On Being “Out” as an Infertile

It’s a double-edged sword. On one side, your friends and family know your plight, so they (theoretically should) understand why you will not be attending your cousin’s baby shower, without you having to make an excuse. On the other side, people can’t help but give you what they consider helpful advice, like “You just need to relax and stop trying so hard!” or “Why not just adopt?”

I’m a big proponent of being “out” as an infertile. (Disclaimer: I have to admit that I sort of fell into my out status. We were one of the annoying lucky couples who got pregnant right away, told everyone, then miscarried. So, pretty much everyone knew that we were trying. Still, I don’t like to assume that everyone assumes that we are still trying after 2 years, or even that they think about it at all.) I know it’s a deeply personal choice, and while I encourage infertiles to consider coming out to close friends and family, I do not judge anyone’s decision to keep it to herself. Because there are definitely some not-so-great things about others being privy to how your private parts work (or don’t, in this case). Here are what I see as the pros and cons of being out as an infertile.

Pros

  • Friends, family, and co-workers have stopped asking when we are going to have kids.
  • If anyone makes an assumption about why we are childless, I can correct them. I don’t have to pretend that we don’t want kids, or listen to someone tell me that I’m not getting any younger.
  • I can decline invitations to all kinds of social/family events without having to make up an excuse.
  • I don’t have to hide my feelings of sadness or jealousy. (I do try to keep them in check, so I don’t come off as constantly sad and bitter.)
  • Far fewer people complain directly to me about their kids or being pregnant. I’m free to speak up when they do.
  • If anyone gives me a hard time about my weight, I can politely point out that fertility treatments wreak havoc on the ability to lose weight.
  • When someone says something insensitive, I can point it out and tell them what they should have said instead, thereby (hopefully) ensuring they don’t repeat the stupid comment to anyone else, especially another infertile.
  • Being out makes it easier to connect with other infertiles. Anyone reading this blog knows how isolating infertility can be, and if I can be a beacon for just one other infertile looking to connect with someone who understands, it’s totally worth it.

Cons

  • Others see my openness as a license to offer up well-meaning “advice” and platitudes, or (even worse) relate the story of their sister’s roommate’s cousin who tried for 10 years and finally got pregnant naturally after she adopted.
  • The looks of pity.
  • The look of discomfort on someone’s face when I tell them I’m infertile. (Actually, I don’t mind this one too much. Life is messy, and people need to learn to deal with it better. I’m happy to do my part!)
  • Because we’re out about our treatments, as well, people feel free to ask us how they are going and what our next steps are. I’m usually willing to talk about it, but sometimes I’m just too exhausted or not in a good place. Sometimes I just don’t know what we’re going to do next. Fortunately, our family and friends respect our privacy, so we don’t get a lot of questions.
  • Constantly being told that it WILL happen and to stay positive. I could choke on all the hope that gets dumped on me by well-meaning family, friends, acquaintances, doctors, bank tellers, etc.

For me, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. The biggest pros are educating others about infertility (what to say, what not to say to an infertile), and being there for another infertile who may not be comfortable confiding in her fertile friends and family members.

We are out to absolutely everyone. I mean, I don’t lead with it (no “Nice to meet you. I’m infertile.”), but when a stranger or new friend asks if we have kids, I often say “No. We want kids; we’ve been trying for a long time, but we’re infertile.” Sometimes it pays off and the other person will confide that they, too, had trouble or are currently having trouble. Other times, they say something well-meaning, but uninformed, and I have to correct them. But, it’s all part of the process of giving a louder voice to infertility and educating people about the realities of it.

What about you? Are you out as an infertile? To everyone, or just a few people? What factors influenced your decision to be open (or not open) about your infertility?

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24 thoughts on “On Being “Out” as an Infertile

  1. I “came out” to my parents almost as an accident. A few months before our wedding, I had missed a few periods even though I wasn’t pregnant. I ended up texting my mom to see if she had ever experienced something like this before and she’s the one who told me to see my OB who ultimately diagnosed me with PCOS. Since I couldn’t lie to my mom, I told her my diagnosis who told my dad who told my sisters and my grandparents. So ultimately, my entire family knows.

    During NIAW, I ended up coming out on facebook. I changed my profile picture to an IF related one at the beginning of the week, and then near the end, I made a status update regarding my infertility. I’m young and I wanted my friends who are my age to know that even if they don’t plan on having children until down the road, there are signs that they could have today that could point out that they would have difficulty down the road. If I had known that my sudden weight gain and missed periods were signs of PSOC, I would have gotten it check out much sooner. I didn’t want a friend of mine to go through that if they didn’t have to.

    Ultimately, I’m glad that I’ve come out about my infertility. My parents are curious about my treatment so they ask questions, but respectfully. When I came out on FB, I had a few friends private message me and tell me that they had also had trouble conceiving. So far I haven’t heard any “just relax!” comments, but I don’t know if I should chalk that up to coming out or the fact that many of my friends are young and aren’t thinking of children yet.

    (Sorry for the novel of a comment!)

    • I appreciate you sharing your story. I’m glad that you’ve had a good experience being open about your infertility. I think it’s especially important for younger women (and men) to be aware that infertility doesn’t affect only older couples.

    • I used NIAW to come out on Facebook. It wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it might be. My posts got a lot of “likes,” but mostly from my closest friends and family.

  2. My parents know everything, as do a couple of friends. But most people don’t know anything and probably think that we are a regular fertile couple. I guess a lot of family/friends were asking my parents what was going on, but I didn’t hear most of it.

    • I’m sure my mom gets questions from her friends and older relatives who I don’t see very often. I’m glad you don’t have to field the questions. What do your parents tell people?

  3. My family knows but I’m not “out” on Facebook, even my blog is anonymous.

    The hardest thing is when you get left out, not invited at all to showers or the last to know your best friend is pregnant because they are afraid to hurt your feelings.

    Then there’s the people that constantly ask you about treatments and your infertility, like that is who are now. Look..its a bird, its a plane, its…Infertili-Steph.

    • That’s another good “con” to being out. It’s hard for our loved ones to balance sensitivity and keeping us in the loop/including us in baby-related events. I don’t know a good solution to that. And those who only see IF when they look at us… that’s annoying, too.

  4. We’ve come out, but sort of slowly over the last two years. When we had our only pregnancy, we told our families right away, and then of course told them a few days later that we’d lost it. So they all knew we were trying and would continue trying. I told a few friends about it, mostly because hiding from it made it seem like a dirty secret and that just wasn’t for me. I think it helped them be more sensitive about delivering baby news to me and I think that’s helpful. I’d say that for a year we didn’t really discuss TTC at all. We weren’t officially infertile and I still had every hope it’d work out every month. But when we finally went to an RE in January, I sort of started telling most people we had taken the next step. I think by this time most of our friends had guessed something was up as they all knew we wanted kids soon. So occasionally I’d get a gentle question about our plans for kids and I’d tell them we want them and apparently can’t have them. At least not yet. Friends (even the super fertile ones!) have been really receptive and supportive. I don’t really tell randoms or strangers, and I keep it to people who I know will have some empathy and compassion. Overall, I’d say telling people has been a positive experience. Though I will add that part of sharing can be NOT sharing it with certain people who you know will have a hard time with the science or the ethics. I just don’t even try to tell them, it’s way too much of a battle that I’m not willing to get into…

    • You make a great point: some people see assisted reproduction as immoral and will let you know in no uncertain terms. I haven’t run into anyone like that myself, so it didn’t even occur to me to address it in my post. Thank you for bringing it to attention.

      I’m happy to hear that opening up to some of your friends and family has been a positive experience for you.

  5. This is such a nice post! And I admire you a lot for your attitude. I also am one of the infertiles who benefited from your blog and from connecting with you. Just to confirm that it wad a good idea!
    We started with keeping it secret but it felt wrong and also my mum knows me to well to know see something was wrong. So I tols my family, which wasnt great at first as they thought I was jusy being a drama queen. But when my mum understood the issues everyonr started being very supportive. My hubby was slower in telling his family but he did eventually, mostly to avoid questions. And most of our friends know by now.

    • Thank you! I’m glad it eventually worked out telling your family. When people aren’t familiar with something like infertility, it can be hard for them to grasp what it means, that it’s not just you being overdramatic or paranoid.

  6. First of all, thank you for this post. The timing of it is quite interesting. A friend of mine accidentally “outed” herself on Facebook just yesterday. She commented on a blog and her comment was connected to her FB so it showed up on everyone’s feed and suddenly all her friends knew not only that she’d recently been through IVF but that she had ended up miscarrying. I sent her a private message letting her know that she’s not alone and sorry for what happened and that she was outed that way. She pointed out that although they weren’t really planning on telling everyone yet, the upside had been how many people sent her similar messages.

    As far as myself, I have a really weird relationship with talking to people about it. A few people knew really early. I ended up telling my parents when my doctor suspected endo because I had some questions about family history. I also was more open with people I wasn’t super close to because I could discuss it vaguely and they didn’t generally ask for details. But when this recent loss happened I started to become even more open. I dealt with the hard conversation of talking to my sister about it and I’ve told several friends. I think that it does help to be at least somewhat “out” about it. I’ve been thinking a lot about consciously posting on FB, but honestly I’m torn. Right now it feels like the people for whom it’s important to know all know. So we’re keeping it at that for right now.

    That all said, the number of people who have told me, and continue to tell me, time and again some variation of it “just relax and it will happen for you” is staggering. And I still don’t know how to constructively respond to it. They mean well, but damn.

    • I didn’t talk about miscarriage in my post, but a lot of the same pros and cons apply. I couldn’t imagine trying to keep my grief to myself when we lost our baby. I was glad we told so many people about the pregnancy early on, because it forced me to tell everyone about the loss. As hard as that was, it was way better than pretending that I hadn’t just experienced a devastating loss.

      I’m glad your friend was able to find the silver lining in her accidental outing. As for the “relax” comments, I usually respond with “Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.” If I don’t feel up to further explanation, I change the subject.

  7. I’m out to a lot of friends and coworkers, but my husband is much more private about it. It’s sometimes hard to balance my need to talk about it (and talk and talk and talk) while still trying to respect his privacy.

    I also don’t talk about it with the clients I work with (even though I get asked a lot about whether I have/want kids) or random people in the grocery store, etc. I am mostly happy with the support I’ve received from people I’ve told, but I also identify a lot with the last item on your cons list!

  8. We’ve been discussing this a lot. Hubby is desperate to tell his patents as he is close to them and needs their support. I’m freaking out about it (“hey parents in law! Soz about not having any eggs!”). But I realise my husbands needs to talk to them to get support. My friends all know but family … it’s a toughie for me.

    • It’s tough when both don’t agree on how much to be out or who to come out to. My husband is a very private person. He doesn’t confide much in his parents (or anyone, really), so when I decided I wanted to be out on FB, I asked his permission first. I was afraid he wouldn’t want me to talk about it publicly, but he was very supportive of it, and I am eternally grateful that he is okay with me telling anyone and everyone. That might have something to do with the fact that it’s my lazy ovaries that are the problem… he’s just fine. If our roles were reversed, he may not be cool with me talking about it all the time. It’s a difficult balance, that’s for sure.

      • It really is. So tough. People who don’t go through this (infertility) would have absolutely no idea of all the myriad issues it throws up. We agreed that hubby could tell his family. I’m going to hold off telling mine. If I had some kind other medical diagnosis (diabetes or, god forbid, cancer) I would be fine with him telling family. But because it’s something about me which makes me feel deeply inadequate as a woman I’m dreading him telling them. But I’ll just deal with it. He’s not going to tell them the details, just that we’re on IVF.

  9. I am pretty much out (but not on facebook) but my husband is not. The reason we’re not totally open about it is that our issue is male factor infertility and my husband is sensitive about it. We stupidly told our families and some friends when we started trying back in 2009 since we of course thought it would happen right away. Then when we finally did get pregnant 2 years later from IVF #2 and ended up with twins, we told a few more people. The issue with twins is that people always ask “Oh, whose family do the twins run in?” I just started saying “Mine” most of the time to avoid the whole discussion. When I lost the twins at such a late stage it became more widely known because every one obviously knew we were pregnant. Now after almost 4 years of TTC and fertility treatments most of our friends and people we work with know. I’m glad that I am open about it and able to talk to people when I feel the need to. Dealing with fertility challenges is alienating enough, I don’t want to have to keep this a secret. I keep my blog identity a secret from the people I know if real life, not because our fertility challenges are a big secret, only because I think I would be worrying about what other people thought of me and I’d be less open and honest in my writing. Even my husband doesn’t know what my blog is… He knows I have one but he’s never read it.

    • I understand that. I think the main reason my husband is okay with me being open about our IF is that it’s my body that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. He’s pretty private, so I’m sure if male factor was any part of our IF, he may not want everyone to know. I also keep my blog a secret from real life, mostly because most of my bitterness gets directed toward the wombs of my super-fertile cousins.

      I am so sorry for your losses.

  10. Hi there, we have so much in common. Married in Oct 2010 and starting trying right away because we knew about my PCOS. I have known since my mid 20’s. We were shocked to find out about the mild MFI as well, so my husband is private about it all. We got pregnant our first real try with clomid/iui but it was ectopic. We have made a half assed effort here and there. 2 clomid cycles and trying our 2nd femara cycle since may of 2012 when we had the loss. I came across your blog while searching 10mg femara….lol. Honestly, being around kids or seeing baby pictures from my friends don’t bother me. I will be 36 this year….it is the possibility that some of my friends will be a grandmother before I spit one out that bothers me;)

    • Hi! Welcome and thanks for commenting. I have a cousin who is only a few years older than me, who became a grandmother 2 years ago. I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes, but it’s an extreme example of how it seems like I’m WAY behind everyone else in the kid department. My sister’s kids are 4 and 8, the only close cousins my kids would have (they are done having babies). I’m desperate to have one sooner rather than later, just so they stay relatively close in age.

      I hope you found an answer to your Femara inquiry. I’m always happy to share my experiences, if you want to email me.

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