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Misconception: Secondary Infertility

FACT: Mother Nature doesn’t operate a reproductive frequent flier program that guarantees you a seat on the next flight to Planet Pregnancy just because you’ve been pregnant before. If she did, there would be about one-third to one-half fewer couples seeking treatment for infertility at any given time.

Secondary infertility—defined as the inability to conceive again or carry a pregnancy to term when you’ve been pregnant in the past (either with the same partner or a new partner)—can leave couples feeling as if they’re stuck in reproductive limbo. Adding to that sense is the fact that the diagnosis is more likely to be in the gray zone rather than black and white, notes James Goldfarb, M.D., director of fertility services at the Cleveland Clinic. “With primary infertility, we’re more likely to find an absolute problem. With secondary infertility, that’s less often the case.”

If you’re experiencing secondary infertility, your doctor will do some reproductive detective work to try to figure out what might have changed since your earlier pregnancy, zeroing in on such factors as maternal weight gain, smoking, and ovulation problems. Your partner will also need to be checked to see if anything has changed.

The good news, according to Dr. Goldfarb, is that secondary infertility is often less difficult to treat than primary infertility, provided, of course, that the reproductive clock hasn’t been ticking for too long since the earlier pregnancy. Aging alone is responsible for some cases of secondary infertility. Dr. Goldfarb’s advice: If in doubt, seek treatment sooner rather than later.