About 1 in 6 (heterosexual) couples in the U.S. struggle with fertility. Yet, despite how common infertility is, there is still a negative stigma against adults (particularly those in relationships) who do not have children. While some people choose to not have children, dealing with the stigma can be especially difficult for those who are trying to get pregnant, but haven’t yet been successful.
Unfortunately, stigma comes in many forms, and each involves its own set of challenges:
- Societal stigma – How society views people with a stigmatized characteristic (like infertility)
- Personalized stigma – The prejudices a person with a stigmatized characteristic internalize against themselves
- Enacted stigma – Actual instances of discrimination or prejudice against a stigmatized characteristic
When it comes to infertility, all three of these types of stigma are present; and if you’ve been struggling with infertility, you’ve likely experienced at least one of these before too. At Arizona Center for Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility, our goal is to end the stigma around infertility and empower our patients to fight against it as well.
7 Ways to Fight Against the Stigma of Infertility
We know that coping with the stigma of infertility looks different for every individual, but here are seven things you can do to help overcome the stigma on your terms—and feel confident in your current situation and the future ahead.
Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame.
Stigma doesn’t just come from others; personalized stigma is the negative beliefs you hold about yourself because of your difficulty in having a child. You may mistakenly believe that your infertility is a sign of weakness or “bad karma” for something in your past. Seeking counseling, educating yourself about the causes of infertility, and connecting with others who are facing the same challenges can help you overcome this destructive self-judgment.
Remember, you are more than your infertility.
You are not your struggle. Instead of saying “I am infertile,” say “I am dealing with infertility” or “I have yet to get pregnant.” Don’t let infertility define you.
Don’t isolate yourself.
Unfortunately, dealing with infertility can be a very isolating experience. Many people feel alone in their involuntary childlessness because they’re often surrounded by siblings, cousins, and friends all having children. You may be reluctant to tell anyone about it or discuss it, but your partner, family, and friends can offer you support if they know about your current struggles. You might even find out that some of those same individuals also struggled with fertility at one point or another.
Join a support group.
There are several support groups (online and in person) specifically for individuals dealing with infertility; RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association, is a great resource for finding a support group in your area. These provide a forum where you can openly talk about how you’re feeling and what you’re going through with people who are experiencing the same thing as you.
Empower yourself with information.
One of the ways to overcome the stigma is to educate yourself about the negativity behind it as well as the medical treatment options available to you. Shining a light on something “scary” (like infertility) can take away some of the fear—and the stigma—of it. The more you know about your current situation and what’s going on with your body, the more empowered you will feel.
Speak out against the stigma.
The stigma of infertility is so ingrained in our society, that many people don’t realize when they’re discriminating against or making those who are coping with infertility feel uncomfortable. If someone says something insensitive or hurtful, even if it’s unintentional, you can let them know. You don’t have to necessarily share your story, but calling out the stigma—in any way—helps fight it. You may encourage and empower others to rethink the stigma as well.
Many couples put off seeking infertility treatment because they’re reluctant to admit they are dealing with infertility, or they may just be putting it off to try again for “just one more” cycle. Infertility can decrease over time though, especially for uterus owners. The sooner you get treatment, the sooner we can identify what’s causing your infertility and create a plan to move forward and help you finally achieve a pregnancy.
At AZCREI, we do our part to help chip away at the infertility stigma by offering a non-judgmental environment for all our patients, providing patients with thorough information about their options, and normalizing the experience of infertility more generally. If you are currently struggling with infertility and would like to meet with our team, you can schedule an appointment by calling (520) 326-0001 or visiting us online.