4 Metaphors for Explaining What Infertility Feels Like to Others

Elyse Ash •Feb 27, 2023

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

For all of the fiction and non-fiction films, TV shows, books, podcasts, 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?


Metaphors For What Infertility Feels Like

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 for a chance to have a baby — but the easiest way to convey the stress of infertility is to talk about it in terms of gambling at a casino. Particularly, it's like a game of roulette where it’s 100% about luck and odds, not skill or savvy.

casino craps table

Navigating infertility is a lot like walking through 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, and 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 of bruises. 

2. 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 home (in this case, a baby). It's kind of like walking into a car dealership and shelling out $20,000 of your hard-earned money for a car, only to find out there's only a chance that you actually get to leave with that car. Sounds hard to grasp, right? 

3. Rigged Carnival Game

Step right up! Step right up! You know those terrible carnival games, like ring toss, that are incredibly difficult to win? 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, where it seems impossible to win that big stuffed teddy bear.

At the same time, 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 to achieve your goal, but somehow, when it’s your turn, you choke. So you put in some more money, only to lose again. It can often feel like you're going crazy. 

It’s a similar feeling when it comes to IUIs or IVF. Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) works for just enough people that you believe it could work for you. And then if it doesn’t, you feel like you’ve already invested a certain amount of time and money, so really, what’s one more round? It can be maddening, to say the least.  

carnival swing ride

4. 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 class/support group. I loved talking with other women who understood what I was feeling and who wouldn't judge me when I spontaneously burst into tears mid-session. But the problem with hanging out with a bunch of other women who want to get pregnant is that many of them eventually do become pregnant.

In my group of 14 friends, I was the third-to-last one to become a mom. I watched nine of my dear friends have success with treatments, get pregnant, post announcement photos on social media, and give birth. And man, I was struggling.

Going through infertility is the equivalent of being trapped on a bus or subway car without knowing when your stop is coming up. You sit nicely on the packed bus with hundreds of other women. At each stop, more women get off. Sometimes new women get on, but even they seem to be getting 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 wondering, "Will it happen for me, too?" 

What metaphors do you use when talking about infertility?

Elyse Ash and her husband Brad went through three years of infertility, two rounds of IVF, and one frozen embryo transfer before seeing 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.