Being Odd Woman Out: The Curse of Infertility

Dawn Davenport


Infertility makes us different from our friends

Does your infertility make you feel alone in the crowd–like you’re on the outside looking in?

Most of us hang out with people of similar age, education level, interests, and life stage.  Think back– almost as if by osmosis, people in your group of friends stopped serial dating and began to get in serious relationships? Then the wave of marriages hit, followed by the buying of houses. Heck, I’ve even seen that friend groups start acquiring pets around the same general time. I don’t mean that we are all in lock step, but we tend to progress through our life stages with our peer group…until something sets us apart. For some that “something” is infertility.

Being Excluded

One of the hardest things is when your friends start having kids, and although you are trying, it simply isn’t happening. At first it isn’t a big deal. The friend that has the first child often reports feeling like odd woman out—she can’t go out on Saturday night because she can’t find a sitter, or the baby has a cold, or she’s too tired from lack of sleep.

Then the tide begins to turn: pretty soon two, then three of the group have babies. Rather than going to the newest hot restaurant, they suggest an early evening at someone’s home so the babies can be included and no sitter required. The moms schedule a Saturday morning at the park with the kids. A Mom and Toddler playgroup is formed where all the best conversations are had and gossip is shared. And where does this leave you—the sole unintended outlier? On the outside looking in.

Often, especially at first, you’ll be invited to the early evening family gatherings and park outings. But slowly, even with the best of intentions, you will be left behind. Your world is focused on ovulation predictor kits, infertility clinics, and your next IVF treatment. Their world is focused on breastfeeding and getting their kid to sleep through the night.

Excluding Yourself

Sometimes it’s not your friends who are doing the excluding. Sometimes it is you.

In order to maintain your sanity, the longer you try unsuccessfully to get pregnant, you sometimes have to step away from your fertile friends. You have to avoid the baby showers, family gatherings, and talk of all things babies. Infertility causes an open wound that needs protection.

Finding the Balance

We all need a peer group. Even the best of marriages need outside stimulation to avoid social stagnation. The key is finding a new group, while at the same time not permanently alienating your fertile friends.  Not always an easy balance to strike.

Are you excluding yourself or being excluded from your peer group because of your infertility? Have you been able to maintain friendships with the blessedly fertile?

Image credit: Sheila Sund
Originally published in 2013. Updated in 2015.

10/08/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 33 Comments

33 Responses to Being Odd Woman Out: The Curse of Infertility

  1. Pingback: It’s not you, it’s me.. | This Life As We Know It

  2. Avatar Beth Cottam says:

    I can remember I friend calling me to let me know she was expecting. Her message sat on my machine for a week before I had the courage to call her back and congratulate her. Before we adopted out first I was scared to think that maybe being a mom would never happen. So being around couple who CHOOSE to be child free was just as painful. Because I didn’t want to be forced into that life style. I also sometime struggle with feeling left out when friends unexpectedly get pregnant or start having three or four kids and we struggle with the choices every time. I found though as hard as it is to do (and I’m a bit hypocritical here) but being open and honest with your friends and peers can be so helpful. They are usually very supportive. Thanks for the blog.

  3. Avatar Anon AP says:

    I know, right?

    We can’t take “credit” for it, but not all of it is accidental. We don’t like people who are toxic and judgy, and we try not to bring them into our lives. I know you can’t always predict that or control, but some people are FB friends, some people are “grab a coffee” friends, and some people are the ones with whom you really share your life. Where we live there are a lot of transplants from different states and countries. For many people around here their friends fill family roles, but with the side benefit of being able to punt the nasty people out so you don’t have to deal with them at Thanksgiving. 😉

    Lily, I’m so sorry you’re facing that. It sounds heartwrenching. It’s a bit out there as an idea, but do you think you might be able to do a local Meetup of people in similar situations to find a sympathetic social group? This site makes it pretty easy to just sort of put a call out there: Or maybe some of the Creatingafamily folks in similar situations are local to you and could meet to just chat?

  4. Avatar Lily says:

    Dawn and AP Anon: Thanks for the ideas and support. So helpful – just the connecting here lifted my spirits. Will def check out the facebook support group and brainstorm ways for local connections.

  5. Avatar lily says:

    First, a shout out to Christy. I am 49, single and looking into fost adopt and happy to see your post. Have been feeling sad lately about being “again” out of being out of step with my friends who are my peers in regards to the age of the children we have (ie: their children are all the same age — preteens mostly and i’m considering younger children). At the same time, I don’t want to feel sorry for myself (sad is ok, but not sorry, I guess). I am seeing now feeling “odd woman out” feeling has really had a huge impact on my self esteem since my late 20’s when my friends started to marry and have kids. It has gotten better over the years. And, after trying different strategies (not being around my peers AT ALL with families; forcing myself to do so when too vulnerable), my choice now is to try to do the “balance” thing. As of now, I’m glad to feel connected to my peers and have some close relationships with their children when I am up to it. That said, it is still painful and I now see how critical it is to also make a even more serious concerted effort to find others in my situation. Today in particular has been hard: I literally just left a religious service I go to which has lunch afterwards some times. I looked in the room and could feel my shoulds and smile droop –the people/women I know and like at this service in my peer group were all at one table with their kids talking about schools. it was jam packed and I could not bring myself to pull up a chair. Felt like I did at 15 at a new school in the lunchroom. Thanks for listening and sorry so long — easier for me to write long than short for some reason.

  6. Avatar Anon AP says:

    Jenny, we live in an area and are in an age group with a similar dynamic. Lots and lots of deliberately child-free couples. I know quite a few folks who tried to get pregnant, had some difficulty, and then made the choice to just let it lie and focus on the joy in their lives without kids. Others just knew from the get go that raising kids wasn’t their bag. And as you might expect, we also know people who have struggled with IF and either had success growing families through ART or adoption and others who are still struggling. We have friends who would like to be in strong relationships and to be parents but just haven’t found the right partner, and we also have friends who became parents unexpectedly, both single parents and couples.

    We’ve been really lucky as we’ve moved from enjoying just being a couple to struggling with IF to adoption to parenthood that our friends have been supportive and that we’ve all been able to adjust socially. No one expects us to be at happy hour these days (and we don’t mind not being invited anymore), but those friends aren’t offended when we get together with our baby pal group for a park day. And everyone is up for backyard parties or potlucks or brunch at a local diner. For the most part people just nod understandingly if someone just can’t be a part of an event for either emotional or time-constraint reasons.

    Within each friend group we talk about different struggles, some of which we recognize in ourselves and some we don’t. Usually we can avoid the goofy game of oneupmanship of woe. So, yeah…we feel pretty lucky in all this. Strangers can be a pain in the booty, but our friends have been amazing.

  7. Avatar Cynthia says:

    I am an older mom and can still find the common ground with younger moms. When your child gets to be school age volunteering can help to feel included; and if you attend a church or use a nursery at a sports club you can find other moms to connect with.

  8. Avatar Christy says:

    I am about to enter another level of “odd woman out” because I am a 48 year-old woman who has been attempting to adopt in one form or another for over 3 years now. I am now considering using donor egg insemination, which will put me at 49 years of age when my first and only child is born (I don’t think any of us plan it this way).
    I’ve heard it can be extremely isolating because you are really stepping outside of a normal life stage, and it can be hard to form friendships with moms in their 30’s or even early 40’s. So, I’m really hoping that I can connect with others even though my situation will be very different.

    • There are some online groups for “older” moms. Mom at Last, for example. In person groups will be harder to come by, but you’ll find common ground with all the parents on your child because you will have shared experiences.

  9. Avatar Jenny says:

    We have a lot of friends who have planned deliberately never to have children, honestly, so this has not happened to me. We have a higher proportion of child-having friends now that we have children, because we make friends with people THROUGH our children, but the base population of old friends we had before kids were almost entirely child-free and only a few of them have had children since. This might be because we are in our early 30s, so some of the child-free friends will probably cross over sometime in the next decade… but many people are really excited about NOT having children of their own (and instead focusing on being an awesome presence in the lives of their siblings’ and friends’ children), and I don’t think that is going to change. I think that view seems more prevalent among people who have pursued a high degree of education and are career driven, and also among urban hipsters.

    • Jenny, that’s interesting. I suppose because of where I live and/or the fact that I have a large family, I didn’t realize there were that many who were actively choosing a child free life. I’m always happy for people to know what they want and go for it!

  10. Avatar Erika says:

    I believe there are those in the church who are posers and are warming the pews for various reasons. The gospel makes it clear that we are all broken in various ways and it is only because of the gracious act of Jesus dying on the cross that makes any of his children able to claim they belong to him. Where do these false judges get the right to determine who is worthy! They are goats not sheep! MJ Abraham blew it, yes we can sympathize with him, but he tried to meet his own needs instead if trusting God. That is always sin in my book. I’m so thankful for the good news because I am like Abraham in so many ways.

  11. Avatar Greg says:


    From my own personal experience as an infertile man I can say that I 100% identify with this. With the exception of a few most of my friends have children. I feel very left out and to a certain extent feel outcasted. Also this has come up in my professional life being left out of conversations when people talk about their children in the office and at work gatherings. They are constant reminders for me of what isn’t.


    Thank you so much for writing about his topic you’ve given me something to write about.

  12. Erika, [goats]–made me giggle.

  13. Avatar MJ says:

    One more thing…I am in the process of becoming a minister myself in the same denomination as my husband. I have not disclosed our IF status to the committee who is interviewing me now to determine my fitness for ministry. My reasons:one, because in a lot of ways it is none of their business, two-because I am trying to be protective of my husband’s privacy regarding this issue since the problem is on his end of the equation (telling our story on an internet blog/FB notwithstanding), and three-I am afraid that this committee will assume that just because I am uneasy around babies, children and young families because of my IF at this point in time, I will not be fit to be a minister in a congregation at any point in the immediate future. I do not believe this at all-it is my hope that our struggles with IF will actually make me a BETTER minister than I would have been if we had not had these struggles because I will hopefully be more welcoming to those in my midst who are going through the same thing. Yes I find being around babies and young children hard-I probably always will, even if my husband and I do become parents in one of the remaining ways-but it is getting a little easier than it was in the earlier days of our journey. Sometimes it depends on the day. I worry though that those who know the ins and outs of ministry might judge me as unfit for ministry because this disability keeps me from being able to relate to folks who are fertile. We’ll have to see, I guess. I have talked about my experience with IF without making it personal-I spoke about what I have learned about it from “some friends of mine” who are going through it. Keeping it in the 3rd person allows me to talk freely about what I have learned about IF without risking any future career aspirations that I still have. When the committee asked me my opinion on the story of Abraham (a biblical character who suffers from IF who I have a soft spot in my heart for for that very reason), I had to talk about IF, but I think I managed to figure out how to do it safely without incriminating myself. I just asked the rhetorical question-how would anyone suffering with IF respond in the same situation? How can we condemn Abraham for doing all he could to become a parent? Don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes-or sandals in this case. Fingers crossed that IF will not stand in the way of me becoming a minister in my own right. Healing is happening, but it’s a process like any other

  14. Avatar MJ says:

    BTW-I believe that a REAL church is one that makes room for EVERYONE, no exceptions or conditions, and one that upholds and welcomes ALL kinds of families to be a part of what they are about.

  15. Avatar MJ says:

    I agree with your comments 100% Dawn, but the sad reality of churches is that the majority of them measure their success by the number of children who are in their Sunday School and their youth programs. Ministers are expected to be present to the building of these programs-either through populating the programs with children of their own (the preferred method for some) or by being active in all aspects of these programs. Sure there are people in congregations who suffer from IF, but many of them leave because they find the overemphasis on families with children and children related activities to be too much for them. And since IF sufferers usually suffer in silence within community, they usually go unnoticed. It’s harder to step back (or step out) if you are the clergy person who is also IF-sometimes you have no choice. This is what my husband struggles with-having to be in the presence of children while we are struggling to deal with and overcome this condition. He has questioned his presence in the church himself due to this issue. “Coming out” to his congregation a couple of years ago has helped a little-at least people know what we are dealing with, and those who have been supportive have made it easier to cope in situations that are hard on the heart (both his and mine). But there are still people who don’t get why it is so hard for him to be “everything to everyone”, and I sometimes wonder if people might question whether an IF minister (male or female) has what it takes personally and professionally to carry out their many responsibilities-especially the child and young family related ones. I hope it is not true, and I believe strongly in the people who understand and support us in this struggle, but I can’t help but wonder…… Education and openness from those who know IF inside out can only help make things better

  16. Avatar Erika says:

    MJ – speechless and so sorry for the goats in your church.

  17. Lex, I absolutely think men feel it also. I wrote this from a woman’s point of view, but I think there are examples with men as well. Maybe not as much in the mom/baby outings/playgroups but certainly in the social gatherings. And sometimes the men feel it more acutely because their desire for parenthood may be stronger.

  18. Avatar MJ says:

    In response to the FB question of someone who asked if men suffer these same feelings-As the wife of a man who suffers (and I do mean suffers) from Male Factor IF, I would respond to the question above with a resounding YES!!! Add to the fact that my husband is an ordained minister and has to be present to younger families and their babies/young children in all the ways that a minister is called to be. He has to baptize babies and be the conduit for the congregation’s great joy, even though it kills him inside. He has to conduct Mother’s Day/Father’s Day services (usually complete with a baptism or two) He has to go to the congregation’s family Christmas parties-even though he and I are the only ones there every year without children (and in the eyes of some we don’t even have a family because it is just the 2 of us). He has to sit and listen to parents complain about their children and brag about them in the same breath. He has to take comments about how he doesn’t know how to hold a baby properly during baptisms with good humour-and yes, the congregation knows about our IF diagnosis. Does my husband feel like he’s on the outside looking in at life because of IF-you bet!!!!! The fact that I am standing there with him doesn’t help much, I don’t think no matter how hard I try. My heart breaks for him, and for me too

  19. Avatar Courtney says:

    Bingo, this was me a few years ago, before my husband and I decided on foster adoption. Its a hard time. I just wish the fertile women could understand how much pain going through infertility causes and that our pain isn’t related to not being happy for them.

  20. Avatar Sara says:

    We’ve been ‘lucky’ in that we ended up not being the only one in our peer group that struggled with infertility. That being said, we have lost a few couples along the way when their new lives got too busy to stay involved, but none specifically because they had kids and we didn’t.

  21. Avatar MJ says:

    Thanks, Dawn-this blog has been a great resource for us. Blogs like this help us to feel that we are not alone. Some might question whether my husband should leave the church because of his IF, but I don’t think he should have to-he is a wonderful minister. I believe he will be a wonderful father, too-the IF has not and will not lessen his abilities in these two important callings. Some in his congregation ARE supportive and understanding-some have even experienced IF themselves and have come out the other side as parents-we cherish our relationships with these people, believe me. it’s just the ones who don’t get it that exist as the “thorns” in our sides and that make this situation so much more difficult. When people get how hard IF is and offer you compassion, it is absolutely priceless. It is my hope that my husband and myself might be able to be that support to others who are walking the same rocky path to parenthood

    • Oh my gosh MJ! Why would anyone think a minister should resign just because he has the disease of infertility?!?!?! Who in their right mind expects their ministers to not suffer from the same afflictions that affect the rest of humankind. And who in their right mind would want someone to interpret God’s word and minister to them who has not faced their own trials.

  22. Avatar Lex says:

    I wonder, do men ever feel like this? Probably not to the same degree…

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