The secrecy surrounding infertility has a long arm. On last week’s Creating a Family show, which was on handling your extended family’s unsupportive reactions to your adoption plans, we received the following question/comment:
Our son joined our family through adoption when he was two days old. We do not live near our extended family and therefore it was very easy for us to hide the years of infertility struggles & our process of making the decision that adoption was the best path for us. Since we are very private couple, it was helpful for us at the time to not have this information “public knowledge”, but we suspect we are paying for it now. We didn’t share any information with our extended family until after we made the ultimate decision that we were going to adopt (about 10 months before our son was born). We were faced with a great deal of resistance from certain key extended family members during the adoption process, we addressed what we could & had hoped that the remaining resistance would go away once they met our son. Unfortunately, this hasn’t occurred. …
This caller is not alone. In a survey of couples having difficulty conceiving, conducted by the pharmaceutical company Merck, 61 percent of respondents hid their infertility from family and friends. Nearly half didn’t even tell their mothers. The decision to keep silent on your infertility struggles can have long ranging ramifications. People feel excluded. People don’t understand your subsequent plans, be they IVF, adoption, egg donation, or surrogacy. And perhaps most of all, silence continues to perpetuate a cycle of shame and feeling alone.
People keep quiet for many different reasons. Some simply prefer to keep their health issues to themselves. Others know that discussing infertility inevitably leads to discussions of sex, and well, let’s face it, few of us what to put our sex lives front and center in a conversation. Still others want to avoid the freely shared advice : have you tried (take you pick: missionary position, woman on top position, switching positions mid way through to cover all bases, putting your feet in the air for 10 minutes after sex, douching with baking soda or buttermilk or coca cola or …).
I do think a big reason many people hide their infertility is shame. They have failed. Their body is defective. They should have tried sooner, they shouldn’t have been so picky about choosing a husband, they shouldn’t have worked so hard, and the shoulds and shouldn’ts go on and on.
No doubt, there are lots of good reasons to keep your infertility to yourself. It really isn’t anyone else’s business. The problem with secrecy, however, is that it perpetuates the cycle of shame and isolation. You feel alone with your struggles because you don’t know anyone else who is suffering with this disease. Your aloneness makes you want to hide even more. And the cycle continues.
Resolve and Redbook Magazine have teamed up for a great campaign to end the shame and secrecy of infertility. Read the article, The Invisible Pain of Infertility. Check out the videos on The Truth about Trying series. Some are by celebrities and some by folks just like you. Hey, why don’t you record one yourself to help others? Closets are cold drafty places, so come on out.
Image credit: Ben McLeod
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Amen sista amen. With the holidays coming up maybe this is the year that I’ll speak up.
You hit the nail on the head with this one. Another reason to not share is that people don’t really understand the pain and sometimes you end up feeling worse because it’s like you’re making a big deal out of something that they don’t think is a big deal. Thank you for your show. It’s a lifeline each week.
I feel very lucky after reading this post. Our experience was entirely different. Endometriosis runs in my family, and two aunts have had hysterectomies because of it. Thankfully, my treatment has been limited to cystectomies so far. But, in that type of family environment, and with pain affecting work, life, education, etc., infertility is not something that is a surprise or a new idea. I also feel lucky that my father spent many years studying reproductive system cancers, so the terms “ovary” and “uterus” were not exactly unusual words in our home. Such things make candid conversation easier.
Telling people about our path through the infertility minefield has given us support and care from all sides of our family and many of our friends. We’ve had to field odd questions and suggestions about how to get pregnant (I don’t recommend laughing out loud in response to such things – folks giving whacky advice don’t seem to find it nearly as entertaining…), but it helped us lay a foundation of education about adoption and our choices that is incredibly useful today. We’ve also heard more stories than I can count of other family members and friends who have faced the same struggle. If your family won’t support you, chances are good that others who have faced infertility will. Though my husband and I are the only people who can face our own emotions and struggles with infertility, we are not alone in understanding what it feels like. We are not the first couple to cry over a diagnosis or to roll our eyes at the people who say, “just relax!” We will not be the last to feel like screaming when reading an ignorant web comment about Darwin and infertility. I don’t want to have to welcome anyone else onto this boat, but it is awfully calming to know that others are here with us.
So, I’ll end by saying this: I’m here, I’m infertile, I’m unashamed, and I’m one of many. I am more than the sum of my faulty reproductive organs, and this one challenge will not stop me from living a good, full life.
anonWP, you are indeed “lucky”, but you are also wise to take advantage of the luck of having a supportive family. Lots of people never find out if their family will be supportive because they don’t share. You are right too that once you start sharing about your infertility with a few select people, you’ll be absolutely amazed at how many other people in your circle are also infertile or are close to someone who is. As you said, it’s nice to not be alone. Your last line was beyond inspiring. I’m going to post it to our Facebook and Twitter network. Way to go!
I need to say thanks very much for this blog post.