Who has the Right to Call Themselves Infertile

Dawn Davenport


How long must you have suffered before you earned the right to call yourself "infertile"?

How long must you have suffered before you earned the right to call yourself “infertile”?

I had some trouble conceiving both of my kids, but nowhere near what many others have gone through. Sometimes I want to tell other infertiles that I know what they feel, but then I wonder if they’ll be insulted because it only took me a year and a half, only took 3 IUI’s etc. I try to preface it by saying that I might know a little of how they feel, even though I haven’t been in their exact situation. So far, people seem to be receptive. It is hard to know the right thing to say.”>

How long do you have to suffer before you’ve earned the right to call yourself really infertile? Must you have gone through a couple of rounds of IVF, or will a few IUIs suffice? Is Clomid enough or must you have at least given injectable gonadotropins a whirl? How much must you have endured before you can complain? Will others question your infertility chops if you’ve only been trying to conceive for a year?

Pain is Pain

Pain is pain, and my pain is not worse than yours. In my book, you are infertile if…

  • You experienced the dread each month that your period will come.
  • You’ve held your breath with excitement and fear if you are a few days late, only to cry yourself to sleep when you realize it was a false alarm.
  • You’ve bought ovulation predictor kit and pregnancy test in bulk.
  • You have experienced the fear of never being able to have biological children.

That you found success sooner than some others does not make you ineligible to join the infertility club. It’s not exactly a club many people are clamoring to join, but we welcome you. Now, if you “struggled” for four months, you might want to stay quiet.


Image credit:  evelynized

11/09/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 29 Comments

29 Responses to Who has the Right to Call Themselves Infertile

  1. Lisa Armstrong Lisa Armstrong says:

    Dawn, this particular one lets me share, but when it comes up, it says something about a link that’s not followable (or something to that effect) 🙁

    And in response to this^^… After almost 10 years of trying, we do have our miracle baby, but I absolutely don’t believe you are only entitled to the title “infertile” if you are absolutely unable to bear a child ever, although that may very well be the “technically correct” definition! Even so, we (as a couple) are absolutely considered infertile and as with anything, I don’t think everyone has to be in it as seriously or as deeply as the next to fit the mold. But I also agree – if you’ve been trying 4 months, shut up, you are NOT infertile. If you’ve been trying a year, I still don’t want to hear about it – that’s the average time for ANY fertile couple to conceive. There are lots of different, unique situations and the truth of the matter is, we don’t know the intimate details of anyone else’s struggle, so while I may not feel Mrs. Doe deserves the title, perhaps she feels she does and, maybe she really does.

    • Lisa, I hear you. And I am also uncomfortable saying someone who is experiencing secondary infertility is not infertile, but I do agree with you and the others that their pain is different.

  2. Avatar the b that puts u in place says:

    How do you sleep at night? Rag on your sister like that if you had been tought any morals at all? STOP BEING A SELFISH CHILD!
    For the rest of you that think that saying get to call you’re self infertal is a privilege what the right to judge other people’s pain?
    You know there is a medical definition of infertility and secondary infertility!

  3. Avatar Kristy says:

    My husband and I have been trying for 5 years. I just held a baby shower where I spent almost a thousand dollars for my sister, who is unmarried, doesn’t have a job and lives with my parents but unfortunately, is able to have children. She is also 11 years younger than me. The joy! I think you do understand if you have tried for at least 3 years (minimum) for that first one. Now as for secondary infertility, I understand the need to have a little sister/brother for your first child, however it will never even be close to first-hand infertility because at night when you tuck your child in, remember all those people who are crying theirselves to sleep that night. It is not the same, by no means.

  4. Avatar Kristin says:

    I don’t agree with some of the comments posted. My husband and I have a six year old son that we conceived with no problems at all. We go for number two and five years later we are still trying without any luck. I have done tests and treatments and nothing has worked. I have been officially diagnosed as infertile. I was given a title that I would do anything to not have. That doesn’t make it any less true though.

  5. Avatar MJ says:

    I don’t know if I fit the qualifications to belong to the infertility “club”. I did have two healthy, successful pregnancies. Then three pregnancies that ended in loss (two miscarriages and the loss of my preemie baby boy). After many many tests to find the cause of the losses, I am no closer to finding the answers. It is beginning to feel like I won’t be able to have another child. Big deal right? After all I have two children already. Well, as much as my husband is a good step-dad to my children, I would love to give my husband a biological child. I am not opposed to adoption, but I don’t want to close this door quite yet. I have yet to use IVF or fertility treatments. But my pain is real. The sinking feeling when the HPT comes back negative. Hating my body. Jealousy when it seems everyone around me is having babies. Dreading doctors appointments. Needles, tests, and more tests. Avoiding baby stores and baby commercials on tv. Sadness.

  6. Avatar Michelle says:

    Really glad to have been introduced to this site and network, Dawn. I just downloaded your Podcast onto my iTunes player and will start listening to it this week.

    WRT this blogpost and the question it raises, Sue Taylor upthread hit the nail on the head with this comment: “I do become a bit baffled at the comparisons of pain in the infertility community – whose is worse? Every person’s experience is their own – and they are all different and each person may experience that pain differently.” Really have nothing else to add here b/c IMO Sue stated it so beautifully. Spot on and cosign.

  7. Avatar Nora says:

    Ineligible, not illegible.

  8. Avatar Greg says:

    Another great piece Dawn!

    I agree with a lot of this piece and comments. Anyone who is unable to conceive a child after at least one year of trying to me is infertile. Anyone who tried for a few months and eventually conceived I can’t say was infertile. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t ever have a child or add to their family, it just means that right now they are infertile. I do believe those with secondary infertility are infertile. Sure they have children but they still deal with pain from not being able to provide their child with a sibling. I do think though that those who are eventually able to conceive a child are no longer infertile. However, they still dealt with infertility and overcame it despite the scars always being there.

    At the end of the day regardless of the outcome there is always some level of pain with infertility, in my opinion.

  9. Avatar Ria says:

    If I conceive after IVF with ICSI (if we have sperm after my husband undergoes TESE), this doesn’t make us any less infertile or make the emotions or challenges of infertility any less real or poignant in my life. As long as my husband and I are unable to conceive a child without ART, we’re infertile. I don’t think this changes if we do ultimately have a child. If we are suddenly healed and no longer require ART and are able to conceive on our own, then I guess we’ll say we’re not infertile anymore.
    There’s a difference between being infertile and being childless. Right now, we’re both. Hopefully at some point, we will have children. That doesn’t change what we’re going through now or the pain and heartache we will have dealt with in trying to conceive. Giving birth isn’t a magical cure for infertility, though it is a cure for childlessness.
    I guess I pretty much agree with the definition as outlined in this post.

  10. Avatar Justin says:

    Thank you for this posting, Dawn. You are so right. There are degrees of infertility, and different circumstances for different people. Generally, I think we should accept almost everybody’s self definition of infertility as valid (although some people do take that too far).
    When my sister was struggling with secondary infertility for six years, undergoing various treatments, hopes and despairs, her pain was palpable and horrible, even though she already had a child. I don’t think anyone could tell her she did not deserve the title “infertile” or the support of the infertile community.
    On the other hand, when a former “friend” told me she can understand my pain since she also struggled with infertility, and at that time she was in her second trimester after undergoing a whole two months of ovulation monitoriing…

  11. The definition of infertility is being “unable to reproduce”. There is no stipulation that you can’t ever or won’t ever be able to reproduce, just that you can’t reproduce. So, by my interpretation, even someone who has a child can still be infertile if they can’t reproduce when they want to.

    I do become a bit baffled at the comparisons of pain in the infertility community – whose is worse? Every person’s experience is their own – and they are all different and each person may experience that pain differently. There is no benefit that I can see to comparing who has it worse, I think we should just be compassionate for anyone who experiencing pain/sadness/disappointment over their circumstances regarding their fertility or lack thereof.

    That said, I do think that longevity of fertility treatments/infertility does impact someone’s outlook – I surely had a different experience/world view at my first IVF than I did many years later after much more loss and heartache. But I don’t think anyone has to “prove” that they qualify to be called infertile. If they self identify as infertile, they likely are in some pain or distress over the issue and are worthy of compassion.

  12. Avatar Lori says:

    I have to disagree. Pain is pain, but you forgot to list the pain felt by realizing or being told and then having to come to grips with the fact that you will NEVER be able to bear a child. That pain far surpasses the monthly agonizing over periods, ovulation kits, etc. That is complete loss that is like a death. Those that experience a birth will never have to deal with that kind of ongoing grief.

    • Lori, I’m going to have to think on your comment for awhile. I do see your point that someone who has never been able and never will be able to give birth (assuming this is of high importance to her in becoming a mom) experiences a different loss than someone who is unable to conceive a second child. However, I am uncomfortable comparing degrees of pain. Plus, if someone considers themselves infertile then I figure they understand the pain that is infertility and have joined the club.

  13. Avatar Tina says:

    In my case, I was on clomid and then had exploratory surgery on my uterus. I have endometrosis and was told it was so severe that I will NEVER be able to carry a child b/c my body would disregard it. So I could have many miscarriages and not know it. That was 5 years ago and it so hard because I have never been pregnant, according to tests. I am sure I have been pregnant but not know it. So is it harder for a person like me that as never had a child and can’t do IVF than a person that has? I think we all feel the same feelings and go through the same grief. Thank you Dawn for having the support group and blog! It has helped me so much!!!

  14. Avatar Marci says:

    I disagree (somewhat respectfully) with Becky and Erin. That I had a child after 7 years of trying, half of that with medical intervention, does not magically make me fertile. I hoped and prayed that it would, but having a second child is proving to be as elusive and difficult as the first. And if I’m not fertile, am I not infertile? Or is there a third place I should stand, like a demi-fertile. Or as Becky would say, “I have fertility problems, but since I CAN get pregnant, I’m not REALLY infertile.” (My mother would totally say that too.)
    And I should probably stop typing, because I’m starting to feel hostile about anyone who would trivialize what I went through to have a child. The work was worth the payoff and I know I’m damn lucky to have had even one payoff, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t put in the work and I deserve to have my work recognized and acknowledged for what it was; real work and effort.
    Infertility is not something that you work to get, and it’s not always something that work will overcome, but when it is overcome, that doesn’t mean it never existed.

  15. Kelley: LOL. I imagine you’re not alone in having this wish.

  16. Avatar Kelley says:

    Can I give up this “right”? Pleeeeeaaaase!

  17. Avatar Maureen says:

    In my case I had a son and then when I met and married my husband we could not get pregnant. It was my body that was not working. The pain that I felt for not being able to give (my childless) husband a bio child was overwhelming. It was painful emotionally and physically. I think by categorizing people it makes in a competition and I don’t know why any of us would want to win the who had it worse comp. to me this is like saying if you had cancer and went to remission you don’t have the right to say you had cancer. Infertility is sometimes cured and sadly sometimes not. Why not just support everyone in their journey instead of making them feel guilty for their struggle because it is not as hard as others. When a cancer patient goes into remission we celebrate it, why not the same with infertility? I know for me feeling like I was not able to share my agony made things even worse.

  18. Avatar Tina says:

    Dawn, I think that there are levels of infertility but this article lets me know that if a person is diagnosed with infertility then we all FEEL the same way. Thank you so much for sharing.

  19. Leilani said:

    I can remember back to the point when I was on clomid, yes, my IVFs and miscarriages were more emotionally demanding and certainly more expensive, but I was hurting then too, perhaps because I was left adept at dealing with the situation. I think when you are at that point it’s a different kind of pain, but no less. It’s scary in a different way. Infertility sucks, whether you go through it for a year or ten, we should support each other.

    [[Creating a Family blog] at 9:20 am on September 12, 2013]

  20. Avatar Leilani says:

    I can remember back to the point when I was on clomid, yes, my IVFs and miscarriages were more emotionally demanding and certainly more expensive, but I was hurting then too, perhaps because I was left adept at dealing with the situation. I think when you are at that point it’s a different kind of pain, but no less. It’s scary in a different way. Infertility sucks, whether you go through it for a year or ten, we should support each other.

  21. Avatar Becky says:

    I have hard time with those who say they are infertile and have had children. They do not know what it is like , at all, in my opinion, to be in my shoes. I have never given birth and never will be able to. People who have experienced the joy of being able to give birth have an experience of being fertile that I will never be able to experience. IN my world if they are having trouble getting pregnant the first time ( and then get pregnant) of having trouble getting pregnant the second time, they are not infertile. They may have had fertility issues but are not in any way infertile. Of course this is just my very jealous opinion.

  22. Avatar Erin says:

    I agree with Becky. If you currently have children that you bore then you are no longer infertile. You might have gone through a time where you were infertile but you are no longer infertile now. I think those times were still hard and painful but they still will never fully understand what it means to never be pregnant or birth a child. I have been pregnant without the joy of parenting. I will (short of a miracle of God) ever be pregnant again and we paid lots of doctors lots of money to tell me that. Now I have experienced the joys of parenting my foster son who will soon be my adopted son and though I don’t know the difference b/t parenting adopted children vs. biological I feel that it is the same and I am very much fulfilled. I am jealous too of fertile women especially the ones that get pregnant on the first try and then have 8 kids back to back but us true infertile women the fertile women can be jealous of us as well. We get other amazing experiences and no stretch marks! 🙂

  23. Avatar Jocelyne says:

    Infertility comes in varieties. I have never conceived, but I have never tried. Due to health problems it was decided when I was 15 it be best if I never give birth. Years later it was discovered I would have difficulty conceiving if I chose. We pursued adoption as our path to parenthood. My sister and her husband tried for three years before my niece was born than 3.5 years before conceiving again, baby is due next March. My best friends has tried for seven years to conceive including two IUIs and one successful IVF, twins are due next May. Is my friend more infertile because she has tried longer and undergone more extensive treatments? Am I less infertile because I never tried to conceive? Was my sister only infertile before she got pregnant the first time? We all three agree we have our own infertility issues and have been supportive of one another on our journeys. We each had experienced various levels of pain while we waited for our children, happiness for the others when children arrived, and joy when our own children arrived.

    There is a difference between infertility and fertility issues. There are some women who can conceive, but may have one or two miscarriages between pregnancies. Others want more children (more than the 2 or 3 or more they have), but cannot conceive any more for various reasons.

    • Jocelyne, I agree. I completely understand why others who have commented feel that those who already have one child or who only struggle for a short time haven’t really earned the title of “infertile”, but I feel uncomfortable judging the pain of others. If they have struggled and felt the awful pain of desperately wanting a child, but not being able to get pregnant, then it seems like they have the right to call themselves “infertile”.

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