Who Qualifies as Infertile?

Dawn Davenport


Who has earned the right to complain about being infertile?

Our friends and family often don’t “get” infertility, and sometime their attempts to identify with our pain ends up making us feel diminished rather than supported. Have you ever had a friend share their own minor fertility struggle when they hear about yours?

“I know what you mean, infertility is so hard…”

  • We had to try for 8 months to get pregnant.
  • We had to go on Clomid for a month to get pregnant.

Do these statements make you want to scream “You have no freaking idea how hard infertility really is!”

Does their definition of infertility with relatively little struggle diminish what you are going through? How can they compare their puny 8 months of trying or using Clomid to your failed IVF cycle or tens of thousands of dollars spent? Have they earned the right to complain?

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

While often ill timed and clumsily delivered, it seems to me that we need to at least give our clueless friends credit for trying to understand. They may have only dipped their toe into the pain of infertility, but that dip may have given them some understanding of what you are going through.

They often are trying to show support and to give hope by telling you that they understand the pain that you’re experiencing. The problem is when they try to equate that glimmer of understanding to what you’ve experienced with full-fledged infertility.

Where to Draw the Line in Infertility

The problem with limiting our circle of infertility sufferers is where to draw the line. Does the person who got pregnant naturally after trying for 13 months count. Technically they meet the definition, but they never even went to see a fertility specialist. What about someone who got pregnant on their first IVF cycle? Are they “really infertile”? How many miscarriages does it take to enter into our club of suffering?

I don’t have the answer and it seems to be a matter of degrees. Clearly someone that gets pregnant within 6 months should just stay quiet, but personally, I’d include people that have been trying close to a year because for me the gateway to the circle of infertility is that gut-wrenching fear of not ever being able to conceive.

Who do you think deserves to be called “infertile”?


Image credit: Mike Renlund

11/02/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 13 Comments

13 Responses to Who Qualifies as Infertile?

  1. Avatar Greg says:

    I do think if you meet the medical guidelines of what is considered going through infertility than you qualify having gone through infertility. But there are varying degrees of infertility. It all stinks and is painful. But as Lauren put it when you start to go through the pain Olympics is when it gets dangerous and its a game no one wins.

    We should all be able to empathize with each other and not judge each other and the decisions we make.

  2. Avatar Becky says:

    Will I agree we can all understand pain, the pain of having hopes dashed each month, the pain of hearing another loved one is pregnant or has given birth. Not all of us have been able to have the joy of ever giving birth. I love my adopted children but I still mourn not being able to give birth. As my daughter is getting ready to give birth to her second child, I will be rejoicing and at the same time crying. People will be commenting about how the baby looks like my daughter or how the baby looks like the father’s side of the family. My husband and I will again not hear how the baby takes after either of us. It seems like infertility is a pain that just never leaves for some of us.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Becky, you right–the pain of infertility has a way of recycling. Others have mentioned the “recurrence” of the pain when their kids start having kids. It kind of catches you unaware, doesn’t it.

  3. Avatar marilynn says:

    People can have fertility problems that, these days, with treatment can result in the birth of healthy offspring. Many women like me have benefited from blood thinning treatment while pregnant that allows them to deliver a child despite a clotting disorder. I had many miscarriages and a child die at birth and do feel qualified to empathize with the struggle in spite of ultimately having a child born.

  4. Avatar Sarah T says:

    We got pregnant on our first cycle of IVF, and after reading about the experiences of others, I have sometimes wondered if it was almost too easy for us. But then I remember the tears and dashed hopes every month we were trying to conceive naturally, the frustration of waiting for my husband to be ready to move to treatment, and the discomfort and invasiveness of the IVF procedure itself. It is never easy if you are not able to create your family the way you envisioned, no matter how you ultimately get there.

  5. Avatar Jen says:

    Well said Maura. And thank you for mentioning the spacing apart of kids. It took me 11 months to conceive my first (2 rounds of Letrozole), but after a chemical, miscarriage, failed frozen transfer, and successful frozen transfer, my kids are 4 years apart. It WAS rough the first time around, even after 6 months of trying. But the second time took the cake. I believe everyone has her or his own way of dealing with what life throws at you. Reactions are based on how you were raised, amongst many other factors. I feel we should be empathetic to everyone’s perspective, even though we might not agree.

  6. Avatar Nea says:

    As long as people can acknowledge that you have had a lot more suffering it’s fine. People need to get better at “checking their privilege” when it comes to fertility, health, etc. It’s like me being unemployed for a month and trying to relate to someone who’s been jobless for three years. No, I haven’t suffered to the extent nor should I pretend to

  7. Avatar Lauren / OnFecundThought says:

    Ah, the pain Olympics. Perhaps we would all do better not to compare suffering but to sit with each other and listen.

    Should I get more sympathy than someone who did an IUI / Clomid (I have seen this referred to as “IF lite”) because my child is not genetically to me? Less than someone who did 3, 5, 9 rounds of IVF? I cringe at even using these examples to illustrate my point.

    Pain is pain. I learned this when a grieving mother of a baby born still acknowledged my grief for the baby I miscarried at 8.5 weeks.

    Let us not compete in our suffering. Let it bind us so that we can find a way through it, together.

  8. Avatar Lisa Rosenthal says:

    It’s certainly a personal and individualized response. Fair to agree that someone who doesn’t get pregnant for 3 months hasn’t experienced infertility? And yet, who knows where their imagination has brought them during those months. The pain that they feel just thinking that conceiving might be a problem.
    Maybe this leads to a broader question?
    Can we really only “understand” pain that we’ve experienced? Is it impossible to feel empathy? Is it impossible to stretch and say that pain, in some ways, is pain?
    I know what pain feels like to me. It feels scary and it feels like it can pull me under, like a wave. Pain hurts. It hurts emotionally and physically. Pain makes my tender insides feel ripped up and pulled apart. Pain makes it hard for me to breathe or to believe that I will ever be able to breathe again.
    Pain makes me shrink inside myself and isolate from those around who could help. I get smaller and smaller and sometimes I feel that I’ve disappeared.
    That’s what pain feels like to me.
    What does pain feel like to you?
    And, if that’s what pain feels like to me, can’t I extend that understanding to you, even if I don’t have experience with the details of your circumstances?
    Pain is pain. We all hurt. We all encounter things that rip apart our insides and make us gasp.
    Pain can unite us, as it does in a support group. Or it can divide us when we decide that we are too “different” to support each other.
    I choose to remember that we are all more alike than we are different.

  9. Avatar Maura says:

    I have several women in my life who decided they were infertile before ever TTC. After about two months they went to the doctor and convinced them to put them on Clomid and one even insisted upon an probably unnecessary IUI after a mere six months of TTC. I have been through every imaginable medical intervention and have now been trying to adopt for over a year. Sometimes I get frustrated that they think they understand what I’m going through. But, ultimately, I don’t think that this is something that anyone can define for another. If what they went through was difficult for them they can define it however they like. There is no award for being infertile and I have no desire to play the martyr. If I felt that I was being placed in line for treatment behind someone who had only been trying three months it would be a different story. I would agree with the idea that someone has suffered infertility when they have reason to fear that they will be unable to bear children. I would also extend it to people whose family planning is disrupted by biology. If you were hoping to have kids two years apart but it is six because you were unable to easily conceive, if you were hoping for a family of 4 but could only have one or two children because of the expense of IVF, if you have suffered through multiple miscarriages or chemical pregnancies, those are all forms of infertility. Infertility, like many things in life is really just a question of degrees. It seems uncharitable to deny that someone has suffered just because their suffering was not as extreme as yours.

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