Playing the Blame Game with Infertility

Dawn Davenport


I’ve blogged recently about the things people say to the infertile as to why they deserve to not be able to have a

Playing the Blame Game with Infertility

Playing the Blame Game with Infertility

baby. (Waited too long, ambivalence about becoming a mom, husband plays Dungeon and Dragons) It got me to thinking why blaming the victim is such a common occurrence. In addition to a general lack of understanding in our culture of the causes and frequency of infertility, I think blaming the victims gives the blamer a false sense of security. Their unconscious logic might go like this: OMG!>This is a horrible thing.>If the reason is random it could happen to me.>EEK. {quiver}>If they did something to deserve this horrible thing, then it is not random.>If it is not random, then I’m not at risk.>Ergo-I won’t do the thing they did, so this horrible thing won’t happen to me.

Not Just for Infertility

The blame game is not reserved just for infertility. In the last couple of months alone, I’ve heard it used for cancer, foster care adoption, and autism.

  • 14 year old with cancer: “Her parent took her on a mission trip where she was exposed to mold. I would never allow my kids to be exposed to mold since everyone knows how bad that stuff is.”
  • Family really struggling after adopting a 10 year old from foster care: “Honestly, I can’t believe they did this to their other kids. What did they expect? His mother’s a crack head, his dad is in jail, and he’s been in four foster homes.”
  • 4 year old diagnosed with autism: “Well you know how high strung she [his mother] is, and she was so stressed out about her job when she was pregnant with him.”

And before I get too sanctimonious, let me admit right here and now that my first question when I hear that someone was injured or killed in a traffic accident is whether they were wearing seat belts. I desperately want to believe that I, and those I love, will be protected in an accident because we always wear our seat belts.

 It Happens

Sometimes our actions do result in putting us at increased risk for bad things to happen. And sometimes, as the saying goes, s_it just happens.

Knowing what we know now, given the gift of hindsight, many of us would make different choices when faced with the bad consequence. That goes without saying—so no need for you to say it. Just give us your compassion. No one escapes all the bad things of life, and we’ll offer our compassion to you too.

Poem of Compassion for the Infertile

If you are infertile, feel free to share this poem about infertility with your family and friends to help them find their compassion.

Infertility Is…

Infertility is a disease affecting the present and the future. Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to understand:

The pain – a deep, scarring, searing pain

at seeing the pink smear on the toilet paper each month;
at sharing your intimacy with doctors and nurses;
at receiving another pastel envelope inviting you to yet another baby shower that isn’t yours.

The anger – an enveloping, controlling, frightening anger 

at people who say “just relax” or “just not meant to be” when they don’t have a f___ing clue;
at God or karma or the universe or whatever the hell you call the force that is to blame;
at your partner.

The shame – a hidden, gnawing, ego-destroying shame 

at your jealousy of other’s easy conceptions;
at cutting people with children out of your life;
at your body’s failure.

The fear that this pain, anger, and shame will never end.


What example of victim blaming have you heard recently?


Image credit: Conversations on the Fringe

13/03/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 24 Comments

24 Responses to Playing the Blame Game with Infertility

  1. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Dina, it is so hard for some people to know how to “act” around the infertile. An honest discussion would have gone a long way. And then to not accept that their silence was hurtful just added insult to injury. Sorry you had to go through that.

  2. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Leilani, self blame is such a HUGE issue with infertility. I wasn’t really thinking about that when I wrote the blog, but now it all I’m thinking about thanks to your comment. Must sit down and blog on that sometime.

  3. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Sue, beautiful quote and beautiful article! I’m going to ponder on both for a while.

  4. Avatar Leilani says:

    Dawn…this was an amazing blog. I think what I have struggled with most with IF is blaming myself. There was a time when I felt like if my DH had married someone else then he wouldn’t have had to deal with this. Thank god I have a husband who has always said it was our problem and has never blamed me. I remember how hard it was to always hear, don’t stress, like it was my fault. In some ways, I’m thankful for my IF. Not because of the pain. But bc of the vast knowledge it has brought me, bc of how close it’s brought me to my husband, bc it brought me my son and bc I value so much that which I have now.

  5. Avatar Dina says:

    When we were going through IVF we were friends with a couple (at the time we thought best friends) who became pg with their second child. We didn’t find out they were pg until she was 6th months along. They hid it from us and made excuses not to come to different events. Finally it was another friend who told me. What hurt more was not being told and having it hidden from us not the fact that they were having another child we were very happy for them. They could not believe we were upset with them for not telling us and announced to other friends it was jealousy and we were ridiculous. Needless to say we are no longer friednds with them.

  6. Avatar Jessica B. says:

    Good post, Jocelyne. I have actually come under fire from a sibling for not being happier when I was told they conceived a second child on the first try. It was the day the fertility doc told me my chances were under 5% each month at my best odds. Dealing with insensitivity of others is the hardest part. I always try to be happy for those who get pregnant naturally, as that’s what’s supposed to happen, but that doesn’t mean that tears and bitterness precede that acceptance. Asking for understanding may be too much, but asking for caring and sensitivity shouldn’t have to be asked, especially from siblings.

  7. Avatar Jocelyne says:

    Dawn Davenport, your blog plus a conversation I had with my best friend got me pondering so I wrote it out in my blog: Just in the day I wrote my post, I have had several people open up about their infertility that said they have never told anyone else. Those of us in the infertile community need to be open with each other so we can support one another and educate the fertile population about the issues we face.

  8. Avatar MJ says:

    P.S. I persist in reading these comments on IF related articles because I always like to look at the other person’s POV. As an IF person, I just wish that this POV was a little more informed and a little more understanding of those who suffer from this condition and the choices that are ours to make in how we deal with it in our lives.

  9. Avatar MJ says:

    Compassion. Empathy. Understanding. Support. Why is it so hard for the non-infertile world to offer these simple gifts to us as we struggle to build our families? I am always appalled (but not surprised-“sigh”) at the poisonously negative comments that I see or hear at the end of EVERY article or news report about issues revolving around infertility. Everyone seems so quick to tell those of us who suffer from this condition how we SHOULD deal with this condition, without taking the time to ask themselves what we who are living with IF would be happiest living with. I wish that people would realize that expressing such attitudes in such a callous and insensitive way is a form of bullying and that by doing so they are bullying a group of people who have suffered so much already. I am tired of being bullied by these people and their attitudes-a little knowledge and a LOT of compassion on the part of those who are not IF is what can and will make the difference in the lives of those of us who are IF. Thank you

  10. Avatar Marci says:

    I read a wonderful article about it, and I often see it applied to layoffs as well, at (
    He called it the “Just World Fallacy” which I kind of prefer since it immediately rejects the idea, rather than granting it validity as an actual theory.

    I remember early in my working days, I used to think that layoffs were, in some way justified. We used to call it “pruning the dead wood,” etc., but as I grew more experienced it became obvious that the decision makers were not trying to fire people who weren’t working, but they had some non-obvious justification for who they were keeping that was unrelated to knowledge or work ethic.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Love the concept and the article. I’m not so sure which title I prefer, though. Saying “blaming the victim” feels pretty accurate and calls out exactly what is being done. The “just world fallacy” is the explanation and sounds more academic. Either one is good for me.

  11. Avatar Sue says:

    I agree, that people want to tell themselves some story as to why they are safe from whatever awful thing – why it won’t happen to them. Many of us IFs know all too well though, about the randomness and chaos of life.

    I was reading an article today about the woman who wrote the anti-tiger mom article about watching her son dying. I was particularly touched by this comment:
    “So it made me just realize how deeply phobic we are of this idea that chaos is really a reality in this world. It is the thing that can touch and will touch us sometime in our life, and that doesn’t mean that we’re bad people or we deserve bad luck or that we’re even unlucky. It just means that that’s what happened.”

  12. There’s a horrific story recently about a Colorado woman who, with her husband, moved their family to Mexico for 8 months. Shockingly, one day two months into their stay, the boyfriend of a babysitter (who was recommended to them) brutally murdered one of their young sons.

    Instead of offering compassion, some commenters in online news reports are blaming the parents. It’s so easy to do from the sidelines of life.

    I probably shouldn’t have been surprised at that, having seen just plain mean blame-the-victim commentary in family-building arenas, but I was.

    I’m glad you addressed this, Dawn.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Lori, what an incredible sad story. And when the nanny killed the child in NYC last year, some blamed the mother for ever hiring a nanny in the first place–for any reason. Of course, she was blamed for being a working mom, even though it turned out that she didn’t work outside the home. {sigh}

  13. Avatar Justin says:

    This is actually a well-known and documented psychological phenomenon, usually referred to as “The Just-World Hypothesis”. It maintains that people need to believe that good actions bring good results, and that bad actions bring negative results, as that can make them feel safe and in control over their future.
    When people are confronted with negative results, they have to attribute them to the sufferer, as that raises their sense of safety.
    I think Catherine explained it beautifully.
    As for your question, Dawn, the most prevalent example of blaming the victim I keep on hearing lately is blaming the poor for their poverty (they spend their money frivolously, they’re lazy, they just like collecting social security, etc.).

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Oh I love that– “The Just-World Hypothesis”. Thank you for giving us another label and another explanation. Yes, people do attribute poverty to actions of the poor. Likewise, they also assume that they are not poor because of something they’ve done and fail to give any credit to the fact that they were blessed to be born to a family that lived above the poverty line.

  14. “OMG!>This is a horrible thing.>If the reason is random it could happen to me.>EEK. {quiver}>If they did something to deserve this horrible thing, then it is not random.>If it is not random, then I’m not at risk.>Ergo-I won’t do the thing they did, so this horrible thing won’t happen to me.”

    ^This is such an excellent explanation of the reasoning.

  15. Avatar Jessica says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I am new to the group and often find myself wondering (blaming) lifestyle choices such as grad school, etc. for infertility. But really, it’s endometriosis, and while I was diagnosed in grad school, I probably had had it for years longer without knowing it. It’s no one’s fault. Dealing with the ramifications are another question entirely, and it’s a heartbreaking, day-by-day process.

  16. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    Jessica, you are right on both counts-it’s not your fault and it is heart breaking. Reach out often to us here. While we can’t take the pain away, we can help you feel less alone.

  17. Avatar Jessica says:

    Thanks so much! I found this site last night (we’re thinking now about adoption), and find it really helpful so far. 🙂

  18. Avatar Dawn Davenport says:

    Jocelyne, beautiful post. I recommend you all drop in and read it!

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