Monday, 23 September 2013

Out and Proud

I know it's an odd headline; as I haven't disclosed anything even to my own parents, I'm probably the most closeted infertile. I don't have the super vagina to be as out and proud as Aramis. (Brilliant observation from the great Betty White: "Why do people suggest that you need to grow balls when they want you to act tough? Testicles are soft and delicate. You want to be tough? Grow a vagina -those things can take a pounding!") While I'm not there yet, I'm made some strides in being a little more open about our infertility.

In the beginning, it was only Husband, Co-worker, my colleague who removed my IUD and I who knew our intentions. As I tend to be a rather quiet and private person, it was fitting with my nature. Only out of necessity, I brought my colleague's medical assistant into the loop. I needed her as an ally in order to maintain my discretion. Husband and I met with a genetic counsellor and did carrier screening before we started trying (oh, we had all the gear and no idea...) and I had her scan and then shred my results. However, she became a little too involved. She would often ask when my cycle was due and would try to figure out "when we should test" and then suggested a date that was way too early. I had to politely inform her that I appreciated her interest, but not her participation.

I've been trying to limit my disclosures to those who are on a need to know basis, as well as a few close friends and fellow infertility sisters. I had my first opportunity to try coming out when I attended an annual meeting for a professional association earlier this year. One of my former clinical instructors also attends and each year I get asked the same question:
"So Jane, ... any kids yet?"
This year I had an answer he wasn't expecting.
"No. We're infertile and I miscarried about six months ago."
"Aww Jane ... Jeeez!" Just in case I had missed the irony, he added, "and you're in OB aren't you?
...and I don't think he'll ask that question again next year! Being out and proud has some rewards.

Husband has also taken steps to create his support next work. He informed his parents, his best (local) mate, and a few hockey umpire friends. I had almost forgotten that he had disclosed to his best English mate, until Raj approached me at a quiet moment during the Arkansas weekend to ask how things were going. I don't remember too much of the conversation, as I was a bit tipsy; but I recall he was really supportive and wished us well without issuing any empty promises. Actually, as we later ended up doing cartwheels in the bar; 'a bit tipsy' is probably an understatement.

We had nearly made it through that weekend without anyone asking about our procreation intentions, until Robin approached the subject on the morning when we were all departing. I thought about giving the short and simple answers, "maybe" or "not just yet". I'm not that close with Robin as we've only met a few times and we don't have that much in common. So I'm not sure quite why, but I decided to share our entire story. I finished by informing her that we would be starting IVF next month. "Well, sometimes it can take up to a year. Sometimes you just have to stop thinking about it so much..." she offered.

Hand-slap to forehead. Ah yes, this is the reason why you don't discuss your infertility with others. The unsolicited opinions and advice. Had I not learned my lesson from dealing with Myrtle? It was astonishing to me that after informing her of the issues encountered during our two year plight, she thinks more time is all we need. Why are some in denial of infertility? It seems akin to describing that a gay relative "just hasn't met the right girl yet". There isn't anything wrong; conception just hasn't happened for you yet. Depending on the time frame, that is the definition of infertility. Even when you have an identifiable factor, others are still convinced there is a magic formula yet to be employed that will lead to a spontaneous pregnancy. I can only imagine how difficult it is for couples with unexplained infertility to describe their situation.

Sigh. This is the disadvantage of being out and proud. The burden of educating others. I dispelled the notions about needing to 'relax' and 'stop trying so hard', which she may actually accept because of my professional credentials. I decided to take things one step further, and I pulled up my post that was inspired by the father-daughter dance at her wedding. I'm not sure if I violated any rule by sharing the IF blogging world with a non-TTCer, but when she handed my phone back to me with tears in her eyes, I felt that I had succeeded in enlightening her about infertility.

A week and a half later, it was Husband's birthday. In addition to the calls, texts and facebook posts, he received this email from his friend Leonard: 'Happy birthday. You're nearing 40 mate, time to think about decorating the nursery'. Oh, a double Bozinga! Referencing his advancing age and worth less child-free status! Such is the argument for being out and proud. It may avoid insensitive comments from unsuspecting friends. His message was especially annoying as it took Leonard and his wife Penny over a year to conceive their first son. I used to send her copies of the quarterly publication Conceive, as almost none of the patients in the waiting room in my clinic seemed to be having any difficulties. Leonard later noted that Penny was irritated each time she received a copy in the post, not that she didn't appreciate them or find some helpful information. It just always reminded her why I was sending them to her. I can really appreciate that now. Unlike Leonard, who can no longer appreciate being in that situation. I guess, like my cousin, they figure that having a surprise spontaneous conception revokes their infertile status and induces an amnesia for their experience.

I've not thought about how I would reveal our infertility struggles if I were to become pregnant; as I'm not allowing myself to entertain such thoughts. If we come up empty, I've considered creating an infertility announcement card. Perhaps the front would have a picture of the two of us and the inscription would read:
We've been through all the procedures and tests,
and can truly say we've tried our best
Alas, a family of three,
Was not meant to be...

Recently, Co-worker came in to the office for her 6 week postpartum check, twins in tow. After fawning over the babies, Michael Scott asked her, "So, did you get cleared so you and [her husband] can start doing it again?" I should mention here that Michael Scott has a very inappropriate crush on Co-worker's husband and she was disgustingly flirtatious with him when he accompanied Co-worker for her visits. Co-worker just pointed to her double pram and replied "Um, that's how we got into this mess in the first place!"

I turned back to my computer screen and carried on typing. I don't want to judge any fellow infertile and I would never begrudge her for hiding something so private from such a nosy busybody like Michael Scott. Yet, my mind flashed back to one of the final scenes from the movie Flight where Denzel Washington was telling his story to fellow inmates at a prison Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

"That was it. I was finished. I was done. It was as if I had reached my lifelong limit of lies. I could not tell one more lie. And maybe I'm a sucker. Because if I had told just one more lie, I could've walked away from all that mess and kept my wings, kept my false sense of pride. "

Someday I will be out, and I will always be proud.


  1. Wow. What a great post.

    It's interesting that you decided to open up to someone you aren't close with. I've done that, sometimes it feels safer to tell your story to someone you don't see all the time.

    And I completely agree with you that with being honest about your struggles with infertility there comes a burden to educate. I often tell people that "just relaxing" doesn't cure a medically diagnosed issue. Often they insist with the "you never know!" ugh...

  2. I love the analogy of the gay guy who people think hasn't met the right girl. So fitting! I have been pretty open at work about our situation, and it's provided both some hilariously awkward and poignant moments. And more than a few facepalms. It's the price we pay.

    To be fair, though, my bloggy friends are the only ones who know about my super vagina. Some things, the workplace just doesn't need to know. ;)

  3. As someone who has been "out and proud" for a long, long time now, I can relate. It is exhausting to educate all these people. But then at the end of the day, I'm actually proud of myself. I can think of a bunch of people who I know for a fact are well-educated on infertility... because I educated them. Would they be so sensitive if not for my plight? Maybe not. I like that I had that opportunity to shed some light. So next time they come across a closet infertile, maybe they won't make a dumb comment. I can only hope.

    And that's funny about the infertility announcement card! I've been really pondering how I'm going to announce on Facebook if we EVER get to that matter what, it's going to be a mini education on infertility. I'm not pretending that the journey was easy, not for a second.

  4. One of the first close friends that I talked to about infertility lived 1.5 hours away. It was nice to have a "safe zone".
    And don't let the sour grape commenter put you off from sharing. MOST people that we've strategically shared with have been AMAZING!

  5. Spot on analogy, Jane. I still have a real problem with this, and I've found that it's somehow even gotten worse, which I didn't think was possible. We started telling people outside of the family about this pregnancy a few days ago. I didn't really feel ready, but I'm getting a bump and I caught a couple of people looking at it at work. The first think people say when I tell them it's two is, "OHMYGOD, do twins run in your family?!!" Which I suppose is a reasonable question, but I can't bring myself to respond with a simple 'no, so weird, right?!' It feels like I'm doing an injustice to my infertile sisters and in continuing this silence about it. I truly believe that without the silence, we'd have less stigma, more insurance coverage for infertility, and fewer asshole comments like the justrelax one you mentioned here (even though this dense woman clearly heard this information that would save her from making an invalidating remark like that and WAS NOT LISTENING). So, I have outted us and our treatments to more people over the last three days than I have to in the last year. It's been liberating. But it's also been annoying. Why us? Why do I have to stick my neck out and be vulnerable because you don't know your science and stats? It's hard to be the one to have to educate. This same thing happens to social and ethnic groups that people are uneducated about. Members of those groups are forced to become teachers about their subgroups all of the time. Anyway, kudos to you for coming out. I know that I have walked away from each of my own coming out conversations with my chin held high. SO PROUD of myself for allowing myself to be vulnerable. It's the way harder choice than to respond with a simple, 'nope, no twins in the family; just a crazy coincidence!'

  6. Thanks for this post, Jane. I, too, have been pondering when, if, and/or how we should tell our wider circle of friends and family about this struggle. It's funny that you mentioned the friends with "infertility amnesia," because one of the people in my life who has been most insensitive and pushy about the "so when are you going to have kids?" comments is my SIL who went through IVF to get all three of her kids. Their issue was 100% male factor, so she always saw my brother (her husband) as the infertile one, not herself. That is itself is bitchy enough, but you would think their experience would have taught her some sensitivity. Apparently, no. I think it's great that you are educating people about (in)fertility myths. We can't control how they respond or what kind of useless and cliche advice they will give, but being open about our struggles at least means not having to tell one more lie.

  7. I'm sorry you had all these negative experiences when sharing your story. I had some kind and thoughtful friends, so that really helped. Of course there were less-than-sensitive ones, too...
    Love the gay analogy. Maybe you could just mention that at the next "just relax" comment?

  8. that fake infertility announcement is hilarious!!!

    People like Robin are why I am in the closet and proud. Even the nicest people say the most ignorant shit when you bring up infertility

  9. This is a great post! I was happy to read that you put that guy in his place that kept asking about kids. I also love the infertility announcement, although I really hope you never get to that point. I hope that one day, you are comfortBle enough to be out, not that you ever have to be, just that you won't have to worry about staying in the closet at that point. And you definitely should be proud, out or not. You are one of the strongest women I "know".

  10. This is a really interesting story and a good reminder that you can never assume what someone is going through in his/her private life. Even though your cousin ended up getting a divorce, you might still consider reaching out to her. One of L's cousins recently got divorced, and through her discussion of what happened, I learned that they had been seeking treatment for infertility. I later opened up to her a little about our struggle, and it was a point of connection for us. I think it helped her to realize that there are other people in the family whose lives are not turning out like they planned.

    As a side note, I wanted to tell you that I nominated you for a Liebster blogging award (info is on my latest post). No pressure to participate if you aren't interested and/or have already received one in the past, but I just wanted to let you know!

    1. oops, I meant to post this in response to your most recent post, "No Assumptions."