Personal Story

I Have Fertility Challenges—Please Stop Calling Me ‘Infertile’

written by RESHMI HAZRA RUSTEBAKKE
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

When my husband and I first started dating, I casually asked him how many kids he wanted so I could slip in my number: five. He panicked for a moment and then countered by saying we’d have to get one dog per kid. He knew I was on the fence about dogs, so I could tell he was trying to deter me. I said sure, assuming we would have the kids long before the dogs anyway, and by that point, we might be too tired to get a dog. Almost 11 years later, we have our one (fur) baby, Kaia. She’s a beautiful 5-year-old pit bull and a mother more times over than me.

It’s definitely not due to lack of trying. We have been on the trying to conceive (TTC) journey for a few years now, and it’s been a trial and a half. We started fertility testing in summer 2020. It was slow because of the pandemic and the days of my cycle falling on the wrong days of the week, etc. We finally got to schedule the first of my tests and I was told I had to call the insurance company to make sure it was covered, otherwise I would have to pay for it totally out-of-pocket.

Anxious about the cost during a year when my industries (film and theater) had essentially shut down, I reluctantly picked up the phone to call. The customer service rep was very kind but kept talking about my infertility: “So this test is for your infertility?”, “Because you are infertile, you are having this test?”

By the time I hung up the phone, I was ready to scream and chuck things out the window. How I managed not to explode, I still don’t know—probably because I was having an out-of-body experience and was desperate to hang up.

 

 

What I wanted to say was, “Sir, can you please stop calling me infertile? Even if it’s true, I’m not ready to process it and certainly not on the phone with a stranger.” But I wasn’t sure I could get through all of that without crying or yelling, so I kept my mouth shut and waited to let it all out once I got off the phone.

 

What I wanted to say was, ‘Sir, can you please stop calling me infertile? Even if it’s true, I’m not ready to process it and certainly not on the phone with a stranger.’

 

Now that we have gotten our diagnosis, which is unexplained infertility, I have so many more urges to scream from mountaintops. I hate the diagnosis. I hate the idea that there is something I can’t explain happening in my body. It makes me feel out of control, and “infertile” doesn’t compute in my brain. I got pregnant in 2019, so we are not actually infertile—just not able to get pregnant again for whatever reason. They don’t really know what’s going on with us, so they just slap on the “infertility” label and move on.

This wasn’t the first time I faced language that felt acutely painful trying to conceive. After my miscarriage, people kept saying to me, “That baby wasn’t viable. It’s for the best.” That never made me feel better. Especially compounded with the “infertility” that followed, it never felt like a good consolation. No lack of viability would make me not want the baby, not since I’ve wanted to be a mother my entire life.

 

 

I look around and there are so many different ways to become a mom. I realize that my journey looks different from when I was a little girl wanting five kids. While I have found a lot more joy in this than I ever expected, if I am honest with myself, some things about it just suck. I think anyone going through fertility challenges would say the same thing.

It’s one of the reasons I have spent this year really thinking about language and how we talk about one another and to one another. Labels have emotions attached to them. One way to adjust is to use People First Language. Going through this fertility process has reinforced how important that is. I want to let people know: I have fertility challenges; I’m not an infertile person. 

 

While I have found a lot more joy in this than I ever expected, if I am honest with myself, some things about it just suck.

 

So this year, as I move forward in this fertility journey, I’m hoping I can get brave enough to ask people to treat me with a little more gentleness and care. And I’ll do the same for others. We could all use just a little more tenderness.

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