Infertility and Loss: Understanding Disenfranchised Grief

Written by Courtney Simelton, LCSW

All Grief is Valid

Sometimes, the journey to motherhood is more complex than we anticipate. Countless women are disappointed month after month, waiting for a chance to grow their family. For many women, the setbacks with infertility can cause a strong feeling of disenfranchised grief due to being overlooked, unsupported, and unrecognized by those around us.

Disenfranchised grief is defined as losses that are not acknowledged and validated due to being considered as “less significant” or “not worthy of mourning.” This is commonly found in individuals experiencing infertility because of stigma and shame despite 1 in 4 women experiencing loss and 1 in 6 women experiencing fertility challenges. It is important to note studies also indicate the experience and intensity of grief following a pregnancy loss does not differ from the experience of grief following other significant losses.

Infertility often goes unrecognized because there are usually no visible markers and no tangible events to express the grief. This can make it difficult for others to understand and offer meaningful support. Despite good intentions, people may say phrases they believe to be helpful but are actually harmful. How often have we heard remarks like:
● “Why don’t you just adopt?”
● “Relax! It will happen eventually.”
● “It takes time.”

These remarks can invalidate emotions and downplay the extent of distress that women experience which leads to shame and isolation.

It is important to remember that the grief associated with infertility is deserving of acknowledgement and validation. Women who are navigating fertility challenges and loss need a supportive environment to express their feelings and concerns free of judgment. Validating their grief is the first step towards providing the support they deserve. All grief is valid.