Does Infertility Run In Families? It's Complicated.
Infertility can have many different causes or no explained cause at all (unexplained infertility), which is of no comfort to those who are living through it. It’s human to want to know the root cause of an issue (or who to blame when anger arises). But unlike certain genetic conditions or family diseases, like diabetes or a propensity for heart disease, infertility is not necessarily inherited.
According to the CDC, 1 in 5 women are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying, but all of those women are struggling for reasons that are all their own.
Whether your family members have experienced infertility, too, or are just watching on the sidelines as you navigate through your journey, they can still be active supporters.
“Let your child know you care and you are there for them,” encourages Dr. Banafsheh Kashani, M.D., a double board-certified Reproductive Endocrinologist & Infertility Specialist. “Those dealing with infertility often feel very alone in their journey. Many people don’t know what to say to a family member who is going through infertility, so they say nothing. Letting your child know they are supported and loved is top of the list when it comes to helping your child navigate infertility.”
Is infertility genetic?
There is no “infertility gene” that causes infertility.
According to the Office of Women’s Health, infertility can be caused by a myriad of factors or conditions, like blocked fallopian tubes due to endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or diminished ovarian reserve.
While the conditions that lead to infertility may be inherited, infertility is not caused by genetics. For instance, a family history of endometriosis may increase your risk of developing endometriosis, but how that impacts your body and quality of life will remain unique.
If infertility isn’t genetic, can I still find a support system that “gets” me?
One of the comforts of understanding how infertility may be connected to your family may be that it could potentially make you feel like less of an outsider while you navigate your own experience. You can still find a sense of belonging and support no matter the cause of your infertility, whether through your family of origin or a chosen family.
“When struggling with infertility, it can seem like you’re alone in your struggles and no one else knows what you’re going through, but there are support groups with many people who have gone through similar trauma and dealt with physical, emotional and mental health struggles as well,” explains Elizabeth Grill, PsyD., Director of Psychological Services at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility and Associate Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Reproductive Medicine, and Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
Your family of origin can also offer support in ways that acknowledge the experience you are living through. For instance, for parents:
“[Also,] acknowledge the medical, emotional, and financial toll infertility has on your child,” notes Dr. Kashani. “There are many ups and downs in an infertility journey, and there may be times when your child is dealing with more pain and/or grief. Let them know you are there for them but recognize they may need some time to themselves.”
An infertility journey can be full of more questions than there are answers. The grief may, at times, feel overwhelming, even if it is normal. Finding a support group that helps you navigate those moments of uncertainty can be helpful. It’s also incredibly helpful to find a care team that answers questions like, “Is infertility hereditary?” so you can have more peace of mind on your journey.
Vivian Nunez is a writer, content creator, and host of the Happy To Be Here podcast. Her award-winning Instagram community has created pathways for speaking on traditionally taboo topics, like mental health and grief. You can find Vivian @vivnunez on Instagram/TikTok and her writing on both Medium and her blog, vivnunez.com.