It’s National Infertility Awareness Week and the theme this year is “You Are Not Alone.” Infertility can make you feel isolated and like you’re the only person struggling to conceive. But the fact is that 1 out of every 8 couples of reproductive age deal with infertility in some form. That means it’s very likely that there are people on your block, in your family, in your office, and in your place of worship who are also experiencing infertility.
Talking about infertility can be scary and leave you feeling vulnerable. But only by talking about it can we make it less taboo and remove the shame that often surrounds it.
Whether to share your fertility struggles, and with whom to share them, is an extremely personal decision. I never thought much about it because I’m a sharer by nature and knew I needed to share in order to get the support I needed. But in the beginning, my husband was much more reserved and much less inclined to talk about it. This wasn’t so much because he was embarrassed, but because, well, sometimes it’s a complicated conversation. Because infertility is usually a two person adventure, it’s important to be able to agree on disclosure issues. Over time, as we became aware that our fertility challenge was not a simple fix, Noah and I decided to go very public. I started writing a blog, and together we started documenting our journey on film, in hopes of sharing our story and the story of others in a similar situation.
If you had asked me these questions several years ago, I would have been ever so quick to say, “Be open. Speak proudly. If you don’t talk about it, you are acting like there is something to be ashamed of.” And I would have added, “You are creating a secret and secrets are never a good thing.”
Last week my husband shared our most intimate fertility details with his poker buddies and then pleaded ignorance when I told him not to do that. Shouldn’t he have known something that basic without me having to tell him?
Affects 1 in 6 couples
Totaling over 7 million people
1.5 million ART cycles are performed globally each year
Creating around 350,000 babies
BUT NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT!
The numbers are impressive! Imagine the entire city of New York experiencing struggles getting pregnant!
An article in Psychology Today entitled "When You’re Not Expecting" explains it perfectly that when you are going through infertility it’s like wearing a scarlet letter “I”.
“We may remember Hester Prynne whose scarlet "A," sewn to the front of her dress, branded her as an adulteress. But, for those of us with infertility, the letter "I" can be a prominent symbol in our lives, sometime public sometimes not. And we have some choices about how to "wear" that symbol.”
Women often don’t feel comfortable opening up about something so private and personal, but keeping all that emotion bottled up isn’t healthy. So many women feel a range of emotions when they learn they aren’t going to be able to get pregnant naturally: angry, broken, sad, depressed, shame, the list goes on. You try to put on a “strong” façade, walking around like everything is fine.
I work in a primarily male dominated profession. I am a paramedic in an urban area. I have to be able to hang with the guys, which means I have to be able to swear like a drunken sailor, hold my own in a fist fight and carry the same amount of weight up and down a couple flights of stairs, because believe me chivalry is dead. Watch an episode of “Rescue Me” when the men talk about bedding a woman and that’s the world I live in. I can listen to them talk about the breasts on a woman, her backside, or her vagina for hours. Mindless banter about sex can go on and on all shift long. Heck, I can keep up with them and one up them, but want to see me clear out a room? I will bring up my infertility treatments. I’m talking about the medical treatment of the aforementioned body parts, and bam! Everyone has something to do. Anything, other than stick around and talk to me. Vaginas are for sex apparently, and there are no alternatives to this in the male mind.
During my very first cycle, I remember asking my boss for one day off, to switch with another employee. He asked why, and I told him for a medical procedure. He persisted. I told him I was doing in vitro fertilization (IVF) and I needed the day off for egg retrieval. He said that was fine, went into his office. A few minutes later he returned, asking if that meant I just needed the day off to stay home and have sex all day. Since my boss was the quintessential prude, I so very desperately just wanted to say “yes” and be done with the conversation. I knew that would end it with him blushing, my request being approved and us never speaking of this again. Any future requests would be summarily approved for fear of having this same conversation again. However, I took the time to try to educate him on the in vitro process, including the medical aspect involved, the time and money invested into this, and the emotional toll being taken. I went over eggs & sperm, petri dishes, labs in cities that would hold my future children, etc. I gave him a primer in embryo development. My conversation went nowhere. In the end, it boiled down to if there were magazines in the room where the semen sample was collected. Score one for testosterone driven thinking, and for him returning my attempts at procreation into a seedy romp in a spank tank.
Is it no longer a secret if one other person knows?
A secret can be a burden, feeling as heavy as a load of large stones on our backs. Carrying around that load is exhausting; resisting the temptation to put it down is almost overwhelming. Is that when we tell someone, when it becomes too much? Who do we tell? What do we say? Do we say it all? Do we just hint at it? Do we blurt it all out, flinging our words wildly?
The funny thing about infertility is that few people talk about it unless it involves a recap of your favorite show around the water cooler on a Monday morning. Infertility is becoming a widespread topic in the media from TV show and movie plot lines to celebrities speaking out on their fertility issues. You may strike up a surprising conversation with a friend or coworker about infertility that you otherwise would not have anticipated had it not been for infertility’s place in the media spotlight.