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Breaking Infertility Taboos

by Katie Hodgkins

Infertility – both primary and secondary – is an issue that affects many, many women [and men]  in the UK, and worldwide.

It is the elephant in the room, the ache in the chest, the tears in the baby aisle at the supermarket. It can ruin friendships and destroy relationships. It breaks hearts. It leaves couples insolvent through the pursuit of IVF.

According to the HFEA (Human Fertilisation &a Embryology Authority), It’s thought that one in seven couples in the UK struggles to conceive. This is obviously a large number of people who, for some reason or another, suffer from infertility.

And for every person struggling to conceive, there seems to be someone who isn’t aware of the scale of infertility, and the impact that it can have.

In this article, I’ll be covering ‘what NOT to say to someone struggling with infertility’.

I’ll also be touching on why infertility is a taboo subject for many.

For context, I’ll briefly cover my own backstory.

* 17; diagnosed with severe PCOS & bilateral hydrosalpinx – blocked Fallopian tubes.
* Blood tests regularly ever since showing a severe hormonal imbalance.
* Diagnosed with endometriosis and cysts on my tubes at 22.
* Told at 23 that IVF likely wouldn’t work due to the extent of my hormonal issues. Bilateral hydrosalpinx can also cause miscarriage due to the fluid build up, so tubes are usually removed before IVF in this case. I was told that I was classed as ‘infertile’, given my conditions.

From the outset of the initial diagnosis as a teenager, I mentally steeled myself for a childless future.

My womb was destined to stay empty, but I’d make sure that my heart would stay full.

I surrounded myself with my closest friends and my fiancé, went off to university, pursued my education, travelled and had fun. Basically, I kept my mind preoccupied.

Fast forward to October 2015.

I went onto a very low calorie/carb diet plan and lost an astonishing 3 stone in 3 months! This sudden weight loss rebalanced my hormones and in December, I must have ovulated for the first time in 7 years because on January 7th 2016, I got those 2 beautiful blue lines.

So, I’m now classed as having fertility issues rather than outright infertile. The lesser of two evils, but not ideal for the girl who dreamt of a huge family.

Will I be able to conceive again? Who knows.


Since my diagnosis of infertility, I’ve definitely picked up on how ‘taboo’ the topic is.

Mention your malfunctioning reproductive system and suddenly everyone is either an expert, or they awkwardly change the subject as it’s something that they can’t relate to, so they feel uncomfortable.

And, to bring in the focus of this piece, people seem to suddenly lose their heads and say some of the most ridiculous, tactless things! These are all legit quotes from things that have actually been said to me.

I’ve actually been told by well-meaning people that it’s ‘Mother Nature’s way of telling me that parenthood isn’t for me.’

If that was the case – why does IVF/other fertility treatment exist for the purpose of overcoming this hurdle?
If that was the case – how was I able to fall pregnant after adopting a very extreme lifestyle change?

This implies that my genes are ‘undesirable’, and that any kid of mine would be deficient in some way. Max is PERFECT.

It’s such a tactless, baseless thing to say.
No, it’s NOT a consolation if it’s ‘natures work’.

Science is amazing, nutrition is amazing. We’ve evolved to overcome these hurdles, so why in 2016 is the topic of infertility still so taboo?

The simplistic suggestion that I ‘just adopt’ was another one that really boiled my piss.

By suggesting that, people were trivialising my completely righteous upset, and forgetting that the adoption system is one full of red tape, bureaucracy, and hoops to jump through. Adoption is an amazing thing to do, but don’t tell an infertile woman to ‘just adopt’.

It’s a totally natural biological urge to want to reproduce, and I passionately refute the assumption that someone is selfish for wanting to experience pregnancy, the wonder of childbirth, and rearing their own biological young.

‘Oh, what did you do?’

Never mind the genetic influence that lies behind the predisposition to suffer with many conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis. Let’s try to find blame in ME for this medical condition that I have no control over. Lovely. I’m sure that men with a low sperm count, and other forms of infertility suffered by both genders can relate to this.

‘No baby yet? When will you try for one?’

This can seriously sting, especially if the questioner is fully aware of your condition. In my opinion, this is an inappropriate question full stop, especially considering so many people keep their fertility struggles private through fear of judgement.

‘You’re not a proper woman if you can’t give your partner a baby.’

Two words for this.

Piss. Off.

‘Here, try this random herbal concoction with zero scientific evidence.’

Obviously, this is a case of each to their own. Personally, I absolutely hated being told that some random powder could cure my problems when established science and evidence-based medicine couldn’t help.

‘IVF and fertility treatment is just playing god.’

Wow. Just wow.

‘But it’s such a private subject, keep it to yourself.’

Keeping my fertility issues to myself achieved what, exactly?

THIS kind of attitude is exactly why infertility is still taboo; why some people are too embarrassed to talk about it through fear of judgement; why there is still such a lack of awareness!

Bottom line is, opinions are like bum holes.
Everyone has one.
Some people enjoy flashing theirs obnoxiously.
Some people keep theirs in their panties.

From experience, the topic of infertility brings all of the self-proclaimed experts out of the woodwork. They all want their say on YOUR experience.

My point?

Obviously, it’s easier said than done to advise you all to ignore it. My point is that we need to do something to tackle this; instead of keeping quiet, speak up, just as I am with this post.

Awareness kills ignorance.


My name is Katie and I have fertility issues.


* Be a comforting shoulder.

* Be a friend; you don’t need to offer words of comfort. JUST BE THERE.

* Don’t awkwardly change the subject.

*Read, learn, and improve your knowledge if you’re genuinely unsure.

*Be tactful.

* If you’re tactless by nature [like me], consult the second point above.

To summarise:

Infertility is a taboo subject due to the lack of awareness/understanding that many people have of infertility.

This is self-perpetuating, as too many sufferers don’t speak up due to the flippant attitude they often encounter. Ignorance breeds ignorance.

We can tackle this together by being open, upfront and unapologetic.


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