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Why we need to change the way we talk about fertility care

Words are powerful

Words are powerful. The language we use can influence whether people feel included or excluded. Protected or vulnerable. Supported or misunderstood. 

That’s why the team at Carrot strongly believes it’s important to create a shared, inclusive language when it comes to the topic of fertility care. Because while technology has advanced and our society has evolved, the language has lagged far behind. Look at any news article about fertility care, and you’ll still see stigmatizing terms like “artificial insemination” and “test-tube baby”—a term that was first adopted 41 years ago when IVF was still an unwelcome and foreign concept. While this may not initially seem like a big deal, the words we choose when describing these procedures can have a profound effect on the individuals and couples who undergo them.

If you’ve used these terms too, trust me, you’re not alone! There are a few simple ways you can be more mindful about how you speak about fertility care—whether you’re a consultant speaking to clients, or an individual supporting a friend. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Be aware of subtle, but important, differences

There are many misunderstood phrases when it comes to fertility care. For instance, the word “surrogate” is a popular and widely utilized word. However, what many people don’t realize is that there’s a significant difference between “surrogate” and “gestational carrier.” A surrogate is someone who donates their egg and then subsequently carries the pregnancy. Whereas a gestational carrier is when the person carrying the pregnancy is in no way biologically related to the child. 

While these two phrases tend to be used interchangeably, the difference is significant as each term carries its own weight. For instance, let’s say someone uses the phrase “surrogate mother” when, in fact, they’re referring to a gestational carrier who shares no DNA with the baby. These differences may be subtle but can have a huge impact on the people involved. 

Recognize the changing definitions of family 

There was a time when only heterosexual couples who “naturally” got pregnant were considered a family. This is no longer the case. Today, families come from all gender identities, sexual orientations, or means of having a child. And the language we use should reflect that. 

That’s why we encourage people to move away from using phrases like “non-traditional” when talking about families. This implies that any non-heterosexual couple that chooses to have a family falls outside what is considered mainstream and normal. This excludes a certain demographic and also creates an isolating experience for those who are starting families. 

Similarly, we avoid words like “alternative” or “artificial” to describe treatment paths or families in an effort to ensure all experiences are treated equally. For example, a popular phrase within fertility care is “artificial insemination.” This language suggests a false, insincere, or unnatural path to attempted pregnancy, which is why we prefer the term intrauterine insemination (IUI) instead. 

Practice empathy

Above all, inclusive language should come from a place of empathy. It’s about being able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else—even if their experiences are different from yours. A great example of this is the topic of adoption. For some individuals or couples, adoption is their preferred method of becoming a parent. They choose this path over sexual intercourse or fertility care as a way to bring a child into their lives. For others, the decision to adopt comes either during or after an infertility experience.

However, that doesn’t mean adoption is the solution for all couples. In an effort to offer kindness and comfort to an individual or couple facing fertility problems, it may be tempting to suggest they “just adopt,” especially when IVF or other treatments do not result in a pregnancy. However, it’s important to keep in mind that—while adoption is an incredible way to become a parent—it’s not a cure for infertility, and not all people want to consider adoption as an alternative path.
It can be intimidating to learn a whole new language around fertility care. However, the fact that you’re taking the time to familiarize yourself with these terms and phrases is a huge first step. 
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, so feel free to comment below with questions and feedback. Also, if you’re interested in familiarizing yourself further with the modern language of fertility care, we put together a guide to help – check it out here.

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