.
Medical conditions: Having an underactive thyroid or adrenal fatigue can affect how well you ovulate, or diabetes could increase the risk of miscarriage. It is possible to have developed these conditions following a previous pregnancy or they may have worsened over time.
Stress: Stress can have a major impact on conception and stress levels can often rise following the birth of a child with the increased pressures on family life. Trying for a baby can in itself be a stressful experience and may be hindering conception. As stress can impact hypothalamus function - the gland which tells your ovaries to release eggs - this could result in reduced or no ovulation thereby hindering chances to conceive.
Structural changes: Your reproductive system may have undergone changes since previous pregnancies, for example, damage to the fallopian tubes or uterus caused by endometriosis. Problems experienced during previous deliveries, such as with a caesarean section, could have caused intrauterine adhesions (scar tissue) which may have developed around the fallopian tubes and be preventing a pregnancy. Experiencing an ectopic pregnancy or PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) could result in damage to the fallopian tubes; if the fallopian tubes are blocked, the egg cannot move from the ovary to the uterus and fertility problems arise. Developing fibroids or benign growths in the uterus and even some commonly used medications taken mid cycle e.g. ibuprofen and aspirin may impact ability to conceive.
Sperm motility and quality: Sperm motility and quality can change due to a number of reasons just like a woman's body may change. Perhaps the sperm can't swim in a straight line or may die before reaching the egg. As men get older, their hormones and sperm quality also decline from around age 35. Semen quality can be affected by stress, high temperature (e.g. high fever, hot baths, tight fitting underwear) or many chemicals and toxic substances in our environment such as radiation and electromagnetic pollution. Environmental factors can affect sperm concentration such as exposure to lead, other heavy metals and pesticides. Sperm production can be affected by common antibiotics such as penicillin and tetracycline, x-rays, tobacco, marijuana and alcohol. It is important to consider if a change in job, lifestyle or health may be resulting in difficulty conceiving. A simple test can be performed to check the motility and quality of sperm.
Weight changes: High weight gain since previous pregnancies can impact falling pregnant as it can lead to hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation. Obesity can also increase the likelihood of miscarriage. Studies have shown by losing at least 10% of body fat can help. Being underweight could also result in ovulation stopping so it is important to remain within the good BMI level 18.5 - 24.9.
How can Reflexology help?
Reflexology can help reduce stress levels not only with improving feelings of wellbeing and reducing feelings of mental stress but also physiologically - by stimulating the body's central nervous system, reducing cortisol levels and improving function of the hypothalamus as well as the whole endocrine hormonal system. In turn, any ovulation issues should improve and cycles should become regular thereby resulting in a higher likelihood of falling pregnant.
Reflexology can also improve structural changes that you may have experienced, clearing any blockages and improving the circulation to help the body self-heal. By improving circulation to the relevant problem areas, reflexology can help bring the body back to a level of homeostasis, or balance. If men have issues with their sperm quantity and quality, reflexology can help boost sperm count and improve quality so that there are enough, good quality sperm to fertilise an egg.
Reflexology brings the body back into balance, ensuring it is at optimum level for conception. It is a safe, complementary therapy which can help those experiencing issues conceive naturally. It is also safe to have reflexology as part of assisted conception such as IUI, IVF and ICSI. Reflexology can help de-stress and balance hormones, help with any side effects prior to an IVF treatment, during the different stages and even after the completed process.
About Abi Brazil: Abi holds a Level 5 Mastership in Reflexology - the highest level for a Reflexology stand-alone qualification in the UK today. The Mastership includes specialist training in Fertility as well as Pregnancy and Maternity. She is the owner of Reflexology Room London and works from clinics in Whetstone and Crouch End, London, as well as offering home visits. To get in touch, about any questions you may have, or to book an appointment, call 07971523672 or email firstname.lastname@example.org