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Defining Infertility


a blog by S.I.F. October 25, 2010

There are few terms in the English language that are quite as vague as the word “infertility.”

That singular word spans across literally hundreds of conditions.

But because we tend to speak in terms of infertility rather than diagnosis, the general public is oftentimes confused about how all-encompassing infertility really is.

And it is from that confusion that you get the misconception that all infertility can be cured by simply relaxing, or giving up, or adopting.

Everyone knows someone (or knows someone who knows someone) who was able to conceive when they did one of those three things. There’s a reference point in their brains of someone whose infertility was cured by simply following those guidelines. And if it worked for them, clearly it could work for you.

After all, you’re both infertile, right?

It's Frustrating

This is where it gets frustrating. Even in explaining how truly damaged endometriosis has left my insides, I still come across people who simply just don’t get it. People who hear the term “infertility” and equate me to their friend of a friend who got pregnant only after giving up.

They assume that the same could happen for me if I just stopped trying — without understanding the physical impossibilities of such an event.

It can be maddening, being compared to every other infertile in the world.

Should We Define by Diagnosis?

Which begs the question; should we be speaking in terms of conditions rather than using the blanket statement of “infertility” to describe our predicament?


The problem with a diagnosis-centered way of speaking is that the average person won’t have any idea what you’re talking about when you mention PCOS, or azoospermia or low ovarian reserve.

And don’t even try to describe “unexplained infertility.” Most of us don’t get what that’s all about, so we could never expect them to.

Educating about Infertility

On the flip side, every single person you come into contact with has likely heard of infertility in some aspect or another. They may have an oversimplified idea of what it actually means, but at least they understand it.

At least it saves you from a 30-minute conversation in which you attempt to drill into someone’s head the true intricacies of your condition.

Of course, there’s also something to be said for educating. For defining what infertility means to you, and ensuring that those around you understand how unique and individualized your case is inside that vast umbrella of a word.

Because the truth is that even if relaxing is what will get you pregnant one day, there’s no way of determining that for sure now. No reason to believe that adopting could cause an embryo to make it through your damaged tubes or that giving up could lead to your finally ovulating.

And being equated to those rare cases in which infertility was cured in such ways only works to discount you, your plight and what your body is currently experiencing.

We are all “infertile," and it’s common and even normal to use that as the defining word. But there are a thousand different branches that spring out of that word, leading to a thousand different reasons for how we wound up there.

And perhaps there’s something to be gained from speaking in terms of those branches rather than attempting to all squeeze into the confines of one word.

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Comments (1)

Do you have resources specific to women that are college aged that may not be trying to conceive yet but are wanting to learn more about infertility and how it COULD affect them down the road, etc.? I want to put together a learning session and I need resources. Thanks.

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