How Using The Word 'Infertility' Can Affect Your Mental And Physical Health

In his preeminent sci-fi novel and cautionary tale "1984", George Orwell wrote, "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." In that poignant and powerful one-liner, Orwell accurately describes how words can have real-life implications, influencing our perception of the way things are. In other words, if we say or hear something enough, it can start becoming a part of our reality.

This is true in many areas of life, and so too is it true in the way we talk about people struggling with their fertility. The word infertile, according to Oxford Languages, is an adjective used to describe people, animals, or plants that are unable to reproduce, as well as land that is incapable of sustaining crops. Synonymous with harsh words like barren, there's a finality to the term that can inflict undue physical and emotional damage to those it is used to describe.

And yet, despite its unkindness and, most importantly, its inaccuracy, it continues to be the word we hear and speak when it comes to describing fertility challenges. But if language can corrupt thought, it can also be a driving force in the opposite direction. Let's look at a few reasons why we should implement our language skills to find a better word to describe infertility.

How the word infertile can have emotional and physical implications

When speaking with Mindbodygreen, fertility specialist Dr. Cleopatra Kamperveen illustrates how the word infertile bears a "psychological weight" that can make people feel defeated and broken, like they have been betrayed by their own bodies. Adding to this concept, a think piece published in Metro describes how in a society that expects reproduction from women, terms like barren and infertile can make a woman feel inferior and stripped of her womanhood.

Beyond the psychological distress this label can inflict, it can have repercussions for individuals' physical health as well. Aumatma Shah, a holistic fertility doctor, points out via Mindbodygreen that infertility is not so much a diagnosis, but a symptom of a diagnosis. By throwing a blanket over everyone who is struggling to conceive and calling it infertility, there's a pretty good chance there are other medical issues that are likely being ignored.

The word infertile is grossly misleading

There is a specific medical definition for the word infertility that goes beyond the definition we previously examined. It is marked by the failure to conceive (and stay pregnant) after 12 months of unprotected sex (per World Health Organization). While a year without results may feel discouraging, it is by no means the end of the road. However, as Dr. Kamperveen points out, due to our cultural understanding of the word and its resulting psychological implications, it can lead couples and individuals to believe that the situation is hopeless (per Mindbodygreen).

Others in the medical community seem to agree. A 2004 proposal published in Human Reproduction encouraged the medical community to stop using the term, calling it ambiguous and misleading, as it is often used to describe people who still have a good chance of eventually achieving pregnancy. In fact, of the 9% of women in the U.S. who are labeled as infertile, Dr. Kamperveen states via Mindbodygreen that only about one-third of them are truly unable to conceive. Most people who are having a hard time getting and staying pregnant have a world of options available to them to increase their chances of carrying a child to term, and she proposes that changing the way we label and diagnose gives people their power back.