Health: Secondary Infertility

After having one child you assume that the second conception will be plain sailing, well this isn’t always the case… Emma Oliver talks about her experience of secondary infertility.


Looking back, the hardest moment through all of my secondary infertility hell, was when my mother-in-law (stood right beside me), said to my two-year-old, ‘Ah poor little Esme, when is Mummy going to give you a sibling?’ I mustn’t forget to mention that she knew about my miscarriage history.

That cruel question was answered every month by my body, and hope would be replaced with disappointment.

Disappointment, anxiety, failure, loss, grief: these are all words that are associated with Secondary Infertility (also referred to as SI). An issue that is for the most part unexplained, and now affects as many as one in five couples.

Zita West, a fertility consultant and midwife who takes a holistic approach to reproductive health, told me why she thinks this is.

“The main reason is age; women are having babies later and this has a big impact on conceiving, for life’s events take over. Women are returning to work, they’re up through the night with the baby, perhaps still breastfeeding. Energy is required to get pregnant and women are exhausted.

“There are medical reasons for Secondary Infertility too,” says West. “For example, if a woman has suffered a miscarriage, is anaemic, has fibroids, polycystic ovaries or thyroid issues. These can all have an effect.”

“Also, what a lot of women don’t realise is that after giving birth, it can take up to 18 months for your body to return to normal; to finally see clear of the baby fog.”

I concur. My little one is 18 months old and I am literally reclaiming clarity now. More than ever I find that much needed ‘me’ time (incidentally a pre-requisition of optimum fertility) a long way down the subconscious stack of things I have to accomplish. Ha! I’m sat here wondering how long it would take to fall with baby number three? Forget it, I know to quit while I’m ahead; how lucky I am to have two. But is it down to luck? West would argue not. And she’s perfectly placed to do so.

For although Secondary infertility is on the rise, at her central London clinic, West has helped hundreds of couples a year to get pregnant naturally, many having tried for years before without success. So why is it a natural approach can be all that’s needed?

“Because Secondary Infertility is often caused by stress and the pressures a woman puts on herself. Wanting a particular age gap between babies for example,” explains West.

I can identify with this, although I’ve since realised it’s complete poppycock. The perfect age gap doesn’t exist. In truth, your children are either going to get along, or not. Everything else is inconsequential.

Everyone knows someone who’s fallen pregnant after stopping trying, or fallen pregnant naturally after having a baby through IVF. In short, fallen pregnant when all desperation has been removed. So it would seem remaining stress-free and positive can affect your chances of conceiving. West agrees.

“Yes, the hardest thing for my clients is the uncertainty. Not being in control and often having no confidence in their body’s ability to conceive; but this is just a case of learning how to manage those feelings; finding the right mindset.”

Of course that’s easier said than done. Not conceiving is depressing. The stash of home test kits; ugly. The thought that you already have a child, what gives you the right to feel upset; confusing.

Having Esme, I knew we were incredibly blessed, but in some ways it made things harder, for I didn’t understand why I was unable to conceive so easily again or indeed, retain the pregnancy each time I did.

I was considered ‘old’ when pregnant with Esme at age 38. So by 40, I was positively ‘elderly’ according to the medical profession. Most certainly my body was producing far less healthy eggs by then. In fact, because of my age, I only had a 10-15% chance of conceiving with my own eggs.

I had tests with the gynae. So did my other half, who was delighted and seemed to strut around the house for the rest of the week after his result (was it my imagination or was his chest really puffed out?).

I went on progesterone and baby aspirin (to help prevent miscarriage), but I didn’t want to take it as far as Clomid (the egg stimulating drug) or indeed want any further assistance medically under the NHS until I’d fully explored the alternative therapy avenue. Foolish, some may say. At my age, that would be pushing it…

… But because of my age, IVF would only be offered privately (fair enough), and then the success rate for the over-forties is minimal. Looking to natural therapies felt right to me. Together with a time restriction.

West disagrees with the time restriction, as setting a limit is introducing yet more pressure, but for me it was necessary. I needed a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if that tunnel was going to take me in a different direction to the one I’d first hoped. I gave myself six more months, determined to throw absolutely everything at it, so I could look back without doubt.

I changed my diet, cut back on coffee and alcohol, started up supplements and homeopathy. I had Manual Lymphatic Drainage to help circulate hormones. And I saw a cranial osteopath, who I believed helped me enormously.

I didn’t get to try acupuncture for, brilliantly, in the sixth month of my allocated time, I conceived. However, studies have shown a link to its aiding conception (it is said to help with blood flow to the uterus, decrease stress hormones and generally help you unwind).

Also recommended are hypnotherapy, reflexology and meditation. In short anything that can help with relaxation. Which reminds me, I’ll have to book in for a treatment next time I’m expecting a visit from the mother-in-law.

I realise how fortunate I am to have a sibling for Esme Grace, and I thank my lucky stars, oh and my omega 3s, for having little Sofia Faith in my life.

If you too hope to overcome SI naturally, here’s how you can help yourself and increase your chances of conceiving:

• First thing’s first, get your other half checked out. Then if you haven’t looked up Zita West, do so: She has written several books on fertility and conception, which I found particularly helpful.
• Address your diet – make sure you’re eating lots of omega 3, protein and anti-oxidants.
• Take care, take supplements, L-arginine, amino acids, multi-vits, and folic acid. And if you have a history of miscarriage, consider junior aspirin (75mg).
• I took the homeopathic remedy Agnus Castus (anything that affects your hormones can affect your ability to conceive) although Zita West did not think this would help everyone.
• MLD is great for de-toxing and helping flush through hormones. The clinic I used was Holistic Haslemere:

Cranial osteopathy, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, reflexology and meditation are all recommended to help de-stress. Oh and don’t forget – you will not conceive without it, so enjoy lots of sex!

You can catch up with Emma through her blog where you will find more on MLD, cranial osteopathy and homeopathy, as well as her stories on pregnancy, loss, birth and babies. To follow LIFE AS IT IS log on to