Here’s an updated fertility glossary: Because the terms we use matter

Infertility impacts 17.5% of the adult population worldwide— that’s nearly 1 in 6 people. But despite the magnitude of the problem, it can feel incredibly isolating. I know, because my cofounders at Cofertility and I have been through it.

All three of us experienced reproductive challenges when building our families and wished we knew more about our own bodies when we embarked on our fertility journeys. Had we gotten the proper education about our reproductive health and options, or had we frozen our eggs at an earlier age, we might not have faced those roadblocks. We believe the dearth of fertility education today is truly anti-feminist, and we’re here to change that.

Related: I couldn’t freeze my eggs. Now I’m helping others freeze theirs for free 

We also know firsthand that words matter. From the fertility terms we commonly hear to how you share your pregnancy, there are a few terms and expressions that could use a modern overhaul. Some fertility vocab, like the family-building journey itself, can feel antiquated or even straight-up offensive.

At Cofertility, our goal is to make the actual family-building process more positive and accessible for anyone pursuing egg freezing and third party reproduction. This is important, because infertility can feel lonely and treatment options can be confusing. Not to mention, there’s a lack of openness and understanding from the general public; after all we’re taught from an early age that getting pregnant is easy. So while infertility does not discriminate, it often catches its victims off-guard. The additional stigmatization of infertility just kicks those struggling with it while they’re down.

That’s why we are busy creating a future in which people aren’t constrained to have children by outdated standards, whether by society, finances or their own biology, and while we are at it, we’re also proposing a challenge to the outdated verbiage that surrounds the family building process, because it should feel as good as possible, in spite of the challenges along the way.

From “geriatric pregnancy” and “incompetent cervix” to “inhospitable uterus” and many more, we’ve heard them all. Here are a few of our recommendations to evolve the language around fertility and reproduction.

Related: Should I freeze my eggs? What we can learn from Jennifer Aniston’s experience

Rethinking the fertility glossary

“Insurance policy” → Optionality

When a woman decides to freeze her eggs, she’s giving herself optionality should she experience fertility challenges down the line. While Cofertility’s mission with Freeze by Co is to enable more proactive, empowering egg freezing, we are always transparent about the fact that egg freezing is never an insurance policy.

Poor sperm quality → Sperm-related challenges

When a man experiences low sperm count or motility, or irregular morphology that may result in an unsuccessful fertilization or pregnancy. The same can apply to “poor egg quality,” and we support a similar change to reference egg-related challenges.

Inhospitable uterus → Uterine challenges

When uterine conditions, like endometriosis, cause difficulty getting or staying pregnant.

Poor ovarian reserve → Diminished ovarian reserve

When a woman’s egg count is lower than average for her age.

Changing the conversation around egg donation and surrogacy

Donor mother/parent → Egg donor

The woman who donated her eggs to fertilize an embryo resulting in a child is an egg donor. The intended parents are that child’s parents, full stop.

Related: What to know about using an egg or sperm donor

Surrogate mother → Gestational carrier

Similar to “donor mother,” a gestational carrier, while doing an amazing thing (carrying the pregnancy of a transferred embryo using another woman’s egg) is not that child’s mother. Gestational carriers are incredible, but should not be confused with a child’s actual parents.

Related: A guide to surrogacy: What intended parents need to know

Anonymous egg donation → Non-identified egg donation

We believe anonymous egg donation is a thing of the past—not only can it have negative effects upon donor-conceived children, it’s also unrealistic with the rise of consumer genetic testing. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recently recommended this lexicon replacement as well. At Cofertility, we discuss the concept of disclosure at length with all donors and intended parents. You can read more about our stance on “anonymous” egg donation here.

Buying eggs → Matching with an egg donor

No one involved in this process should feel like eggs are being bought or sold (that goes for the egg donor, the intended parents, and the donor-conceived person). Rather, working with an egg donor is a beautiful way of growing a family and should feel the opposite of transactional.

“Using” an egg donor → Working with/matching with an egg donor

An egg donor should feel like a perfect fit with your family and someone who should be respected, not “used”. Our unique model—where women can freeze their eggs for free when they donate half of the eggs retrieved to another family—honors everyone involved.

Reframing pregnancy loss

Spontaneous abortion → Pregnancy loss

Honestly, this term is beyond cruel given what it describes—losing a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks.

Related: To the mama experiencing pregnancy loss: Give yourself space to grieve

Implantation failure → Unsuccessful transfer

When an IVF embryo transfer doesn’t result in a success, that doesn’t mean it—or your body—was a failure.

Chemical pregnancy → Early pregnancy loss

Calling a pregnancy “chemical” discredits what it actually is—a pregnancy. And losing it should be categorized as such.

Related: It was ‘just’ a chemical pregnancy—but I still grieved deeply

A note on an evolving fertility glossary

Without this harmful language, navigating reproductive health and fertility challenges is hard enough. We’ll plan to hold ourselves accountable and not only talk the talk but aim to walk the walk. So consider this a rallying cry. While we are doing everything we can at Cofertility to make it easier to pursue egg freezing and family-building on our own timelines, and to help any intended parents on their path to parenthood, we hope you’ll join us in evolving the language, too.