An Infertility Nurse’s Perspective: Infertility Stigma and Finding Support

This post is sponsored by the Vermont Surrogacy Network.

Recommendations provided here are not intended to replace conversations with your own medical care provider. 

A nurse’s perspective on any medical concern is always welcome. It is particularly appreciated during a common but fraught issue such as infertility. Join us as we share a series of posts sponsored by the Vermont Surrogacy Network and written by Nurse Monique, a local nurse. Her knowledgeable perspective is a gift for any couple struggling with infertility.

Infertility is defined as an inability to conceive or to carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of regular, unprotected intercourse. For women over the age of 35, the timeframe shortens to 6 months of unprotected intercourse. Insurance companies use this definition as a starting point to determine whether or not to cover the diagnosis of infertility and, in some cases, treatment. pregnancy tester with the words "not pregnant"For those individuals walking this path, infertility has a much more personal and heartbreaking meaning.

Both external and internal infertility stigma and shame are a heavy burden to bear. Months that are punctuated by negative pregnancy tests. The cautious hope of a positive test, only to be told that it’s not a viable pregnancy yet again. The helplessness of hearing that there’s no diagnosable reason that they can’t get pregnant. The dreaded, well-meaning comment from an acquaintance or loved one that, “There’s always next time.” The sound of life savings — meant to cushion the empty nest after the kids go out on their own — being drained by the process of trying to have those kids in the first place.

letters on dice spelling out "despair"

For 1 in 8 straight couples and countless others who don’t fit the traditional heterosexual parent mold, the struggle to create a biological family is taxing in so many ways. The physical, emotional, and financial stress can often be too much to bear. So many people struggling to conceive feel isolated from their loved ones. They believe that nobody can understand or empathize with what they’re going through. Society has conditioned us not to talk about infertility, to the detriment of all of those suffering.

There’s an almost visible infertility stigma related to being unable to get pregnant and have children without assistance.

I’ve worked for 8 years in the field of reproductive endocrinology, hand in hand with women experiencing infertility. My experience goes far beyond the scope of numbers and statistics.

I’ve had some struggles of my own, but I’m truly one of the fortunate ones. My pregnancies happened easily, and I carried two beautiful and healthy babies to term. But I’ve also had the unbelievable good fortune to stumble into my amazing career in infertility. I’ve had a chance to hear so many stories from the people I’ve worked with. While each story’s details are different and unique to the tellers, the themes are all the same. Utter desperation. Complete heartbreak. Fear and devastation. Those themes cast a big, ugly shadow over a lot of lives. I bear witness to the herculean efforts to conceive, the silent losses, the sudden joy, and the occasional defeat faced by my clients.

I am in the fortunate but delicate position to be able to offer some cracks of light in between the shadows. It can be as simple as making a joke that may seem inappropriate to those on the outside. Acknowledging an experience and being a witness or a helping hand. Some couples plan time away with their partner or on their own. The goal: recharging instead of thinking about fertility. There are also support groups and online forums that have provided relief for many. I’ve even seen people make connections in a waiting room, knowing that they were both sharing the same fears and concerns.

It doesn’t matter where the cracks of light come from. What’s important is that every individual finds them and encourages them to grow bigger to fight infertility stigma and the shadows of desperation, despair, and doubt. Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing the intimate details of their lives. The opportunity to get emotional support is easier than many might think.

image of light coming through the trees

If you are struggling with infertility, please know that you are not alone. It’s okay to talk about your journey. You do not need to hide for fear of stigma or shame. It’s also okay to ask those around you for what you need.  There are so many ways to get the support and love that you deserve every step of the way.

Vermont Mom would like to thank the Vermont Surrogacy Network for making this series possible.


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