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Infertility Isn’t...Something to Be Ashamed Of

a blog by Holly Gregg, April 26, 2013

Quite often those facing infertility feel alone- afraid to share their embarrassment at being unable to conceive as naturally and easily as they believe everyone around them can. It is more than a little intimidating to share something as personal, emotional and trying as infertility with even one’s closest friends and family. When my husband and I began trying to conceive, it wasn’t exactly something we advertised, it was a personal decision and we figured we would tell everyone once there was a baby on the way to tell them about. But when months and then years went by without a pregnancy to announce, we began to feel more uncertain and more alone.

That loneliness is all too real for many couples. Although 7.3 million people face infertility, the unfortunate reality is that infertility is still often seen as a taboo subject. This stigma can make an already difficult infertility diagnosis feel embarrassing or disgraceful as it is quite often an issue no one talks about. On the other hand, people praise often someone’s manliness or womanhood as means of congratulating them on a pregnancy. This can make women and men who have had trouble conceiving feel ashamed because their bodies have failed them. The sense of feeling like less of a man or woman for being unable to conceive can be overwhelming and lead to a loss of self-worth.

The sense of failure and subsequent shame doesn’t end at biology however. Individuals often struggle with a sense of inadequacy believing that they have failed their partners, their families and their communities. The shame that comes with infertility can be made even worse by well-meaning advice that seemingly blames the couple for their difficulty conceiving by insisting that all they need to do to get pregnant is stop trying so hard and “just relax”. Each unsuccessful attempt pregnancy assaults one’s self-esteem and contributes to increased feelings of defectiveness. Add to that the misinformation and sensationalism surrounding many common fertility treatments and it is easy to understand why so many people experiencing infertility feel such guilt and shame.

What I have learned though, is that infertility isn’t something to be ashamed of. It is a medical condition, not an indicator of who I am as a person. Just as no one chooses cancer, no one chooses the pain, the heartbreak or the loss of infertility. This week marks National Infertility Awareness Week which is an important time to not only remind ourselves that we have nothing to be ashamed of, but to educate others on this as well. Infertility is a disease that affects both male and female reproductive systems with nearly equal frequency. It affects people of all ages, races and nationalities. Being infertile does not make me less of a woman or unworthy as a human being.

While it is often a personal struggle, it is not one that must be faced alone. For many individuals, reaching out and talking about their infertility helps to free them from the shame they had been feeling. Often people are surprised to learn that others they know have had difficulty building their families as well. Because 1 in 8 couples experience infertility, there is a good chance that a neighbor, colleague, cousin or even a close friend can relate. Even if no one else you know is going through these things, simply breaking the silence and raising awareness about infertility can be incredibly empowering and have a powerful impact on eliminating the guilt, fear and shame.

Comments (1)

This is a great post and so true. I recently wrote one all about the shame of infertility And it's true, I feel ashamed and I wish I didn't. I really like your take on why we shouldn't be ashamed and it's really made me see a different side. I hope that I will become more open about my problems in future, I'm not quite there yet, but I will, one step at a time.

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