why infertility should not be private

Years ago, when a friend of a friend announced a very new pregnancy — it couldn’t have been more than six weeks — I thought, “What the hell is she thinking?”

I had the sense that early pregnancy announcements were like telling people you snagged a new job when really you only made the final round of interviews. It was presumptuous and improper.

Even though I consider myself a feminist, and even though I try to challenge hurtful social conventions whenever I can, this assumption stayed with me for a long time. Only the experience of infertility made me question it.

For my first eight months at the RE clinic, I told only my closest friends and parents. But after a marathon of diagnostic tests and failed cycles, it got harder to maintain the veil of privacy.

When someone asked me what I’d been up to, it felt like a lie to say anything other than that I’d been spending 12 hours a week in the RE’s office, waiting on the vinyl couches, spreading my legs for the ultrasound wand and offering my arm for blood.

So I started telling people, and I started this blog.

In the past couple of months I’ve learned that at least two real life friends have PCOS, and several others are in the process of using assisted reproductive technologies. There are more who’ve dealt with miscarriages or the challenges of obtaining sperm without a male partner. All are from my pre-infertile life.

This was liberating to discover. But after the initial euphoria of identifying commonly shared experiences wore off, I started to feel angry.

If so many people deal with some form of infertility, why isn’t it taught in high school biology?

And shouldn’t infertile Facebook users share details of their egg retrievals, just as parents post the tedious minutia of their toddlers’ lives? (See Infertility Doula’s post on this topic.)

Recently I was discussing early pregnancy announcements with a friend. She pointed out to me what should be obvious: If you share your good news immediately, people can be happy with you, and if it doesn’t work out, they can be sad with you.

How much easier would our lives be then?

As a postscript, we did the egg retrieval on Thursday. As of yesterday (day two), we have seven embryos, all between two and four cells.

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7 Responses to “why infertility should not be private”

  1. I’m way too introverted to be “out” to many people close to me. BUT I am toying with the idea of coming out to my knitting group (in the context of casual conversation). Weird, huh? That i’d tell a group of women that i’ve only know a few months. Somehow it seems easier than “letting down” people I’m close with.

    Best wishes on your cycle! I’ll be rooting for you.

  2. I completely agree with you. I sometimes imagine a world where we could all openly talk about our infertility. We’ve certainly come a long way, but not far enough where it’s ok to just post our egg retrieval news on FB. Perhaps it’s because conception is supposed to be such an intimate thing and yet for us, it involves a village of doctors and nurses.

    Maybe you’ll enjoy reading back on this post:

    http://infertilitydoula.blogspot.com/2010/07/letting-it-out-expressing-your.html

    Thank you for updating us on your IVF cycle. I am rooting for your embryos. Thinking of you!

  3. That was my thinking, when we shared our news early on. Although part of me was cocky (I didn’t know you and the many many other people who miscarriage or simply can’t get pregnant), part of it was very much in the belief that I would want to share the sorrow of miscarriage if it did happen to me, instead of struggle with it within the confines of my own four walls. We’re cheering you on and we’ll be there with support either way.

  4. I think this is absolutely a feminist issue. Social taboos are a great way to enforce isolation and the internalization of personal pain. If one doesn’t know how common reproductive health problems are, one is less likely to be angry when, for example, they’re not covered by medical insurance. I think that in particular you’re absolutely right that people should feel free to announce their pregnancies earlier. Keeping it a secret until after the first trimester is over implies that miscarriage is something to be ashamed of, something to hide, certainly not something that you would need support and help dealing with from friends and family.

  5. Great post and I fully agree. It is hard to put aside those beliefs — don’t tell anyone until you’re “clear of danger” and don’t tell people about your struggles. I do have to say, though, that most people don’t know what to say about your IF, and it just became easier to not talk about it.

    On a very happy note, however, best wishes for a great transfer!

  6. I wish I could tell you how many times I wanted to write “[Dandle] is not pregnant” as my facebook status.

    But how many fertile people really understand?

    For me, the buckets of assvice that I would recieve would be unbearable. So for the moment I am in the closet.

  7. I’m with Dandle. The reason we haven’t shared our struggle is we don’t want it to be the topic of conversation at a party. We don’t want knowing looks or “How are you?” to be a loaded question.

    You are right that it’s a feminist issue. I wish I could be more open about this with friends. Just couldn’t deal with the pity.

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