Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Privacy January 14, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie

Earlier this week I wrote about inappropriate chitchat, and my heart breaks over the comments (several came offline). Readers shared some of the horrible, though possibly well-intentioned, things people have said to them that added salt to the already devastating wounds of infertility.

“When are you going to have kids?”

“So which one of you is the reason you can’t have children?”

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

We’ve all heard variations on this theme, and I don’t know if it ever gets easier to come up with an appropriate response. The bigger issue I think we haven’t yet discussed is when—if ever—to tell people, and who we should tell, versus our right to privacy.

How are you handling this? Did you break the news to a few key people, expecting them to spread the message down the line? Did you tell just close family and friends, hoping to gain their support? Did you include a paragraph in your annual holiday newsletter? Or have you kept it to yourself?

Speaking of privacy, if you’re uncomfortable openly posting your thoughts or concerns on the blog, there are members-only discussions going on in the forums. You’ll find comfort, compassion, empathy, and support here. I hope you’ll reach out. Meanwhile, consider yourself cyber-hugged.

Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She believes “Life is what happens when you’ve made other plans.”

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19 Responses to “It Got Me Thinking…About Privacy”

  1. Christy Says:

    Recently my mother told me that it’s okay with her that I’m infertile.

    It’s okay with her? Really? If it weren’t okay with her, what would she expect me to do about it? Does she think it’s okay with ME? I’m okay with splitting dessert. I’m okay with going to work a little early. I’m NOT okay with my infertility. And I’m not okay with my mom telling me she’s okay with it.

    • Jackie Says:

      Rant away! I think we all need to sometimes.
      How nice of your mother to be “okay” with it, when she should have supported, respected and loved you for who you are, and not your ability to breed(!!)
      Do you think mothers think “I went through hard times and sacrificed a lot for YOU, so you should do the same”?
      Or do you think there is a button in the brain that switches off when they give birth, which then allows mothers to say hurtful things throughout your life and criticise everything you do, because nothing is ever good enough?

  2. Christy Says:

    Woops. Sorry. That was more of a rant. Wasn’t it. I’m back to make amends.

    I’m pretty open about my infertility. I don’t go around announcing it and I don’t respond to pregnancy news with, “Good for you. I wish I could do that.” But when someone asks, I don’t hesitate to say we’ve tried but it my body hasn’t cooperated with our efforts.

    When they bring up adoption, as they often do, I tell them how noble I think adoptive parents are but that we don’t share their nobility, strength, or bank accounts.

    So many people share a story of hope (older parents, infertiles who give up/adopt and then get pregnant, yadda yadda) which I endure reservedly. I can mostly keep myself together long enough to pretend I’m hopeful too and move past it. They don’t mean harm. What we need to realize is that the natural instinct for nice, compassionate people is to sympathize and suggest a solution or an alternative.

    And those who are inquisitive about very personal matters are just trying to learn. If they don’t ask… and we don’t volunteer… how will they know? We want everyone to get it, but if we don’t want to share, how can we expect understanding?

    Some days, I can talk for a long time in a kind of matter-of-fact tone. Other days, I lose it on the first question. They get what they get: information, emotion, or both.

    For me, openness is critical to healing.

    • lmanterfield Says:

      I love you response to the adoption question. For me that’s the hardest one to answer without getting angry. We started down that road and have very good reasons why we didn’t continue. It’s not like going to Walmart (or even Neiman Marcus) and picking out a baby. People really don’t understand that, and I seldom have the patience to explain it.

  3. Kathryn Says:

    Well, i’ve recently begun calling us “a family of two.” I’ll even say, “I’m adjusting to the fact that we are a family of two,” or “Well, we are accepting that we are a family without children.”

    I still get into discussions about this. I do think my MIL would like us to adopt – huh! People just don’t realize how much effort and money go into all of this. Or that i have medical issues that would make caring for a child difficult for us. “Why not an older child?” comes up often. My response to that is a very honest, “We don’t feel like we’ve the parenting skills or experience to start with an older child.”

    I don’t mind discussing this with people, except it can become a very protracted discussion, and often i feel like i have to defend our choices. We have put hours of heart-felt thought and discussion into our decision. How can i possibly explain this to someone in a small paragraph? I think, because i still find it painful that we will always be a “family of two,” it is hard to relay this to someone in an upbeat, breezy manner.

    On the one hand, it is no one’s business. On the other hand, if i’m not willing to talk about it to folks i care for, then i’m shutting them out of a very important part of my life. And how to balance THAT?

    At this point i still have no idea.

    • lmanterfield Says:

      I completely understand that feeling of needing to defend your choices. I am really trying hard to strike a balance between making it clear that I have considered ALL the options and made an informed decision, and not feeling as if I have to explain myself. It’s hard.

  4. Mali Says:

    This is always such a dilemma. Those closest to me who won’t judge know in detail of my infertility battles … I can count those people on the fingers of one hand (other than an online community who know all about it). Others know about my ectopic pregnancies, but not subsequent efforts. Otherwise I don’t tell. I just say “I don’t have children” if I’m asked, and I don’t respond if I’m probed for more information. I choose who I want to know, otherwise I just change the subject.

    I do have a friend though who had a male so-called friend who said to her “at least my wife’s a real woman.”

    • Kathleen Guthrie Says:

      I thought I’d heard everything. That is horrifying!

      • lmanterfield Says:

        If only she’s had her wits about her and could have answered, “Yes, and I least my husband/partner is a real man.” I cannot type an appropriate word for him as I don’t put that kind of language in print. What a _____! (Fill in your own expletive.)

  5. lmanterfield Says:

    While we were going through the process of trying, we told very few people, just closest trusted friends. We didn’t even tell our families for a long time, and even then I told people just as much as I thought THEY could handle.

    What has been interesting to me, now that I have gone VERY public, is how supportive people have been. I’ve had several friends and relatives who have found out through this blog or the book and been quite upset that they hadn’t been there for me because they had no idea what I was going through. I probably could have used their support back then, had I shared more with them.

    Now if people ask, I tell them a version edited to suit the level of our relationship. And some people just aren’t going to get it and aren’t going to be supportive. I can’t help those people. Actually, infertility is a great way to cut down your holiday card list as you really do discover who your friends are!

    • Sue Says:

      “Great way to cut down your holiday card list” – sadly funny and true! Love it.

    • Marla Says:

      It’s funny that you mention the blog or book as how people have found out. I can (sometimes) come up with a decent answer when people bluntly start asking questions, but there are others who have never asked and may be curious, but I would feel strange bringing it up myself out of the blue.

      After Elizabeth Edwards died, I did a blog post that alluded to my situation and trying to follow her example of how to navigate life-changing events. It’s amazing the wonderful support and feedback I got from friends — friends who had no idea about my situation.

      If I’ve learned one thing about this whole infertility journey, it’s that every single part of the experience is such a roller coaster!

      FYI, here’s the blog post, and this is a good reminder that I need to get back to blogging!
      http://marlainkontheside.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/adjusting-your-sails-what-elizabeth-edwards-taught-me/

  6. lmanterfield Says:

    P.S. Great post Kathleen. Thank you.

  7. Elena Says:

    It’s a never ending discussion….
    one thing i’ve come to realize is that we often get inappropriate remarks because we ourselves only tell people half the truth. A short information like “it hasn’t worked out yet” leaves people in the dark about what we’re really going through and triggers a lot of well-meaning, but un-helpful answers (i’m not talking about the real ____s here). Because it is often too hard to find the words, time and place to say things like “i so much wanted to experience my own pregnancy” “well actually it’s my husband/bf who has bad sperms and erectile dysfunction” “after 5 IVF cycles i just feel confused and hurt and can’t take anymore” etc.

  8. Jackie Says:

    For me, I never “broke the news” . It’s not like anyone had died or anything! When we/I am asked, I just say, “No, we’re don’t want children.” I can’t even remember the first time I mentioned it to most people. Some people, however, seem to need telling several times and still think it will happen. Some people are just starting to realise that now that we’ve been married 10 years and I’m 36 and he’s 44, it’s isn’t going to happen!
    Now if people have a problem with it, it’s their issue and more importantly, none of their business.

  9. Sue Says:

    Our closest friends and family know. I agree with everything everyone else has said. You pick and choose who you tell what when. It is difficult to always find the right words to either ward off further questioning or unsolicited advice. For me, it never fails, if I’m going into a situation that I feel I may be interrogated in, I prepare myself for all of the possible great comebacks I can use and then no one asks a single question or makes a single remark. Then when I least expect it I get blindsided and end up giving some response like “maybe some day.” At the time it’s easy to put them off for a bit, then I wish I had just put the truth out there because I’ve just left myself vulnerable to future questioning. Maybe I hope that my husband and I will soon reach an age where people will stop asking. We’re both 37. When do you suppose that magic age is?

    • Kathleen Guthrie Says:

      I’m approaching 45 and still get asked frequently. But I attribute much of that to the fact that I’m getting married for the first time this year. And, naturally, if you’re getting married, having children is the next step, right?

  10. loribeth Says:

    I wrote a long post on my blog a few years ago about this issue (do you tell? who do you tell? etc.)

    http://www.scotiabank.com/cda/content/0,1608,CID821_LIDen,00.html

    Since I WAS pregnant once, I think people know that we wanted children. But the questions sort of died out after I turned 40.

  11. […] This post was originally published on January 14th, 2011 […]


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