Infertility is what is known as an “invisible disease”. Invisible in that it does not announce itself loudly to a room when I enter. If my head is bald- you assume cancer. If I’m in a wheelchair- you assume my legs don’t work. If my arms are empty- you assume… nothing. You cannot tell that a person is infertile simply by the way they look. You cannot tell they are infertile even from their lack of a child. The only way to know, without a doubt, is if they tell you.
The invisibility of this disease is both a blessing and a curse.
It means that I don’t have to out myself if I don’t want to. If I don’t out myself, I won’t have to relive the disappointment of a failed cycle over, and over again as I update my social circle. If I don’t out myself, I won’t have to watch my friends shrink inside themselves before they tell me, cautiously, timidly, that they are pregnant. If I don’t out myself, I won’t have to answer the questions of “when are you having kids” with the surge of pain that I feel. If I don’t out myself, and no one knows, is it less real?
Yet, without telling my story how will my friends understand that I love them, and am glad for their pregnancy, but I just can’t attend the baby shower. Without outing myself, how will people know that I just lost another round of treatment, I can’t afford another, and so I really can’t come out for drinks. Without outing myself, all of my suffering has to happen inside. If I don’t out myself, and no one knows, how will I get much-needed support?
See, it’s both easier and harder not to tell. To just let people think what they will about your 2 person family and not correct them when they assume you just aren’t ready for kids. Telling can be scary. I don’t say “outing myself” without the knowledge that we use that phrase to talk about announcing you’re gay. “Coming out” is the brave act of stating boldly to another person that you don’t conform to societal norms. It takes courage and fierceness to be able to say “this is what’s going on with me”. I feel like in that sense “coming out” as infertile counts as “coming out”.
I am “out”. I have been incredibly open about our journey to parenthood and I don’t regret that decision. But, let me tell you, it WAS a decision. One that I had to make time and time again, there was a time when no one knew, and changing that was a conscious shift. I haven’t ever shared my story about “coming out” as infertile. Maybe because there was no defining moment… It was more like a gradual shift. My walls gradually crumbled until it was more painful to keep up the charade than to own my truth. It took a while for me to get there:
At the beginning of our story, I actually didn’t tell anyone we were trying. At first, I allowed people to think we still didn’t want any kids and had no plans to change it. I was really hoping I could shock them in a few months time by being pregnant and everyone would get excited. Then, when it became obvious that things weren’t going to happen that fast I got scared. Being scared made me not want to talk through it with anyone, so I didn’t. I didn’t want everyone nosing about my private (part) business. I felt ashamed and confused and didn’t want anyone else in that scared space with me.
So, all alone I read stuff online and tried a little harder to properly time our intercourse and hoped for the best. I didn’t tell anyone for over 6 months. Then, I slowly started to tell friends that we were at least trying and that I wished it would hurry up already. I was putting myself out there just a little to test the waters, to see the reaction, to share the load. A few months after that I told my mom. But the majority of our family and friends still had no idea what we were going through as we approached the one year mark of trying.
At that point, I was a freaking wreck. I was desperate and terrified and really hoped I would conceive before we had to be referred to a fertility specialist. Becuase that would be harder to keep a secret and would mean we really were infertile. Something I was fairly desperate not to be! This whole time our families were starting to wonder louder and louder if and when we wanted kids. We had been sticking to the story in public that we weren’t there yet but people were getting more insistent. We had been married for 4 years you see, and that made people antsy.
I remember distinctly when I decided to tell my mother-in-law and father-in-law that we had been trying and were having problems. I had been putting off telling people more broadly but was ready to start talking… but I couldn’t until we’d told them. It wouldn’t have been fair to them to find out in a generic sort of way from Facebook, we needed to have a conversation. I had been staunchly trying to avoid having this talk with them because my MIL desperately wanted us to have kids. Like almost to a problematic level and I didn’t want her to worry because it was taking so long or start asking me every month… I kept hoping it could be easier and that maybe I could wait and tell her when it finally happened. So, I’d been holding off.
But then something happened while they were visiting at our house- Nope I didn’t get pregnant… I got my period. Which meant that it was really happening. You see, the next month was our appointment with the fertility specialist. Things were now getting real and I couldn’t put it off any longer. I needed to be more open with them. I would need thier support to go through treatment, so I made the decision to share.
The moment to open up came naturally. We were all talking about the wonderful area hubby and I had moved into and how wonderful our MIL thought raising a family there would be “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”, and I knew that this was my shot. I took a deep breath and revealed my dark secret. That we DID want children- we just weren’t sure if they were in the cards for us. That we’d been trying, really, really trying, but that we hadn’t been lucky yet.
You know something? I wish I’d told them sooner. They were by far the hardest people for me to tell on this journey and my only regret was having waited so long. They were really supportive and sympathetic. My MIL, bless her, immediately backed off asking me about children all the time. I promised I’d keep her updated and she respected that boundary. It was such a relief. Having everyone finally know was liberating.
Becuase while outing myself felt terrifying, each, and every time I did it, it was nowhere near as scary and intense as having to keep up the charade beforehand. Once I opened up I found a lot of other friends and relatives who could relate to my story and who had been there. I wasn’t alone anymore.
CIAW’s theme this year is “out in the open: this is our story” and I wonder if you would consider sharing yours? See, we are louder together than apart. We are stronger together. Coming out is terrifying but it is also rewarding. I am so grateful that I took the leap that “outed” myself. It freed me from so much of the darkness of this journey. Allowing other people into that scared space with me allowed the light to follow. It allowed support in. On this journey, I can’t think of anything I have needed more than support. Sharing my story was the best thing I could have done.
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