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Words CAN Hurt: Infertility's Top 5 Cruel Words


a blog by Ellen S. Glazer, LICSW, Mar. 25, 2010

When I was young, kids used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If only this were true when it comes to infertility. In fact, there are some words – and expressions -- that pop up all too often in the world of infertility and when they do, they sting. Here is my list of the “Top 5 Stinging Words”:

1. Just
The word “just” is just fine as long as it is not attached, as it so often is, to the word “adopt.” “Why don’t you just adopt?” people will ask. When they do, they make it all sound so easy. “Just adopt” suggests that one can simply leave infertility treatment without a care and move on to adoption. It also implies that the adoption process is simple and cost free. Nowadays, people are also hearing, “Why don’t you just use donated eggs?” Here, again, “just” serves to diminish, to over-simplify, to convince you that the speaker just doesn’t undertsand.

2. Disclosure
Disclosure is also a fine word on its own, but all too often, it gets connected to egg donation. Now according to the dictionary on my computer, “disclosure” means, “The act of making secret information known.” What sort of message does this give people who build their families through gamete donation? I think it conveys the sense that gamete donation is a secret — something to be ashamed of. I urge my clients to always distinguish between privacy and secrecy and, if they really feel that something should be kept a secret, they need to consider whether it is right for them.

3. Poor Responder
As if it is not bad enough to deal with infertility, there are people who get slapped with the ignominious label, “Poor Responder.” It makes you feel great, doesn’t it? I wonder why physicians and nurses don’t say, “We wish we had more effective drugs,” or “Our treatments for your infertility are not working as well as we’d hoped.” Instead, they do what happens all too often, they blame the victim.

4. Incompetent Cervix
Infertility has never exactly been considered good for self esteem. Anyone going through treatment feels a sense of helplessness. Women, in particular, tend to blame themselves, looking back over their lives in an effort to identify a reason for their current suffering. Whether or not they find their “smoking gun,” infertile women feel that they — and their bodies — have failed. Conceiving and carryng a baby to term should be “doing what comes naturally.” Some women are dealt the added blow of having their sense of failure confirmed when their physicians declare, “You have an incompetent cervix.”

5. Chemical Pregnancy
Most women who have what is so delightfully known as a “chemical pregnancy” never even heard this term before it’s applied to them. There they are, so very eager to get pregnant and stay pregnant and they learn they have a “yes but” pregnancy. Instead of acknowledging a longed-for life that began and ended, physicians minimize the impact of this pregnancy loss, by almost always insisting that it be preceded by the word “chemical.”

I hope fertility doctors and nurses read this and realize that the words they use can -- and do -- hurt us.

What other words have you heard that you’d add to the list? Post them below!

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Comments (2)

I'm completely with you on the words "just" and "disclosure." I think that anyone who has gone through the process of adoption, or is close to someone who has, understands that the word "just" doesn't belong in close proximity to it. As for disclosure, I would no more "disclose" to my daughter that she was conceived via a donor egg than I would "disclose" that her grandmother has brown hair — it's simply a fact about her heritage.

As for the medical terms, my feelings are more mixed. I've long since accepted that some medical terms sound a bit odd, or even perhaps slightly offensive, when viewed through the lens of social discourse. I had to laugh, late in my pregnancy, when my obstetrician declared that I had an "adequate pelvis"...and I laughed, because this intended-to-be-encouraging comment would certainly be seen as "damning with faint praise" if it came from a spouse or a friend. I do understand, of course, that it's easier to laugh at a positive statement than a negative one...though it wasn't the words stung me when I learned that I am myself a "poor responder."

Incompetent cervix? Ha! Try being told you have an infantile uterus! An outdated term according to the MD but it fits, according to him.

I had to laugh...

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