With the sociopolitical dumpster fire we’ve been living in lately, more and more folks who can get pregnant are taking to the streets to protest and demand that the basic right of reproductive justice be respected. This proclamation of the fact that consent can be revoked at any time – including during pregnancy – warms my cynical little heart. As someone who had the right to decide if and when I get pregnant taken from me before I was even born, these sorts of demonstrations bring me hope that at some point our bodies will finally be our own. But there’s still a question that begs to be asked in the mainstream narrative; where do infertile folks fit in this battle?
Those of us dealing with infertility are forced to live with a longstanding stigma that is completely undeserved. The patriarchal norm that expects cisgender women to be mothers (and that all people capable of conceiving are cis women) takes a massive toll on the mental and emotional well-being of infertile folks as we are made to feel that we are less-than for not having met what our society has deemed a prerequisite for our existence to be considered valid.
Our reproductive justice politics cannot solely focus on the right to not get pregnant and end an unwanted pregnancy (though these rights are and should be a vital part of them). We must also make sure that all folks who wish to conceive but can’t without medical intervention have access to those resources.
I can already hear the chorus of well-meaning but in poor taste “why not adopt?”. Believe me, plenty of us with infertility plan on doing just that for numerous reasons: some of us prefer that option, or because in vitro fertilization (IVF) is too expensive and not covered under most insurance plans (and even then only part of it is), or because other medical conditions we might have combined with the stress and trauma that pregnancy and giving birth sometimes bring could kill us. The appallingly high maternal mortality rate, particularly here in the United States, doesn’t help either.
While I myself am pretty uncomfortable with the concept of IVF (particularly in the Turner Syndrome community where heart problems are commonplace), I don’t get to tell other folks that it’s a bad idea. To do so means that I don’t respect the agency that they have over their bodies. It also makes me as entitled as infertile folks who gladly shame those who can get pregnant for exercising their reproductive freedoms.
While making IVF and other fertility treatments more affordable (and therefore more accessible) is needed to make sure that those with infertility can have reproductive justice, making sure that we also have access to culturally competent mental health care is necessary as well. Going through these treatments can cause a major strain on one’s mental and emotional health. We need mental health professionals who can adequately help us cope and provide the compassion that we rarely receive. Dealing with infertility forces you to endure a never-ending amount of anger, shame, guilt, sadness, and grief. And while some days can be better than others, those feelings never really go away. For those of us who don’t experience these emotions or even find the notion of
infertility liberating, it’s frustrating to live in a society that refuses to acknowledge our varied and often complicated realities. It leaves some of us feeling isolated and mistrusting of those who claim to be in favor of reproductive justice, but overlook our right to access to fertility treatments and build our own families in ways that we deem best for us.
There are times when being an infertile person fighting for reproductive justice can feel like a double-edged sword. We work to ensure that those who can get pregnant have access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare while facing our own concerns about being cast aside or not even considered a part of the battle at all. And to this day we’re still trying to find where our needs fit in this important and heavily nuanced narrative.
As we continue to find where exactly we fit in this struggle for full body autonomy, what those of us living with infertility need most is empathy—a hug or two, and someone willing to lend an ear and take the time to understand what we’re going through. True, our experiences with regard to reproductive justice aren’t what one would consider “mainstream”, but they matter just as much.
The conversation around reproductive justice is a complex, nuanced one, and the popular narrative surrounding it needs to be as well. This cannot be the case if infertile folks are left out of the discussion.