Overcoming Secondary Infertility
Overcoming the stigma of secondary infertility, more couples are turning to fertility counseling to help them conceive.
“My husband wasn’t in the room when I got pregnant with my son, but we have a video,” Liz Schofield laughs, remembering her fertility treatment. After what she describes as a “nice, easy pregnancy” with her first child, she was struck by a series of three miscarriages as they tried for their second child. Like 75% of patients who visit Main Line Fertility, the Schofields’ struggled with secondary infertility.
The stigma associated with secondary infertility, or being able to carry a second pregnancy, is something many couples wrestle with and what keeps them from seeking help sooner. “The longer you wait, the less time you have,” Dr. Michael Glassner, Medical Director at Main Line Fertility, explains. The general rule is that if you’re older than 35 and haven’t gotten pregnant within six months, it’s time to reach out. If you’re younger than 35, reach out if it’s been over a year.
“Age isn’t a limiting factor,” Glassner points out. Although the average new patient at Main Line Fertility is 37 years old, has been pregnant before, and is having trouble conceiving a second child, they have patients in their late forties and fifties as well.
Although younger than most patients when she went for a consultation, Liz’s history of miscarriages in her early 30s was a red flag. “I’m a nurse, so I knew that the fertility journey wasn’t always easy. But calling to make that appointment [with Main Line Fertility] was an emotional milestone to get over,” she admits. Like many couples who struggle with secondary infertility, the Schofields’ weren’t convinced they needed fertility treatments right away. After the third miscarriage, however, they decided to seek help.
“A miscarriage can occur without an identifiable cause,” Glassner explains. “But a lot of times there’s a reason. Just because your first pregnancy was easy doesn’t mean that your second one will be. There’s no harm in seeking care – even if it’s just for reassurance. We have many patients who say, ‘Just tell me everything looks okay and we’ll go home and try,’” he assured. “You shouldn’t overthink it and you shouldn’t waste time [coming in].”
The discovery of genetic abnormalities eventually led to the Schofields’ decision to bypass different treatments and go right for IVF. “We were presented with all of the options, but decided to go straight to IVF with genetic screening,” Liz explains.
“Fertility used to be behind the screen, but now people know their options and it helps them act. Eighty percent of our patients don’t need IVF,” Glassner advises. Other fertility options include everything from tracking a cycle, to fertility medications, and sometimes surgery. Sixty percent of patients at Main Line Fertility have more than one problem that’s causing them to struggle with secondary infertility. “We have to be more than partners,” he stresses. “Every question is valid. If you’re not sure, ask questions. Knowledge is power.”
That transfer of knowledge works both ways with even the senior embryologists in Main Line Fertility’s state of the art, private lab getting involved with the families’ journeys. “They’re not working isolated from patients,” Glassner emphasizes. “They talk with the patients. They get involved.” That level of care and concern is seen in other staff members as well. “Everyone is amazing,” Liz confirms.
Part of that compassion and care comes from Glassner and his staff understanding the struggle patients go through. “I was a fertility baby,” he admits. “I also performed IVF on my wife. So, I understand. Those emotions come back. I understand the pain that comes from losing a pregnancy.”
“Dr. Glassner was an amazing human being throughout it all,” Liz emphasizes. “Without that man and his whole team, I wouldn’t have James.”
Taking a deep breath when asked what advice she would give other women struggling with secondary fertility, she said, “I want to say that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but I know there isn’t always. Try to take care of yourself, because it becomes your identity. You think of yourself as an infertile person who can’t get pregnant. Educate yourself. Advocate. Write everything down. Find a support group. My hope is that everyone who wants to be a parent finds their way to it in whatever way is best for them.”