Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Infertility Identity

After my last post about constantly being asked about my reproductive plans, it occurred to me that perhaps I should take a little more responsibility for all of this. Maybe instead of being part of the Problem I should be part of the Solution.

Statistically, how likely is it that I've made it to my mid-30's without having one friend or acquaintance that I know of who has undergone fertility treatments? Over the past year, I've heard of a few "friend of a friend" stories ("my sister's husband's co-worker's former roommate did IVF twice and now she has triplets!") but I've never actually known anyone personally who has struggled with infertility.

But then I wonder, how many of my friends and acquaintances would say the same thing? Little do they know.

It seems that when I joined the Infertility Club, I actually signed up for a secret society where all the members make up fake names like "longingforbaby35," and gather in underground chat rooms to discuss the intimate details of our cervical mucous and number of times we have sex a month and to lament about another baby shower at work for Fertile Francine in Accounting. Yet, few of us actually tell people in our real lives that we are going through this.

I recently saw an interview with Mariah Carey where she went as far as to tell Barbara Walters about taking progesterone during her pregnancy with twins, and yet, the words "IVF" were never mentioned. At one point, Barbara asked Mariah, in the same "about to dig up some dirt" tone that she might use to ask Lindsy Lohan if she's still snorting coke, "Did you use any....fertility treatments?" Mariah, of course danced around the topic, and who could blame her for not wanting to tell Babs about how she took twice daily shots of hormones derived from a pregnant woman's pee (bet you didn't know that, did you?) and yelled at poor Nick Cannon not get to close to her or he might burst her bulging ovaries, only to see the headline "Mariah Carey Gives Birth to Test Tube Babies" splashed all over the tabloids next time she's in line at the grocery store.

It just seems easier to simply smile and say "we're thinking about it" than to actually tell people the truth about trying to get pregnant. Or, in my case, smile, say "we're thinking about it" and then make a list in my head of all the things I wish I could say, such as:

"Oh, we'd love to have kids! My husband told me that if I swallow the sperm, it will get to my stomach faster, but we've been trying that for months and it's not working."


"Well, if we had kids, I'd have to give up my heroin addiction, and rehab is so expensive."

or perhaps,

"We plan to have kids someday, but first my husband needs to get his gun collection out of the closet or there will be no place for the baby to sleep."

It's as if actually saying "we've been trying for months, we can't get pregnant, we're doing IVF" would somehow be more shocking.

I'm sure that for some of us, the questions and discussions that would follow a revelation like that seem more taxing than the questions that we are hearing now. But I wonder if for most of us, the reason that we're not telling is that we are not quite willing to turn "Infertility" into a part of our identity. Suddenly, we're not the childless friends--annoying, but it implies that at least maybe we had a choice. We're the infertile friends.

But when we keep quiet, we turn infertility into Something to Be Ashamed Of, like being an unwed mother or watching porn. And then we start to feel ashamed. Something is wrong with me. Everyone in the entire world can get pregnant except me. I did something to deserve this. It's my fault for not being nice enough/thin enough, for being too selfish and focusing on my career or waiting for the perfect partner while the clock was ticking.

Personally, I'm tired of being ashamed. This is not to say that I will stand up at the next dinner party, clink my fork against my glass and say "We have an announcement! We are infertile!"

But maybe I'll try a little harder to stop blaming myself and to start thinking more along the lines of:

"Thank god I waited for the right man and didn't marry my college boyfriend or I'd have 4 kids and divorce papers right now."

"Thank god I focused on my career so I could afford a nice home for my eventual child."

"Thank god that I did all the wild, fun, selfish things that I wanted to do before having kids or I might resent them and feel like I missed out."

"Thank god I didn't spend my life as a size two, or I might be an unhealthy diet-obsessed person who passes that onto my daughter."

"Thank god I went through this infertility thing because it made me so much clearer on the fact that I am meant to be a mother. I will be such a patient and loving parent when this baby finally arrives."

And maybe the next time someone asks about my reproductive plans, I'll say "we've been trying for months, we can't get pregnant, we're doing IVF." and someone who overhears me will come up after and say "me too."


  1. It is AMAZING how many people have said to me "me too" once I told them what we are going through. I still don't tell many work people, but I have become much more open over the last 2 years.

  2. What a great post! I have made an effort to talk about my issues with losses, and now infertility, when an opportunity presents itself. I may get some awkward looks but for every awkward look I get one woman with pleading eyes who shares with me their loss or their struggles to conceive as well. It is worth the funny looks if it means helping someone else realize they aren't alone in this! I look forward to following your journey!

  3. I seriously can't believe only two comments because this post is incredible. I meant to tell you this last Friday when I first read it, and realized that I never actually left it in writing (I guess saying it inside my head doesn't count?). Great thoughts beautifully put.

  4. Great post.... I am not really open to what we are going through in real life. I have told a couple of friends about it, and it turns out that one of them has gone through IVF as well!

    Very well said!

  5. This is a fantastic post! I am very open about my infertility. I tell people all the time that my son is an IVF baby, and it was a long road to get there. And should they ask, I also let people know that we have to go back to the doctors if we want to have another.

    I do not get many judgmental responses. Some people are even curious. And most people do know someone else who went through infertility.

    It was a relief to get it in the open and start to educate people about what IF really is.

  6. Great post! Here from Mel's Roundup. I us to e much more secreted...5+ years later & still no baby, I'm more open. Joining an in-person support group & meeting some women who get me like no other helped tremendously.

    Totally agree, IF education still has a long way to go & maybe one day it will be as openly discussed, even supported as say breast cancer, which you know was taboo at some point!

  7. Great post, I'm here from the round up too. I just wanted to tell you that your speculation about all the people you know who are secretly infertile is so true! I am pregnant (finally!) after IVF and I'm not ashamed to shout it from the roof tops, its amazing how many people have come out of the closet to me since I started being open. Even my ultrasound tech! So moral of the story, don't feel alone. Fabulous post!

  8. This is an amazing post. You're exactly right. The last two times someone has asked me when I'm having kids, I've been honest. "We've been trying for years."

    What has amazed me is, not only have people not been jerks about it, they haven't made a big deal about it at all. It's almost as though my problems aren't a huge giant deal to other people! Hey whoa!

    Every time you tell the truth you make it easier for someone else to do it next time...

  9. Beautiful post! I'm here from the round-up, too. I love the "I've been swallowing the sperm" line.

    I'm tired of the secrecy of IF, too. More and more, I'm going public and loving it.

  10. Great post! I'm very open with our struggles towards closest family and friends. it has been a great support even though sometimes you really wish they didn't know because it's so freaking hard and you are not in the mood of talking about it.
    Here from Mel's Blogroundup

  11. Here from the Round Up. Love this post! I was so closeted while undergoing treatments, but now I feel more and more able and willing to be very open about it. We have nothing to be ashamed of.

  12. I found myself nodding all the way through your post. Up until we started IVF we were fairly quiet about our struggles. Then when we started, we thought 'bugger it' and pretty much told everyone around us (with some exceptions . . .)

    The responses have been brilliant. At least four of the people we've told have also gone through fertility treatments. Many others have sisters or brothers or friends who have. Many are curious and interested and therefore kind and helpful when I was extremely bloated before pick up. My boss even rang me this week to make sure I was ok after pick up.

    (however, I do wish I'd had a chance to use the gun cupboard line :) ) Thank you for such an honest, amazing post

  13. What a fabulous post. Thank you for writing this.

    I am actually on the opposite end of this post. I bring up our struggles a lot, when people say dumb things and make hurtful assumptions. I've had to fall back a bit and let people have their say and pick my battles because the reality is, people don't want to face our distresses. They just don't. It sucks.

    But I have made connections with a lot of people because I've put my struggles out there. And for that I think it is worth it.

    I understand why not everyone discusses their situation. I totally do. But I know that I will always say my piece and hopefully that will help others know they are not alone.

  14. Great post. I wish there were more people willing to open up, but while eventually I became vocal with RESOLVE, telling congress about my infertility, it was harder to share with family and friends and I stayed quiet. I applaud you for being willing to open up.

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  16. Thank you all for your amazing comments! I started this blog because sometimes I felt like it was just me and my pee-stick, all alone out there in the great big world of IF. How amazing to find out I'm actually at a giant party (full of the nicest, most supportive guests ever).

    I've just started in on a lot of your blogs and can't wait to continue reading!

  17. This is an amazing post. I followed you over from Stirrup Queen's post and I'm so glad that I did. :o)

    I've been rather open about our infertility for the past 6 months or so. And the farther I get into this, the more open I seem to be about it. I'm glad that we came out about it, but at the same time, I completely understand why many can't come out about it.

  18. What an amazing post! I been thinking about the same things recently and you're correct about how we need to stop being so quiet about infertility and start speaking out about this disease. WIthin the past few months, I've been seeing more outreach from organizations like Resolve and from people within the ALI community, but you've reminded me that I need to be the change I want to see.

  19. Interesting post...for me personally, after 12 months of trying, I told my closest friends that I was infertile and they were actually surprised that I labelled myself infertile already. For a time in the beginning of our IF journey, it felt as though they felt it was an exaggeration to label myself as an infertile. They didn't say that per se, but that was what I felt anyway.

    Another friend made a comment that made me felt as though I shouldn't have labelled myself as infertile and that I should have just continued having "positive thoughts" about kids in my daydreams about the future...I understand her wish that I should think positive and I appreciate that, but to me it made me feel like I should deny my "condition" instead of accepting it.

    That said, I've found several girls my age that have been having similar problems after I opened up, so I'm thankful for that. :-D Now we've "surrendered" to living a childless life, so it's a whole different thing for me now, but I just wanna share our journey after reading this post.

    FYI, the other time I came back to Indo (my home country) and a neighbour said to me, "Hope you'll get little ones soon." I told her that it was OK even if we didn't have kids.

    She looked SO SHOCKED and she quickly said, "DON'T SAY THAAATTTTTT!!!! I'll pray so that you can have kids."

    I thanked her, but deep inside I felt that it'd be really hard to make people understand our decision (given that I'm only 33 y.o. perhaps), so sometimes I feel that I'd better just smile and say nothing, you know?

  20. It is amazing once you open up how many people have also struggled with it as well...
    Good post.

  21. It's hard to throw yourself out there because you never know what kind of responses you'll get, but at this point I can handle even the stupid ones and I'm glad when I can help someone by letting them know they aren't alone.

  22. I absolutely loved reading this post! Yes, yes, and yes! We're are about to start our 1st IVF cycle and we have not told a single soul...not that they wouldn't be supportive, I guess I'm just not ready for all the questions.

  23. This is so true, in order to help fertiles understand, we have to talk about it. I got pretty gutsy myself and have started being open with people. For the most part, they are kind and understanding. When I get someone who responds with rude questions, they get sassy answers from me.

  24. This was a really great post. I've always been fairly open about our struggle with family and close friends but in some ways I've had to be because my IF is considered "secondary" though my history says that it's always been there just undiagnosed and masked by BCPs.

    However, because I didn't realize I had an issue before conceiving my DD when we decided to try for #2 it came as quite a shock. It comes fairly easily now to tell people the basics if I'm asked and for the most part I get a lot of well-meaning responses that grate from fertiles but I know they're trying their best to be supportive of something they can't relate to at all.

    Oddly enough if I could untell just one person it would be my mother it's come back to haunt me so many times in the most hurtful of ways that it's now a topic I do my level best to avoid with her.