In honour of National Infertility Awareness Week, let’s talk about the stigma and myths surrounding infertility.
One of the things I repeatedly come back to in my experience of living with infertility is that I never really thought it was a possibility.
We never learned about it in school, certainly not in sex-ed where we were taught that practically just thinking about sex was enough to get you pregnant (it’s not).
I never learned about all the things that might not work or even just how many things have to align to actually conceive. Really, the more you learn about this stuff the more it seems a miracle any of us actually exist.
And I can’t help but think this all comes down to taboo and social stigma.
Here’s the thing about being infertile and going through infertility treatments; nobody talks about it. Because that would mean talking about sex and there is just way too much stigma and awkwardness talking about that.
It’s seen as an inappropriate topic and therefore you feel very isolated and unable to talk to others about what you are going through.
And yet, we know the statistics, at least 1 in 6 couples are struggling to conceive (canada.ca). So, we are anything but alone in this experience and it should be normal to talk about it.
We have so many weird ideas about infertility, we tell people things like “You’re a beautiful couple, you’re going to make pretty babies.” as if beauty has some impact on people’s fertility or their desire to have children.
People also assume that if you aren’t getting pregnant there must be something going wrong in the bedroom: erectile dysfunction, female displeasure, low libido, or just bad sex. And of course this is also not true. You can have an amazing sex life and still not get pregnant.
Another common assumption is that only unhealthy or older people are infertile, but again false, you can be young and otherwise healthy and still be infertile.
If you do ever somehow enter into a conversation about infertility, often with older relatives, beware of unsolicited advice. You will be bombarded with tips & tricks, old wives tales, and otherwise unhelpful and sometimes downright hurtful advice.
Things like, “just have fun!”, “just relax and it will happen”, “these things take time”, “it will happen when it’s meant to”, or “it will be fine, you’ll see”.
Let me tell you, if someone has overcome the social stigma to talk to you about being infertile it’s because
1. they are not having fun
2. they can no longer “just relax”
3. they have likely waited longer than you realize
4. they are questioning if they are meant to be a parent, and
5. they are worried that it won’t in fact be fine.
And none of the responses above are doing anything to support this struggling person. Even if they are well meaning.
Overall, I just wish there could be so much more conversation about infertility. It would take away so much of the taboo, mystery, and would help heal a lot of people including the families of couples experiencing infertility. We could even prevent future pain because people could go into these situations with more awareness and resources than just trying to navigate it on their own.
Everyone should know about all of the possibilities when it comes to their fertility and reproductive lives.
There are a million and one myths and stigmas surrounding infertility and so I can’t include them all here in this short post. But, I’d love to hear from you if you’ve experienced some of these things or your own experiences. Or, if you aren’t infertile, hopefully it was informative to read about for your own potential future experience or maybe the experience of someone close to you.
To put it simply, let’s have more conversations (and supportive ones) about infertility.