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The Need to Know Basis

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a blog by Ellen Glazer, September 23, 2010

People going through infertility — and especially those considering egg donation, sperm donation or adoption — often wonder what they should tell others, if anything, about their efforts to build or expand their family.

I have come to believe that there is a certain amount of information that others should know. This — and only this — should be the information they receive. Here, I’ll offer up a few examples.

Too Little Information

There are people who don’t tell others that they are trying to conceive, let alone that they are seeking treatment. Unfortunately, this leads to misunderstandings as family members, friends and colleagues jump to the wrong conclusions, assuming the couple is “too selfish,” “too focused on their careers” or “too into their first child to think about another.”

Too Much Information

At the other end of the spectrum are those who “tell all.” They not only tell others that they are seeking treatment, but they provide incredible details about all that is involved. Family members who don’t know what a follicle is or have no idea what ICSI stands for are given the blow-by-blow details of how many eggs were retrieved, how many fertilized how the embryos were graded, how many were transferred and the precise timing of the pregnancy test.

This overload of information can lead to as many problems as the “underload” described above. In order to be polite and in tune with the struggling couple, friends, family and others check in often, ask lots of questions and with the best of intentions, become inadvertently intrusive.

And it only gets more complicated with egg donation or adoption. So ...

Give Them Information on a Need to Know Basis

I suggest that you think about what you want and need for others to know and that you figure out a way to tell them this and nothing more.

For example, in response to the question:

“You two have been married a while — are you going to have children?”

You might say:

“We hope to have children, but have run into some challenges. We’re getting help and when we have good news, we will eagerly share it with you. Until then, what is most helpful is for us to keep distracted with other things (this is your cue to shift the subject to something else).

Or, if someone asks the following:

“You told me you were thinking of adoption. Are you going to adopt?”

You might say:

“Yes, we’re moving ahead, but it can be a difficult and uncertain process. We’d rather not talk about it until we have good news and then I promise you, we’ll be joyfully telling everyone.”

Infertility and alternative paths to parenthood can feel like “out of control” experiences. Talking with others on a “need to know” basis at least gives you a sense of being in control of information and conversation.

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