Lerato and Desmond never imagined it would be so difficult to fall pregnant again, the struggle of secondary infertility proved having a second baby would not be so easy.
Lerato’s daughter Sylvia had been asking for a baby brother or sister for years. Every time they passed a baby, she would ask for a sibling. They eventually started considering that maybe adoption would be a better option.
Sylvia was born in 2016 and Lerato and her husband Desmond had had no problems getting pregnant with her. Their little girl was two years old and they were ready to add to their family. Surely this was a wish they could easily make come true.
Those thoughts started to change when so many attempts had passed by and by September 2020 with no hint of a baby, even after a year of no fertility medications and another year that included three rounds of Clomid they did with Lerato’s gynecologist. She had been experiencing longer than usual cycles and was getting a little worried. Lerato had even taken a herbal supplement for a year, but that seemed to have messed up her cycle even more. The couple then decided that it was time to find more answers.
They made an appointment with a Fertility specialist in Johannesburg to explore what could be hindering their efforts to fall pregnant again. “Our number one question was why is it so difficult this time, yet was so easy with Sylvia?” said Lerato. She was then given the most heartbreaking, yet heartwarming, answer: “Secondary infertility, but I’m going to do everything I can to fix it.’”
They finally had an answer, but overcoming it would be a challenge.
The inability to conceive a second child after a previous baby in not uncommon
Secondary fertility, or the inability to conceive after a previous baby, is not uncommon. Couples and women who have had a previous pregnancy often think of themselves as having “normal” fertility, but this isn’t always the case. Secondary infertility can be frustrating and emotionally taxing.
Patients who find it difficult conceiving a second child have a very different and challenging burden to bear. They often don’t think of themselves as “infertile” since they have conceived in the past. Unfortunately for some, having a child once is not a guarantee that you will be eternally fertile.
Why some couples experience difficulty conceiving a second child can be complex and an underlying cause may not be immediately evident. Age may be part of the equation since many women experiencing secondary infertility are in their 30s, a time when egg quality and quantity begin to decline. Structural or medical issues with the woman’s reproductive system that have arisen since the first pregnancy could also hinder pregnancy. Lifestyle and environmental changes that have taken place since the first pregnancy may cause problems with the sperm. All of these can lead to problems getting pregnant a second time.
The couple’s doctor then advised them to do some routine testing that would help rule out possible causes for their inability to get pregnant. Lerato was scheduled for numerous tests to get an idea of her remaining egg supply, and a two-hour glucose tolerance test that would uncover possible insulin resistance and might explain her sometimes erratic cycles. Desmond was tested as well to ensure that his sperm was healthy. All of their tests came back normal.
Lerato and Desmond then decided to follow his advice by trying intrauterine insemination’s, commonly used as a first-line treatment for infertility that is hard to pinpoint. “After the first round failed,” says Lerato, “we remained hopeful that the next round would work.” but the second one failed to produce a pregnancy either. “This hit us hard,” said Lerato. “I knew that mentally I couldn’t survive many more heartbreaks. So, Desmond and I agreed that we would try one more round.”
For the third IUI round, they had increased Lerato’s cocktail of fertility medication in anticipation that if her ovaries did not respond well, she could be easily converted to an IVF cycle.
Third time’s the charm
After an IUI comes the dreaded two-week-wait, the requisite 14 days of waiting before taking a pregnancy test. “Each time I felt like I was being told ‘I’ve got this. Let me do this.’” On day 14, Lerato took a home pregnancy test, hopeful. She saw the faintest of lines, so faint that she thought she was imagining it. She took another test, same result, barely a line. She called her doctors to let them know and they scheduled her to come in two days later. She and Desmond were ecstatic when her pregnancy was confirmed, but they kept the news secret for several more weeks to make sure the baby was healthy and her hormone levels were where they were supposed to be
But the secret didn’t last long! Sylvia, so excited to be a big sister, announced it to his whole class before they had told anyone else. “In the future, if I get pregnant again, Sylvia will be the last to know,” jokes Lerato, but for now, they are all just a happier, bigger family with the arrival of baby brother Benjamin born in July 2022.