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Are You in the Infertility Closet?
a blog by murgdan
Sometimes I’m thankful I remained, for the most part, inside the infertility closet. Sometimes I’m not. Staying in the closet was completely unnatural for me, as I generally find myself in the “over-sharing about life” category. But alas, it was not my closet alone. I shared this closet with my husband, and he is a remarkably private person.
I did share our fertility journey with a few colleagues and friends, but no general acquaintances, and none of my family know the gory details of our testing or treatments. I didn’t even share the battle with my own mother. I knew it had to be this way when, after only a few months of trying to conceive I shared my frustration at our continued lack of success. Her response? “Well if there’s a problem, it isn’t you! It has to be him. No daughter of mine will ever have problems getting pregnant!” Those words were a knife that severed something in our relationship. I don’t need to explain why.
In a way, keeping things secret saved my sanity — I wasn’t forced to endure endless repetitive ignorant questions about “test tube babies” and “fertility drugs.” I didn’t have to tolerate pitiful looks or false “it’ll happen” encouragement.
But I also missed out on a lot of support. And, as it turns out, support can hide in places you never imagined it exists.
Six months ago there was a baby shower at work hosted for a man I had worked for for almost a year. His wife came up for the party. The room was next to my office, and, of course, I was the lone wolf buried in my work on the other side of the wall. I donated money for a gift, and stopped in to whisper my congratulations, but found a million reasons to quickly duck out and escape the discomfort of yet another shower that wasn’t my own. It was simply too painful.
A few days ago I asked this same man, now the proud father of a five-month old son, to help me move the heavy desk in my office. He looked at me strangely (I’m not the type to ask any man to help me move furniture). I let him in on what is no longer a secret: I am pregnant. He congratulated me and said, “Wow, we need to talk.” And began on the typical revelations I imagine any new father experiences. Sleepless nights . . . The impact at work . . . Daycare dilemmas.
I was zoning out on the conversation, tired of the baby-talk that I still didn’t feel ready for, when he said, “And after what we went through to have this baby, my wife doesn’t want anyone else watching him . . .” “What YOU went through?” I thought. I politely asked him what they had been through.
“We tried for years. We did IVF twice . . . and it didn’t work,” then he looked around before whispering, “My counts were really low. I had to have two surgeries — and biopsies. And go to that clinic with that special room with those awful movies.”
What?! Other people have male-factor infertility? What!? We aren’t alone? From the information I learned about this man and his wife in a five-minute period, I understood he hadn’t had anyone to express his frustrations with either. It’s difficult to find people who can easily discuss complaints about semen collection rooms and testicular malfunction without feeling the slightest bit uncomfortable.
In a matter of seconds, it made sense. Now I knew why he worked two jobs, seven days a week when I first met him. I never had a clue we were in the same fertility boat. I asked myself if I would have felt differently about that baby shower if I had known what they had been through to get there. Maybe not.
But in not being open about our journey, did I miss out on receiving support from these unlikely comrades?
More importantly, I have to wonder, is someone else going to miss out on my support because they make the assumption that my virile husband knocked me up the old-fashioned way on the first month we tried?
Infertility is too often a hush-hush subject. Had my husband not felt so strongly about our hiding out in the closet, I would have shouted our experience from the rooftops. I would easily have endured months of ignorant questioning if it meant I could have helped just one person feel less alone. As it is, I am sometimes grateful for my closet hideout. Sometimes I wonder what support I missed out on.
At least I have a keyboard here in my closet. I can type what I cannot shout.
So no matter where you are . . . you are not alone.
And there is hope.