4 Metaphors for Explaining What Infertility Feels Like

Arguably one of the most painful aspects of going through infertility is how misunderstood it is. No matter how hard our friends and family try to get it…they just don’t. Here are 4 metaphors you can use to try and convey just how frustrating, heartbreaking and crazy-making the whole fertility experience can be.

Trying to explain what going through infertility feels like is a nearly impossible task.

For all the fiction and non-fiction films, TV shows, books and articles that cover this topic, so few truly convey the specific shade of pain, grief, isolation, frustration, shame, anxiety, and loss that infertility can trigger.

So how can we effectively communicate to others what we’re going through? How can we paint a picture that demonstrates the odd mixture of hope and loss and jealousy and shame and impatience that so many of us feel?


There’s something about finding a really strong, visual metaphor that can help the lucky ones who haven’t experienced infertility visualize just how unfair the whole situation is. Below are some metaphors I’ve used personally to try and convey the frustration, heartbreak and injustice of infertility.

  1. Casino: Perhaps it’s because Reproductive Endocrinologists love to speak in odds (or more accurately, patients love to ask about odds). Or perhaps it’s because we’re talking about literally gambling with thousands of dollars. But the easiest way to convey the stress of infertility is to talk about it in terms of gambling at a casino…particularly a game like roulette where it’s 100% about luck and odds…not skill or savvy. Going through infertility is like walking into a casino. You have no concept of time. You feel lost and overwhelmed. Everyone around you seems kind of sad. You feel like all you want to do is drink, but it’s really best to stay clear-headed and just abstain. Oh, and the actual gambling? It’s high-stakes. Expensive. There are clear odds that are not in your favor, yet you talk yourself into believing you can game the system. When you win you feel glamorous and when you “lose” you also lose your car or your house…the only difference? Instead of wearing a sequined shimmery dress and heels, you’re wearing ratty sweatpants covering a belly and butt covered in black and blue pinpricks.


  1. Car Dealership: Going through fertility treatments is a surreal experience. You pay thousands of dollars for something you want, and then in the end, you may or may not actually get to take that thing you want home. It’s almost like paying for the chance to have the chance to have a baby…some day…this is a very hard concept for most people to grasp and for good reason. No where else do we shell out an exorbitant sum of money for something we may or may not end up actually receiving. Going through fertility treatments is like walking into a car dealership, shelling out $20,000 of your hard-earned money for a car and maybeeeeee you get to leave with a car. Maybe??? But then again, maybe not. You might leave with no money AND no car. You really don’t know. Could go either way, really. You either get the car…or you lose all your savings and still have no car. Cool options…


  1. Rigged Carnival Game: Step right up, step right up! You know those terrible carnival games like ring toss that are impossible to win yet somehow people still give them money? Yeah, sometimes walking into a fertility clinic can have a pretty similar feeling. Going through fertility treatments is like playing one of those rigged carnival games…you know it’s physically possible to win that big stuffed teddy bear. You see other people in the amusement park walking around with big stuffed teddy bears. In fact, it seems like EVERYONE is walking around with them. So you know it’s possible…but somehow when it’s your turn, you choke. So you put in some more money. You lose again. Just a few more dollars. Nope. “Well now we already spent this much on getting the teddy bear so what’s another X more dollars?” It’s a mindfuck. It’s rigged against you. You feel crazy. It’s exactly the same thing as going in for IUIs or IVF…it works for just enough people where you feel like it could work for you. And then if it doesn’t, you feel like you’ve already invested a certain amount of money so really, what’s one more round? What’s two more rounds? What’s three more rounds…


  1. Train: When I was in the middle of my fertility journey, one of my favorite ways to receive support was going to a fertility-specific yoga group / support group. I loved talking with other women who understood what I was feeling and who’d spontaneously burst into tears mid-sentence. But the problem with hanging out with a bunch of other women who want to get pregnant is that many of them eventually become pregnant. In my group of friends, there were about 14 of us…I was the 3rd to last one to become a mom. I’d watched 9 of my dear friends have success with their treatments, get pregnant, post announcement photos on social media and give birth…and oh man, I was STRUGGLING. Going through infertility is like being trapped on a bus or subway car and not knowing when your stop is coming up. You sit nicely on the filled bus with hundreds of other young women. At each stop, more women get off. Sometimes new women get on…but even those new women get off before you. You sit on this bus for years, constantly watching a string of other women getting off on the platform to Motherhood while you wait. And wait. Are you even on the right line? Eventually you’re one of the last people left…and you just keep waiting…and waiting…


What metaphors do you use when talking about infertility or trying to convey just how stressful and high-stakes and random it all seems?

Elyse Ash is the founder and CEO of Fruitful Fertility. It took her and her husband Brad three years, two rounds of IVF and one frozen embryo transfer to see their first positive pregnancy test which brought them their daughter, born in March 2018. Elyse lives in Minneapolis and loves poetry, hockey, social justice, Beyonce and pretending she’s into yoga.

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