Understanding infertility grief

Anyone who has suffered the pain of infertility knows it hurts, but hey, pain is pain, and grief is grief. Right? Infertility grief, in the spectrum of grief, isn’t that bad? Right? Well, maybe not so right.

Dr. Ken Doka, a guest expert on a Creating a Family radio show on Coming To Terms with Infertility Grief, has written over 20 books on grief, 100 journal articles, and edits two newsletter on grief. I guess you could say he’s the go-to-guy on all things grief, and he shed some interesting light on the uniqueness of infertility grief. (Do yourself a favor and listen to this show—see below.)

The Rest of the World Doesn’t Get It

One of the reasons that the pain of infertility is so hard to deal with is that it is often unrecognized by our society. There are even specific scholarly terms to describe this type of grief.

  • Disenfranchised Grief: Losses that others do not acknowledge.
  • Ambiguous Grief: Losses in which others are not sure you have a loss, but you perceive a loss.

It’s easy to say that whether others understand or even see our loss shouldn’t matter, but this lack of recognition makes it easy to feel that we aren’t entitled to mourn our loss, and mourning does matter. How many times have you heard some variation on the following: Miscarriage is really common. Kids aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Be glad that you have nieces and nephews in your life. You get to enjoy adult-only dinners and vacations. Plenty of people have it worse. Basically the message is: Buck it up, get over it, and soldier on.

The Power of Mourning

Mourning is crucial to healing. Communal mourning has been use since the beginning of time to help people cope with loss. The infertile must take back the right to grieve, but it’s hard to grieve a dream and harder still when others don’t even see that there is a loss.  We have done a number of Creating a Family shows with specific suggestions for how to mourn the losses of infertility.

My Pain is Bigger and Badder Than Your Pain

While I understand fully the intensity of infertility grief, I also believe that comparing pain is futile and insensitive. Should the grief of not being able to get pregnant “trump” the grief of having your five year old die? Is it worse than losing your husband to cancer? This type of comparison makes me squirm.

I do think it helps to understand the particular nature and hardship of infertility grief if only to give us permission to grieve and get support. The next step is to use this understanding to become more sensitive without judgement to all those who are in pain from whatever cause.

I can’t recommend enough the Creating a Family show with Dr. Ken Doka, author of many books, including Disenfranchised Grief, and an ordained Lutheran minister; and Kris Faasse, MSW, and the National Director of Adoption Services for Bethany Christian Services.



Have you found it hard to mourn the loss of your fertility and genetically related children? What helped?


First published in 2013; updated in 2017