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Infertility and Involuntary Childlessness

a blog by Holly Gregg, March 15, 2013

Infertility is a very important and powerful term. It gives us a medical diagnosis, a definable issue to understand and try to cope with. But for so many who struggle with "infertility", the term itself leaves us feeling incomplete. It doesn't quite encompass what the struggle is really about. It fails to include new surges of pain at a disrupted adoption, a failed cycle, a canceled donor or a lost pregnancy. It leaves out the millions of people struggling month after month who know things aren’t going as planned but haven’t yet met with a doctor to try to find out why. Most importantly, it fails to adequately name what matters most to those who are facing it. Specifically, people with infertility, often don't care about being infertile as much as they care about not having children despite wanting them more than anything. Infertile is second to being involuntarily childless.

I have gone through my fair share of feeling betrayed by my body, being angry at myself, feeling like less of a woman, less of person for being unable to conceive. But conception was always the smallest aspects of the mountain of emotions I felt when struggling with infertility. What mattered to me more was that I wanted to be a mom. I wanted a child to care for, to raise, to clean up after, to kiss, to set curfews for, to cuddle, to love. What broke my heart on every holiday, every weekend outing, every quiet morning wasn't a medical term but the deep feeling of sadness at wanting more than anything a child with whom to experience all the wonderful and everyday joys of life, but having empty arms anyway.

I know there are so many women and men out there who have felt that pain who might not consider themselves "infertile", who don't attend support groups or seek medical care. Maybe they just aren't there yet or don't want to face something so daunting or scary. Maybe they are still just reaching out, searching the internet for information and support. They don’t think of themselves as infertile but they know they want a child and have been unable to have one. They didn’t choose this. They are involuntarily childless. Maybe this is someone you know. Maybe this is you.

“Infertile” can be an intimidating word and many people struggling to conceive can be hesitant to see a fertility doctor or start talking about assisted reproductive technology (ART) because they are not ready for that label. But whether you identify as infertile, involuntarily childless or decide not to define your struggle, what we all have in common is that none of us chose to be faced with any of this and there is support and hope for us all. How do you feel about labels like “infertile” and “involuntarily childless”? Do you identify with either of these? Or do you choose to refrain from labeling your experiences?

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