Should we use the word “infertility” or is it offensive?

Sep 05, 2022

I had a conversation with someone recently about using the word “infertility”.  They hated hearing it, using it when referring to themselves, and felt offended when anyone else used it.  I’ve also had a few nasty comments on my posts over on Instagram, where I use this word.

And as my intention is never to offend anyone, or make them feel uncomfortable, I have decided to reflect on its use in my community.  Because one look at my Instagram profile, and well, I actually use it a LOT.

In truth, the word INFERTILITY is harsh.  It does make you cringe a little.  But for me, the fact that it makes you wince means that it encompasses how my fertility struggles felt.  Infertility was a beast.  I hated every moment of it.  It was an asshole.  It stole so much from me.  It’s the most hideous thing I have ever experienced…….so I find this word perfect.  And this is why, when I’m talking about his soul-destroying journey, I refer to it (and will continue to do so) as “infertility”.

Of course, this is only my opinion – this blog isn’t about saying what the right or wrong terminology is when we’re talking about fertility, however I feel it needs exploring.  Which begs the question - why do we hate the word so much?  Or is this conversation not even about this little word – is it more about the experience or the stigma we put around it?

And the truth is that there is so much stigma around our value as women, if we don’t have children.  Society dictates that as a woman, this is our higher purpose in life. Our bodies are built to bear and raise children, so if we don’t, it’s seen as a failure.

Infertility (and the use of that word), is seen as shameful. It’s spoken about in hushed tones in the office lunch room.  I used to feel like there was something wrong with ME as a person, because I wasn’t able to get pregnant.  I had to enlist someone else to have a baby for us.  As if IVF isn’t embarrassing enough – where we have to ask for help to get pregnant; surrogacy was even worse (for me, that is). But what is wrong with getting help?

I think part of why we’re offended with the word infertility is also part denial. It’s like we’re saying – I will not use that word or acknowledge it.  If I don’t say it, it doesn’t exist. 

You don’t have to embrace the word, or the diagnosis.  But I find that when you resist acknowledging there is a problem, you don’t get the help and support you need.  Take me for instance – I was in such denial that I was suffering as a result of our problems, that I was at rock bottom. But I would not admit that I was not ok.  So, I travelled in silence, pretending to everyone else around me (and myself), that I was ok.

But the simple truth is that there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to infertility – I know this is easier for me to say it, than for you to believe it.

Infertility is a disease.  Yes, you can google that.  IT IS A DISEASE. The World Health Organization states that infertility is a disease of the male or female reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.

But when we suffer from infertility, we take it on as a personal flaw or even a character trait. It becomes synonymous of who we are.  We feel it deep in our core.  But if it’s a disease, why don’t we look at it similar to cancer (no – I’m not saying it’s the same thing)?  You would never blame someone for getting cancer, would you?  You would never try to point the finger at one partner and ask whose fault it is, would you?  Yet this is what we do with infertility.

And if it’s a disease, perhaps we can use this to dial down the shame we feel, or the stigma attached to it. Would that make us feel a little more comfortable using this word?

You would never say that you ARE cancer, would you?  So perhaps we need to reframe how we speak about infertility?  You are not infertile.  You have been diagnosed with infertility.  Or you are fighting infertility. Or you are struggling with infertility.  It is not who you are.  Nor is it your fault.

We can disconnect from it, but still acknowledge at the same time.  Just like we do with our feelings.  Instead of saying I am angry, we can say, I feel angry.  Or we can switch from I am scared, to I feel scared. 

Infertility may change us, but it doesn’t have to become us. You are still you.

Imagine how much lighter we would feel if we stopped wasting our energy on denying the disease, faking it with those around us, and actually got the support we needed?

And while we’re on this topic, lets touch on the other side.  What if you already have a child, or get pregnant, but keep miscarrying? Does that mean you’re suffering from infertility? According to the WHO definition, it may exclude you because they only talk about achieving pregnancy, not holding a baby in your arms.

Can you still claim it?  Well, in my opinion, only your opinion matters.  It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  If you want to belong to the infertility community (which in my experience, is such a supportive, compassionate and inspiring community to be a part of), you can.  We will welcome you with open arms.

I still classify myself very much a part of the infertility community, even though we have two children and are no longer trying to conceive.  Because I fought to become a mum.  I struggled to conceive.  I suffered at the hands of it.  And I’m bloody proud of kicking its ass (even though it kicked mine for too many years).

So, is Infertility a dirty word?  Not in my opinion.  It’s a fact.  A diagnosis. A disease. It’s a beast. It’s a community. And while you don’t have to embrace it, you don’t have to deny it either. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Because you have done nothing to deserve this.  It is not your fault.  And this is not who you are.

You are not infertility.  You are f*cking amazing.

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