Types of Situational Infertility

Lesbian couple with their child
It's possible to have perfect fertility but still require help in building your family. Don't let your situation dictate whether you have a child or not. sarahwolfephotography / Getty Images

Situational infertility refers to a person who may be biologically fertile but, due to their situation, are unable to have children in a typical way.

They may need fertility treatments to conceive or be pushed into choosing a childfree life. They might also seek alternative family building options (like adoption).

Also important, this person or couple would like to have children, despite their situation.

(I wouldn’t apply the term to someone in a situation where they can’t have kids, but they themselves aren’t interested in having children.)

Why We Need This Term

I first heard this term from the Broken Brown Egg’s Facebook page (which you should totally be following, by the way.) A short Internet search away, I discovered Melissa Ford of Stirrup Queens discusses the phrase in her book Navigating the Land of IF.

I have no idea when or where the phrase first came into being. I’m really glad, though, that it exists. The moment I saw it, I thought, “Yes! Finally, the phrase I’ve been looking for!”

We all understand the standard definition of infertility – a man and a woman who after a year of trying to conceive do not get pregnant.

But what about those who also want to have a baby, and desire children with all their heart, but can’t have a one for other reasons?

What about the couples whose actual fertility may be fine – but there’s something else standing in the way between them and a baby? Something that requires them to seek fertility treatment, or basically pushes them to consider other family building options...

These people go through the same emotional heartache as a couple with infertility.

If they choose to pursue fertility treatment or adoption, they go through similar stresses in building their families as well.

This is where the term situational infertility comes into play.

Who Might This Term Apply To

This isn’t a medical term, and it doesn’t have an ironclad definition.

With that said, here are some examples of people who we might say are experiencing situational infertility...

(And, again, this term only applies if the person wants to have kids.)

Single Women

Single-Mother-By-Choice – it’s a pathway to parenthood that many women take.

Some end up there after years of not finding someone to settle down with. Others decide to become single-mothers-by-choice early on, regardless of past or current dating prospective.

The reason for choosing to become a single mom is irrelevant. The bottom line is a woman can’t be pregnant on her own. She needs a sperm donor.

If a woman wants children but doesn’t want to raise a child on their own, they may be forced to choose a childfree life.

Whether a single woman decides to go ahead with artificial insemination or decides on a childfree life, if they want children, we can say she is experiencing situational infertility.

Single Men

When I think of a single man who wants children more than anything, I right away think of the character Michael Scott, from the hit comedy show. His desire for children but the inability to find someone to have them with was an important part of the show.

Michael Scott never sought fertility treatments to have a family, but he could have.

Single men who want to have a child usually can’t adopt. They can try, and they can apply, but they are often pushed to the bottom of the list.

(Typically, heterosexual couples are at the top of the list, followed perhaps by single women, and only then, single men. Gay couples also struggle with adoption, but more on that below.)

However, a single man who wants to have a child can turn to surrogacy.

They can either have a biological child via a surrogate with an egg donor. Or they can choose to go with an embryo donor (slightly less expensive) or an egg donor and sperm donor (slightly more expensive.)

Lesbian Couples

A lesbian couple that wants to have a baby has two choices: adopt or turn to a sperm donor.

Adoption may or may not be an option. Some areas do not legally allow a female couple to adopt a child. They might allow one of the women to adopt a child, but they can’t share the adoption legally.

Frequently, lesbian couples that adopt must turn to international adoption agencies or consider adoption between the couple and an individual via an attorney (a sometimes risky proposal, by the way). Sadly, many regular adoption agencies are likely to turn them away.

Another option is to have a child via a sperm donor. They may or may not choose to use their own eggs, but if they do, the child will biologically be related to one of them.

Bottom line is that they need adoption or fertility treatments to have a child.

Homosexual Men

Like lesbian couples, their options for adoption may be limited. It’s possible, but it can be tricky.

Like single men wanting to be fathers, some gay couples decide to build a family via surrogacy. If one of the men provides the sperm, he will be the biological father.

Those Living with a Chronic Illness

This group of people may include women who can’t stop taking a medication that is risky during pregnancy.

This also includes women with a history of mental illness, either depression or something else, that may be dangerously exasperated by the stress of pregnancy or during the postpartum period.

It can also include men and women who would love to have children but live with a chronic illness that would make raising a child difficult or impossible.

Depending on the situation, options for these families include deciding to live a childfree life, surrogacy, or adoption.

Women or Men Experiencing Sexual Problems

If a couple can’t have sexual intercourse in order to conceive, they can’t get pregnant without help.

What might cause this sort of problem? For women, pain during sexual intercourse can make it difficult to impossible to conceive.

For men, chronic problems with erectile dysfunction can stand in the way of having a baby.

Now, pain during sex and erectile dysfunction are medical issues, and they may be a symptom of an underlying condition that does impair fertility. This sort of situation may be actual biological infertility.

Or, the sexual problems may be caused by something else. In other words, these couples may be able to conceive normally had they not had the sexual difficulties.

They aren’t infertile, by definition. But they have similar challenges.

If the sexual problem is not easily treated, the options for these couples are similar to couples with infertility: fertility treatment (possibly artificial insemination), adoption, or choosing a childfree life.

People Living in Dire Poverty

Couples who cannot afford to raise children may fall into the definition of situational infertility.

This is a controversial one to include, but I think totally appropriate.

There are those that may argue that a couple too poor to have kids could still have them – and plenty of people do. (Some end up on the street or in other desperate situations… hardly a good situation to find oneself in.)

Some may argue that “with better budgeting” or “better education” these couples could have a child “if they really wanted.”

However, I wouldn’t say any of that. It’s completely unfair and untrue.

There are couples out there that would love to have kids but simply cannot afford to have them. Their primary option is choosing a childfree life, and we should support and respect that choice.

Showing respect for these men and women also means acknowledging that their “situational infertility” is as difficult to cope with as any other person who can’t conceive.

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