Why some couples talk about infertility more than others
Why do some couples talk about their infertility, but others do not? Interestingly, a recent study found that couples who are experiencing fertility problems adjust how much information they share with friends and family depending on whether it’s the wife or husband who feels stigmatized about their trouble getting pregnant.
Researchers at the University of Iowa and Penn State University surveyed 50 heterosexual married couples on the East Coast who had been coping with infertility for eight months to five years and asked them questions about medical and financial aspects of their infertility, their relationship and their feelings about the experience. The couples identified five support people in their lives — three who provided support to both of them, and two who were closer to one member of the couple. Researchers then analyzed how much was shared with whom, as well as the reasons behind the decisions.
“In this study, ‘stigma’ was represented by two components — personalized stigma and disclosure concerns,” says study author Keli Ryan Steuber, assistant professor of communication studies in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Personalized stigma represented personal fears or experiences of the infertile individual, and disclosure concerns represented the act of protecting their infertility status or compartmentalizing who has access to knowledge about their infertility.”
I married my husband more than two years before my dear friend married hers. I began trying to become pregnant immediately after my wedding, but on the day of my friend's wedding, she was already pregnant and I was not. By that time, a devastating miscarriage was the closest I had come to having a baby.
Once upon a time, I was conversing with a pregnant fertile friend who was inquiring about my feelings regarding my recent pregnancy loss and what my fertility treatment plans were for the future. I happily answered her questions and appreciated her encouraging words regarding the hope for my success. After I had finished my life update, I asked her how she had been feeling:
Mother-in-Laws are annoying when you’re infertile. Maybe yours isn’t and to that I say you are a lucky suck-up. I know very few women who actually adore their MIL, most of my friends find something irritating about the female who claims their significant-other as offspring.
My Mother-in-Law is the kind of MIL who likes to purposely make absurd comments so I will be as uncomfortable as possible. She actually told me that when my husband was a little boy, she knew by the size of his downtown friend that, “he would make a women very happy one day.”
I fell in love with my husband pretty soon after meeting him. In college, before even having our first date, I told a friend that I thought I had met the man I was going to marry. He had almost instantly become my best friend, had a genuine heart for God like I had never witnessed up close, was handsome, challenged me, believed in me, and supported me. We were just naturally drawn to each other, fit together like two pieces to the same puzzle, and simply enjoyed each other’s company.
Sometimes we infertiles are unhappy with our fertile family and friends. A lot of our discontent is caused by the fact that we have sucky memories. We'll tell some of them some information about our fertility woes, but won't tell some people anything and don't tell too many people everything and then, we get all mixed up ourselves and forget exactly what and how much we told to whom.
It's true what that title there says. And I'm not going to make you read 800 words to find out what the magic mantra is either. It's: "Here, read this".
It's so Zen. So Dalai Lama. So Kama Sutra. So Laughing IS Conceivable.
Okay, that makes no sense. Let me elaborate. There is a perfect gift to give all of those friends and relatives who are just dying to know about your baby-making issues. A book. Yes, it does sound lame. But think about it. If you give them a book (many books will do) that will answer a lot of their questions before they even ask them, you're home free.
Many that go through infertility might not look back at the road they’ve traveled. Some never forget, like me. I find it hard to travel the road of infertility over and over again. Yes, it’s much different when you’re not going through it but you feel the ups and downs with many. The pain you once felt is now affecting someone else and you can’t take it away.
Every year on November 1st, it seems everyone and their cousin is suddenly reminded of reasons to be thankful. Enter: the 30 days of Facebook status updates which usually consist of a series of shout-outs to relatives they forgot to call last Hanukkah, and indirect hints that their super-fertile ovens are baking yet another baby (to be announced on Christmas, of course.) If you're feeling bummed about your infertility, you're probably two posts away from hiding them from your feed.
In all seriousness, they should be thankful for friends, families, and babies. But here is the abbreviated Thankfuls list coming from the infertility community, because no one really wants to read all 30!
The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel. -Hamlet: Act I, Scene iii
When I was going through fertility treatment, I learned deeply about the salve of true relationship. Although in the above quote, it is Pop advising his son, Laertes, about the prudence of friendship before Laertes goes to the raucous Paris of yore, it is timeless advice. My friend, an English department chair and Shakespearean professor, describes Pop’s advice: "You have these people you call friends. Focus on the ones that have been tested in some way. (Not those fair-weather, superficial friends.) Make a strong effort to embrace those friendships. Pay attention, in other words. Make an effort. Don't let anything separate you from your real friends." (Thanks, David.) I think that it is especially important advice for those times that are really, really arduous — death, infertility, or losing a loved one.