Infertility 201: Basic Information All Couples Should Know (Part 2)

From the Family Foundations archives. An excerpt from The Infertility Companion for Catholics: Spiritual and Practical Support for Couples, by Carmen Santamaria and Angelique Ruhi-Lopez, reprinted with permission from Ave Maria Press.

Second Infertility

Secondary infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant, or carry a pregnancy to term following the birth of one or more biological children. Those who suffer from secondary infertility often feel like they are especially alone, as if they do not belong in either the fertile or infertile world. The added pressure of feeling like others may judge you for desiring more children when you already have one or more children is a common source of stress. There are even some who feel that secondary infertility is not “real” infertility.

Carmen shares her experience with secondary infertility after the birth of her two children:

“Secondary infertility begs the question of whether we are forcing God’s plan. Are we simply not meant to have children, or more than what we have? As my friends continued to have more children, I have been told I am “falling behind,” and it’s hard to hear those types of comments. In addition to having a strong desire or calling to raise more of God’s children, there is the added pressure of children asking for a sibling.

Every night without fail, our sweet daughter, Monica, asks for a brother or sister, if it is God’s will. Her “faith like a child” is an example to us, and she has the faith I need. This fear of not being able to give our child a brother or sister is common among those how suffer from secondary infertility. I was never too bothered by the fact that I’m an only child, but I have never wanted the same for my own family. I have to remind myself that just because I think something is best does not mean that it is what God thinks. My mother wanted a huge family and only had one child. I also try to remember that there are some very important “onlys” in our faith, starting with Jesus himself and his mother Mary, as well as John the Baptist. All of them played a role in our salvation, and we should not minimize the impact of one child, one life.”

How is infertility diagnosed?

Although the inability to achieve a pregnancy within a twelve-month period may be an indication of possible infertility, only a health care provider can provide a diagnosis of infertility. If you suspect you may have infertility issues, we suggest seeing your doctor and expressing your interest in finding the underlying causes of your infertility. As with any disease, it is not enough to simply treat the symptoms of infertility. Doctors should first of all ensure that the couple is timing intercourse correctly. (Natural Family Planning, for example, is one method used to assess optimum fertility in women.)

Tests to diagnose the causes of fertility include (but are not limited to):

  • Blood work, physical examination, and morally-obtained semen sample for men to determine sperm viability; and
  • Blood work and assessment of the competence of the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes via imaging techniques.

Angelique explains the process she and her husband underwent to get medical answers as to why they were not conceiving:

“After one year of trying to conceive, I finally had some blood work done and discovered I was “Because of my textbook 28-day cycles and because we practiced NFP and knew we were timing intercourse correctly, we decided to speak to my gynecologist after about six months of trying to conceive. He analyzed our NFP charts and said everything looked good and that it would likely just be a matter of time. We continued to press him, however, and he agreed to have my husband and me get blood drawn.

When these produced results that did not indicate any issues, my husband had a semen analysis and I had a hysterosalpingogram (a special ultrasound in which contrast is injected into the uterus to check if the fallopian tubes are open or blocked). Everything checked out okay with these tests, too. It was frustrating to have the nondiagnosis of ‘unexplained infertility’ and not have recourse to any treatments because there were seemingly no underlying issues.”

As we can see from the varied diagnoses and experiences of infertility, no two journeys are quite the same, yet we are united in our quest for medical solutions and spiritual guidance.