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23 February 2024

The Silent Struggles of Infertility

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Sims IVF

The new Sims IVF survey shows there is still a culture of shame and stigma when it comes to fertility issues – something journalist Kirsty Nutkins experienced. Hear from her directly about her personal experience.

"When I was a little girl, I used to play with my dolls and daydream about being a mother – about the two perfect children I’d have with my equally perfect husband. And as I grew older, the assumption that I would just ‘have’ children when the time was right didn’t seem in any way illogical.

Finding a wonderful man, thankfully, had been easy; I met my husband at university and we’ve now been together for 20 years. But the baby part proved to be a huge uphill battle. At the age 34, I fell pregnant for the first time, but lost the baby at eight weeks. Two months later, I fell pregnant once again, but lost that baby at six weeks. And so began the most heartbreaking series of losses (eight in total) on the way to finally having our daughter in 2022. I fell into a rare percentage – one in 100 women – who suffered from unexplained recurrent pregnancy loss.

Among the many emotions I wrestled during that time was embarrassment about my woeful naivety. I had simply believed that women fell into two camps – the ones who struggled to conceive and the ones who didn’t. Fertility issues, in fact, can be rather more complicated and nuanced, and it was a steep learning curve for us, as we tried desperately to get to the bottom of our issues. 

When you’re struggling to have a baby, you’ll soon find that those around you can be equally uninformed and dealing with tone-deaf comments is common. “When are you going to have a baby?”, “Don’t wait too long, your biological clock is ticking” or “Do you not want kids?” are common questions you’re faced with. Women are expected to reproduce and when we don’t – or can’t – society doesn’t know quite where we fit. We’re somehow unnatural. And yet, we know that one in four of us will experience a miscarriage, and one in six people globally suffer from infertility. 

We chose to be open about our issues with family and friends, but we were still met with unhelpful comments. “Just relax and it will happen” was a common one – implying that I had somehow caused this and that history would repeat itself because of my own anxieties. When I experienced the second miscarriage so soon after my first, some observed “perhaps it was too soon”, “perhaps your body hadn’t healed properly”. 

Many couples are so worried about judgement that they choose to keep their fertility issues quiet, and a recent Sims IVF survey supports this theory. Of the 1,044 adults surveyed, just over a third (34%) claim they or someone else was stigmatised or judged because of fertility issues, and the incidence is highest amongst those aged 25-34 (60%).

Meanwhile, 26% feel pressure to have children or start a family (26%), and among friends is where feelings of stigma are most likely to be felt overall, with males (53%) more likely to experience stigma in this setting. Females are more likely to claim they feel stigma with extended family members (50%).

Unhelpful comments are just one of the ways that people going through infertility feel judged, though; insinuations that they are to blame for their childlessness, being excluded from social events or conversations related to parenting, feeling like they are less of a person or incomplete because of fertility issues and negative portrayals of childless couples in media or popular culture were also cited.

So what can be done to change this? How can we help couples going through infertility to feel supported, not judged? The largest proportion of those surveyed felt that this ultimately came down to increased awareness – specifically education about fertility, testing and treatments from school age.

But in my opinion, the crucial way to make a difference is for those who have experienced infertility to bravely open up and share their stories. By continuing to shatter the silence by speaking about infertility openly – as I’m now passionate about doing – it will ultimately break the taboos and stigmas, educate the uninformed, and make people feel less alone on what can be an incredibly isolating journey."


Kirsty Nutkins is a freelance journalist and copywriter with extensive experience writing for national publications, including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph and Country & Town House, as well as luxury brands. After undergoing a long fertility battle to have her daughter – in which she experienced recurrent miscarriage and multiple rounds of IVF – she also specialises in writing about fertility. 


Kirsty Nutkins

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