The first time I ever took a home pregnancy test (HPT) was on the morning of first wedding anniversary. Hubby & I had only recently decided that we were ready to start the next phase in our lives together. Plus, Aunt Flo had been missing for over a week by then, so I figured it was time.
I won’t lie … I also thought that the prospect of presenting positive “pee stick” as an anniversary gift would have made our first wedding anniversary together all that more memorable.
But when the test came back negative, I threw the stick away and climbed back into bed to cuddle with Hubby who was still sound asleep. And yes, I was disappointed … but at that time in our lives, Infertility was just a distant diagnosis, which was … in no way, related to me.
I’ve never told anyone this story before because until today, it wasn’t something that I considered very relevant to my life as an “Infertile.”
Hubby had been privy to this story, because later that day he happened upon the open HPT package in the trash and wondered why I took one. But otherwise, no one else in our lives had a clue that we were even “actively trying” at the time.
It was something that Hubby & I, as a young married couple, wanted to keep to ourselves.
It’s only natural that most couples wish to keep their decisions on family-planning a secret. Okay … maybe not so much a secret, but more of a discussion that happens strictly between the couple.
After all, it really should be no one’s business to know what’s going on in a couple’s sex life. Right?
But what happens when love and marriage don’t automatically lead to the proverbial baby carriage? And what if months — nay, years go by without having anything to show but a garbage full of negative pregnancy test?
What if you had spent thousands of dollars for an infertility diagnosis and work-up? And then turned around and spent even more money on trying to “fix” the medical problems so that you could produce a biological child of your own?
Should a couple still keep their family-building plans and the infertility diagnosis a secret?
What if you and your spouse had to continuously be poked by various needles and prodded by various health professionals, month after month, just to determine when the optimal time was to reproduce? To go home and have a romp in the bedroom (stress-free, of course)? To collect a man specimen in the comfort of a sterile clinic? To have to sit nice and pretty in those G*d-awful stirrups? Only to be disappointed month after month …
Would it still be inappropriate for a couple to talk about how infertility has affected their lives?
What if you or your spouse were done pursuing the medical route of infertility and decided to adopt? What if you spent an additional thousands of dollars in order to be scrutinized by adoption agencies, local and federal government officials? Just so these agencies can determine if you were “worthy” enough to be parents?
What if the Birth Mom/Family decided to change their minds at the last minute? Or what if the country you decided to pursue an international adoption decided to close their doors on all adoptions?
Would now be a good time to talk to loved ones about infertility?
And finally, what if you and your spouse thoughtfully and thoroughly considered all your other options to build your family … and after years of disappointment and heartache, decided that living child-free was your best path in life?
Would it be okay for the couple to comfortably discuss this decision with any random stranger who asks if the couple has any kids?
These are difficult questions to answer. I know; as I’ve had to dissect each individual question with a fine-tooth comb. I’ve had to determine how each answer would affect the rest of my life and my relationships with those I’ve felt close to at one time or another.
The truth is, each person … each couple and/or the family & friends that are affected by this couple’s infertility … will have different answers. That’s because each person’s journey through infertility can be different than the person standing next to him or her. Even if they were sitting next to each other at an Infertility Specialist’s office.
I find it sad that society deems “family-building” discussions as a private issue amongst infertile couples.
Okay, let me reword that last statement: I find it disappointing that society deems “family building” discussions as inappropriate when it comes to Infertility.
While I do think that there are certain discussions and decisions that should be left private amongst the infertile couple, I do think that other conversations should be okay to discuss with other people … other family members and friends and other infertile couples.
Because if anything, Infertiles can be the worse when it comes to openly talking about their experiences and emotions when it comes to building their family.
There’s an article in SELF Magazine’s August issue that outlines this exact issue.
This article (aptly titled “This Woman Has A Secret”) found that a recent survey indicates that 61% of infertility patients hide their struggle to get pregnant from friends and family.
And seeing that 1 in 8 American couples experience infertility … well, yeah. That’s a lot of people that aren’t talking about the heady emotions that can be associated with the inability to reproduce.
Along with those questions I previously posed, other common concerns that an infertile couple can experience include the fear that their life will be eternally empty. Or the sense that the couple is damaged or broken.
Both amplify the shame already incurred by the couple; as they likely feel different from being different than other “normally reproducing” family and friends.
Both make the couple more embarrassed to talk about these struggles and associated emotions with their loved ones.
It’s a difficult thing … wanting to talk about a person’s (or couple’s) individual journey through infertility. It’s ten-times more difficult, given the shame that’s associated with infertility.
As the SELF article points out, it gets even more exhausting when an infertile couple:
… become slaves of their monthly cycle; often unable to leave town even for a weekend getaway due to daily monitoring for hormone levels and egg counts. When month after month a couple fails to get pregnant, their lives stall and the question of whether or not their family will expand looms over decisions about the car they buy, the house they live in, the clothes they purchase.
And this, along with many other reasons, is why many infertile couples choose to keep their “family-building” struggles a secret. Why they continue with the facade that “family-building” discussions should remain personal, as society dictates.
After years of keeping my struggle a secret … of burying the emotions I’ve felt for so long … I believe that it is extremely important to talk about these issues. And I think it’s important for an individual to find their own outlet or support systems.
But first and foremost, I think it’s very important to keep an open communication with your Spouse/SO. Because if there is anyone else who should know what you’re going through, it should be the person who is traveling down the infertility journey with you.
For Hubby & I, it’s a path that we took together, hand-in-hand. We made it a point to talk about each of our concerns openly and honestly (yes, even the scary parts) so that we knew where we both were at emotionally. And if one person was even slightly ahead of the other person, we’d make an effort to “wait” until both of us were both “on board” before making any major decisions. There was no pushing or prodding; there was patience and understanding that both of us dealt with our issues in very unique manners.
If anything … that was my saving grace in our journey together. Hubby was my rock — my torch, so to speak, lighting my way through the darkness. And I hope that he can say the same thing for me as well.
As for other support systems outside of the couple … It’s difficult to find support out there. I know; I’ve tried.
I’ve sought support amongst my loved ones; my friends. But it’s honestly hard for them to completely understand what it’s like, unless they’re walking in your shoes, your path.
But after years (and years) of dealing with Infertility, I’ve finally learned to turn this experience around by educating others about my journey. And I did this by debunking statements (like “just relax”) and myths (like “just adopt and you’ll get pregnant”) whenever they would surface in those inevitable conversations.
This is because I believe that the more an Infertile person openly discusses their experiences, the more that the general population will understand and learn to empathize with the Infertility community.
I hope that this is a lesson that other Infertile couples can learn from my own experience: Talk openly about it now, so that others can be more empathetic to the Infertility path.
I’ve also tried to find support in an Infertility Support Group.
For me, that was not my cup of tea. My experience mimicked how another person in the SELF article so aptly stated, “Everyone gets up and tells their success stories. Infertility treatment isn’t always about success.”
But … that may not be the case for every support group. So please … you should still seek out an Infertility support group before passing any judgment. It just may just be the perfect outlet for you.
Finally, (and only after a major catastrophic life event) I tried some individual counseling. And that planted the seed that allowed me to talk about my Infertility and the emotions that came with those struggles.
My advice for an Infertile person trying to find the right therapist? Talk to your Infertility Specialist and ask for a recommendation. If you’re not currently seeing a specialist; call one in your area and ask. Chances are, the Front Desk staff or the RN in the office will be more than willing to give you a recommendation. If not, check out RESOLVE’s website for a list of professionals in the area.
There’s one more outlet for support that I want to point out. And this outlet, I must say, has been the most therapeutic for me.
After much encouragement from my therapist, I sought out support from online communities. I started out by reading message boards and eventually sought out personal blogs. From there, I stumbled onto Mel’s list and found an entire blogosphere of people that I suddenly felt I could relate to.
Suddenly I wanted to share my story. I wanted others to know what *I* had gone through in my journey. And, because there wasn’t enough representation from the Asian-American/Filipino-American community, I wanted to let those Infertile individuals/couples know that they weren’t alone.
And, as the Asian-American culture typically simultaneously praises Motherhood and yet frowns upon discussions leading up to Motherhood, *I* wanted to have an outlet for where I can point other family members and friends to read when the inevitable, “What? You don’t want kids?” questions came up.
The support I’ve received from the three years I’ve now been writing on this blog have been overwhelming. Not only have I met the most incredible people who get me (and understand my wacky sense of humor), but I’ve found support in old friends and family that I might never have found any other way.
So yes … if anything, I encourage writing a blog as an outlet for your Infertility issues. I encourage you to write about your struggles, your emotions … your biggest fears and worst nightmares and post it for the world to see. I encourage you to be honest, as well.
But most importantly, I encourage advertising it to your friends and family. Because we all know that keeping secrets from your loved ones (whether big or small) can ultimately be frustrating and tiring for all involved.
So why not let the secret out?
I write this to let other Infertile couples know that they do not have to suffer through these struggles alone.
I write this to encourage other Infertiles to talk about their experiences to others.
And I write this to ensure that those now-parents – those who suffered through Infertility on their way to parenthood – continue to share their struggles of Infertility … regardless of how busy their lives may be, now that they have children.**
I write this to make sure that Infertility no longer remains a secret.
A brief history of Emily’s Infertility Journey
When Emily decided enough was enough
Why Emily blogs for Infertile Asian/Filipino-Americans
** This was the only beef I had about the SELF article. For all that it said about the importance of “letting the secret out,” the last sentence in the article is what soured me the most:
Working behind the scenes [of supporting the Infertility community] is one option, but [Lisa] says, ‘I’m sure my volunteer efforts will be for schools or parks. Once I have twins, I’ll have a lot less free time.”
11 Replies to “Secrets of an Infertile”
Thank you for a wonderful post.
We decided to share what we were going through after trying to conceive for a year and being unsuccessful. We started seeing an RE and decided we wanted to seek out the support of our close family members and friends.
In many ways, we were glad we had told them what was going on, but there were, of course,a few times when I wished we had just kept things between us. In the end, though, talking about infertility and its impact on a couple does help to educate others.
Emily! This mirrors thoughts I have been having recently and it was lovely to read your opinion. I have generally always let my family and very very close friends in on our fertility status. They have been – for the most part – kind and caring – if not understanding (because you just can’t be without having gone through it yourself). But I have kept it a secret from less intimate friends due to what boils down to feelings of shame and avoidance of pity.
But I am not one for secrets, particularly if the “secret” part of it exacerbates the shameful feelings. I am ready to “come out” about our infertility because it is now as much a part of me as my name and my blood-type. And to hide away such a crucial part of who I am because it is “uncomfortable” to talk about seems like the biggest cop-out. I don’t want to make others uncomfortable, but I’m no longer willing to shield people from my stark reality. And, as I know from personal experience, being open about it may lead to new, supportive relationships.
Now for the HOW. Wanting to be open about it is one thing, HOW do you do that?
Emily, this is a wonderful post. I think all of us need to be reminded that we need to not keep our IF struggles to ourselves, but share them with others. I know for me this is still a fairly new concept and all the reasons I kept it a secret in the past were the ones you listed above. But I’m doing my best, really I am, to be upfront with others about our journey 🙂
I am finding it important to educate others about infertility and also by sharing you never know who you might help along the way.
Thank you for the encouraging nudge to keep sharing.
Oh, how I wish I could individually add replies under each of your comments …
I think each person has to find a way to be comfortable in discussing their infertility. For me, it came to the point where I felt physically sick and tired of “biting my tongue.”
And I must admit, there were definitely times I took the wrong approach, by letting my emotions get the best of me.
In the end, I became comfortable enough to talk about my experiences by debunking all the sad (and pathetic) “a$$vice” I’d always receive.
The way I look at it is that it’s better to educate a person who has no knowledge (or experience) of the depths of infertility … rather than take all the un-informed (and unsolicited) statements and harbor them internally.
Again, to each their own. The more important part is to make sure that you’re heard.
Nice post Em. I guess I’ve been part of the 39% from the beginning of my infertility struggle. I’ve told everyone and anyone, probably too many people. However I can say that I’ve educated my parents, my sister, cousins, and even my teenage nieces and nephew. If nothing else, perhaps they will be able to help someone in the future who is going through infertility.
Great post Emily. We didn’t tell anyone at all during the process. I have since told two friends both in the US one who went through ivf and didn’t succeed and one who needed a surrogate. A few others know that it wasn’t easy but don’t know specifics. The Internet on the other hand had got right up my wahoo so to speak and it is here that I found the greatest support. I do however do my best to educate at any opportunity I can.
I applaud your willingness to be open, Emily. Aside from our pregnancy loss support group (many of the members were also struggling with infertility) & a coworker who was also dealing with infertility & miscarriage, I never confided in anyone about what we were going through. I eventually did tell my mother, some time after the fact. I just couldn’t handle dealing with everyone else’s high expectations & hopes (& disappointment) on top of my own, not to mention all the well-meaning platitudes & assvice. But then, I’ve never been one to spill the beans too openly on personal stuff, going back to telling my friends which boys I liked in grade school — I knew THAT was just setting myself up for disaster, lol.
I still haven’t told anyone IRL about my blog & am not sure I ever will. I like having some things just for myself. With stuff like Facebook, though, I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep my on & offline lives separate.
When I finally told my family about our struggle the response was far from helpful. Sure, my mother is crazy, I should not expect support from her, but the people I did hope for support from were either unable to offer it, being unable to relate, or didn’t want to talk about it.
You compare infertility to cancer and in a way, discussing the challenges of infertility is a lot like discussing cancer. People want to pretend that nothing is wrong, all is well and you sit there feeling like you are going to die, or implode or begin crying uncontrollably. Until you’ve experienced it, you can’t understand it.
Here’s to your wide open heart. I am sure it has helped hundreds of people.
I continue to learn so much from you, Em