This post was originally published on January 14th, 2011
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.”
I wrote about my condition as soon as I learned I had it (last June), as I see my blog not as a way to communicate with others, but as my true life journal. Though our close relatives learned about our struggle through my blog, I didn’t choose to openly discuss it until December or so. When I put in my two-week notice at my “too-stressful-to-handle-with-infertility” job this past May, I finally felt strong enough to tell my coworkers about our struggles with infertility. I felt unexpectedly empowered and stronger to be able to say it out loud, instead of trying to hide it. I definitely needed the year or so to reveal our pain, but it still felt right to talk about it (maybe it’s because I wouldn’t be seeing these people again?). It’s still a daily decision whether I choose to talk about it or not, but overall I feel like I have improved some. This past week, someone I hadn’t seen in a while asked me (as she always does every time we see each other), “what, no baby yet?” to which I quite impetuously yet calmly responded, “I can’t have babies”. It felt… good. This avoids me further questioning from her; I considered it a very polite, “stop it with that question!” 😉
“to which I quite impetuously yet calmly responded, “I can’t have babies”. It felt… good. This avoids me further questioning from her; I considered it a very polite, “stop it with that question!”
This has, now, been my reply as well. What I wish is that it would stop their next question: “Are you going to adopt?” Hubby and I do not feel called to adopt at this time, but people can’t understand that. We waited a year after our failed (and only) IVF to tell the general public. There are still a few family members who don’t know, but we hardly see them, or it’s not necessary for them to know.
I did the same as Andrea did- I see it as an opportunity to be open about my situation as well as letting people who are going through the same thing, know they are not alone- and acquire information as needed- like Andrea, I also found it empowering to share going through medical testings, surgery and recovery- granted, I was surprised to hear that many did not write about their infertility/childlessness until much later, when I started promptly when I found out- but then again I have been open about myself for a long time (for other reasons, such as finding my identify being deaf and domestic violence.) I also have been open on facebook (I have two accounts, one personal and one business, so with personal account, people know what I’m going through. Yes, people have asked similiar questions “what’s wrong with you that you can’t have children?” or “What stops you from adopting?” in which I would gently guide them to posts I had already put up, or share links about how adoption is not realistic (especially with $$$$!). Surprising, a lot of people have been very supportive since then. 🙂
I’d like to add one more thing… I let friends know when I’m down or up, and to show that I’m human- especially when some folks would ask “why aren’t you over it?” (yes, I get that question sometimes) in which I’d use metaphors and analogs (couldn’t get ’em straight, seriously) in which grief is not simple as one thinks, that grief is not limited to death only. Again, that helps people (hopefully) understand that not all women are going through the same process, grief’s not “manufactured” in one shape, nor in one phase of time.
Yeah, I still need to explain/defend myself to some people regarding my varied reactions to certain things. My sister in law just had a baby and some people were expecting me to go with my husband to meet the baby, but it’s still too hard for me. Some women are strong enough to see other people’s joy in new parenthood and I applaud them, but as much as I would like to be there, I’m not. Infertility hormones are not a “one reaction fits all”!
The same thing happened to me: I was very, very surprised at how much support we received. Granted, I let people in my “Facebook world” know about it only a few weeks ago, but I was very relieved to read all the encouraging words. A part of me still wonders if they pity us deep down, but it gets to a point where the relief which comes from “opening up” outweighs the fears of being the subject of pity.
When I was diagnosed, I was working long hours at a high stress law firm. I was going for tests and treatments and hiding it from everyone because I thought if they knew I was TTC I wouldn’t be considered for partner. All the male attorneys and secretaries were having babies every year I tried and the secretaries were always asking me when I was going to have kids or say things like “you’re next!” I would usually turn around, go back to my office, shut my door and cry. I finally told an older secretary that people shouldn’t say things like that, for some people it’s not that easy to get pregnant. She got it and I think spread the word to the other secretaries and the began to look at me with pity. I don’t know what is worse. I also have a very judgmental family. My siblings all have a lot of children and my mother was very harsh to me when I was single, always telling me I was going to die alone if I didn’t hurry up and get married and have kids. She literally said that. So I didn’t tell anyone in my family until my diagnose was 1% chance of conception. I told my sister who is a nurse and her response was, why would you even WANT to have kids at your age. I didn’t tell anyone else but this sister is a huge gossip and from my lips to my mother’s ears. It really pained me to know that they were talking about me behind my back and I’m sure my mother was constantly saying, I tried to tell her! I didn’t have any friends going through this with me so I really had no one to turn to. This was also going on before there were fertility support groups — I found those after we decided to stop TTC. I appreciate you bringing this subject up because it is very near and dear to my pained heart.
I should also mention that I didn’t tell my best friend until recently because she was single, dying to get married and have a child, and I didn’t want to add to her worries. She got married last year at 43 and became pregnant within 5 months. When she started trying, I finally opened up to her about what I went through and I told her I would be there for her if she wanted to talk. It apparently was unnecessary. When she got pregnant, a close friend called her and told her to be careful about the information she sends me and she needs to be sensitive to my feelings. She included me on a mass e-mail last night showing her “baby bump.” I find it incredible that even though I was able to exercise sensitivity toward her when she was single and hurting, she couldn’t care less when it comes to my feelings.
People don’t ask me about having children which is a blessing I guess. I think most assume I’m a career woman who doesn’t have the time or inclination. Which just makes it harder when the baby related talk begins. I have to sit and listen while my heart is breaking. I never blurt out my story because it’s a party stopper. It hurts if they ask, it hurts when they assume, it just hurts.
A lot of people assumed that about me too because I was a lawyer. They all assumed that I didn’t want children, and it really hurt. Made it that much harder to tell people what was really going on.
Actually, I have to say, I found that a relief. Because I went through infertility later in my 30s and early 40s, people had stopped asking us about kids. I travelled internationally a lot for business, and we’d been married for a long time, so people assumed we weren’t intending having any (for whatever reason). And I had built up the “kids? ME?” persona so that, when I was grieving the loss of my pregnancies and then my fertility, actually protected me. And gave me an excuse for not listening to pregnancy/baby talk.
I have re entered the dating world at the age of 49. I have to explain to my dates why I don’t have children. Because all the other women they meet seem to have children, the men view me as being odd. It is hard enough to discuss this with family and/or friends, but to discuss this to men I don’t know very well is rough.