The Stigma of Infertility

The results of a recently released study of 50 infertile couples claims that couples hold back from sharing their infertility because they feel stigmatized.  While couples might feel stigmatized, in my 32 years of practice I have observed that it makes sense to hold back from sharing their infertility because it’s nobody’s business but theirs.

The report also indicated that there is more of a tendency to withhold this information if it is the male partner who is infertile.  I have seen this in some cases where macho attitudes—interestingly, held by both men and women—hold sway.

The report also stated that some couples reveal their infertility rather than have people think that the woman is too career-driven and therefore too selfish to meet the social expectation to have a family.  I have never seen this.  Many women are career-driven but still want a family—desperately.

Couples do need to communicate so as to be clear as to who is invited into the sanctity of their relationship and who is to be kept out.  But agreement is not always easy to arrive at.

There are so many areas in the infertility struggle that can lead to discord, both personal and interpersonal.  To tell or not to tell is certainly one of them.

The report left out the most important fact, namely that the crisis of infertility creates many opportunities.  Deciding whom to tell creates an opportunity to seek counseling and to learn how to navigate adversity together.

I don’t like the word stigma.   It smacks too much of victimhood, which is akin to powerlessness.  You may be out of the mainstream, but the opportunity to build strong and effective coping skills—together abounds.  Learning new coping skills that allow you to rise to the challenge is empowering.

About the Author:

Helen Adrienne, LCSW general psychotherapist, clinical hypnotherapist, and practitioner of mind/body therapy with a specialty in infertility. New York City