It’s a vicious cycle– nobody talks about infertility and so you worry about people’s reactions, and because you think that people will react negatively you don’t say anything, therefore perpetuating the cycle.
On top of feeling like a failure (and that we are the only ones going through it) we also worry about perceptions, what people will think, what they might say – after all, everyone seems to have an opinion. How are we supposed to react to them when it’s so raw and such a personal, emotional experience? Here are just a few reasons my followers shared with me as to why they don’t feel able to open up…
“We worry others won’t agree with the process. The fear of having to justify it.”
“My Grandpa made a comment that my adopted cousins weren’t real carriers of the family name”
“Everyone seems to have an opinion. I just can’t think on my feet to respond to people’s comments”
“In case we say the wrong thing”
“Not being able to think on my feet to respond to people’s comments, instead I carry it around and mull it over”
“If it doesn’t work then I’ve got to share the loss with everyone too”
“Others will have so much hope for our IVF that it will hurt doubly or more if it doesn’t work”
In my experience there were three different types of reactions. The ‘generational’ reactions, those who say totally the wrong thing, and those who react with (sometimes unwanted) curiosity.
Starting with the generational reactions. We have to remember that the whole concept of IVF (never mind something like donor conception) is only 40 years old, it is still so new for those that were having children with no medical intervention way before this. In the past if you couldn’t conceive you just wouldn’t have children, you may carry the pain around with you and not tell a soul. When I launched my blog, someone told me “Back in the 70’s it was something you never talked to anyone about, you were expected to accept your situation”. I don’t know about you, but I just cannot imagine having to just ‘get on with’ a life without children when it’s all you ever wanted, and never tell a soul about it.
Recently, my Mum told me that she worried about telling my Nan about our struggle to conceive, for no reason other than she worried that she might not fully understand and may have a view that things should happen as nature intended. Not only was she telling her about us needing to use IVF but also that we may need to use donor eggs. Thankfully, she totally understood and was hugely supportive, but it doesn’t surprise me that there is a still a misunderstanding amongst people.
A good friend of mine recently contacted me to ask for advice on telling her in-laws. She is being open with her son about his donor conception but knows that her in-laws “are very old fashioned and just wouldn’t understand. They’d say things like ‘so, he’s not yours then’?” With responses such as that you can see why we don’t speak out!
Often these generational responses come from a place of ignorance, in these cases sharing some general information about infertility such as letting them know that is actually a common issue and affects nearly 1 in 6 couples might help. Sometimes however, it isn’t easy to change minds on something that is so unfamiliar – you have to remember that opinions can be hard to change, especially where there is a lack of understanding. It is also important to remember that you are not responsible for changing their minds. It may be wise to limit how much you share, if this is the case. I believe that these reactions will get easier over time, as generations move on there will be a shift, but it still doesn’t change the difficulties of speaking out now.
Personally, what I found most difficult were the (mostly) well-meaning responses, with useless bits of advice that people like to try to give. Those who would respond with some assumed medical knowledge based on no experience whatsoever and those that would tell you about someone who ‘just relaxed’ after IVF and got pregnant. I remember getting the odd comment that would rattle me such as:
“I know someone that was struggling, they went on holiday, relaxed and just fell pregnant!”
“Did you know a miscarriage can make you more fertile, so it could just happen naturally now”
Through gritted teeth I’d think… Yes, of course, that’s what I need to do – relax! And I’m sure the miscarriage I have just been through will totally resolve the problem with my rather lacking egg reserve! I wished that people would just think before they spoke.
Although comments such as these can be very upsetting, what I did find however was that the majority came from a good place. As it is something people aren’t used to hearing about, (because we don’t talk about it!) being open about something such as this can make others feel uncomfortable, especially if infertility isn’t something they have come across before. Human nature can mean that we automatically want to fix things, and so we say the first thing that comes to mind to offer a ‘solution’. We shouldn’t necessarily feel the need to apologise for making people feel uncomfortable though, raising awareness can only help reduce this feeling. You can respond to these types of comments by reminding them you are focusing on the advice of fertility experts and that what you need is for them to listen to you, not try to solve the problem. This then allows for the conversation to end if you so wish, or for you to then expand and educate them about the fertility advice you are following.
The third type of response I found was curiosity. I found some people were fascinated and, in wanting to know more, they would fire questions about how it all works. This was a reaction I actually didn’t mind. Curiosity can be a great response and one I would encourage – it means we can open up a meaningful conversation and actually educate people about fertility struggles. Without this, there is no way we will break this vicious cycle. When you are facing fertility struggles you almost become an ‘expert’ on the subject, I know I self-‘taught’ myself about all things fertility related with hours of trawling through the internet. I believe that if you are able to help them understand a little more about what is involved both medically and emotionally, they will be able to support you better.
Throughout our journey I found that by choosing to be candid, I experienced many reactions. On the whole, I found that most people reacted positively and being prepared to respond to different types of reactions most definitely helped. Preparation still doesn’t take away the raw emotion that can easily take over when talking about such a personal journey, although I don’t believe this is a bad thing. Allowing people to see emotion can only emphasise the enormity of what you are going through – thus educating people that it isn’t just a ‘trivial’ thing.
As I always say, I’m not saying you have to talk about it, I want to say that you shouldn’t feel that you can’t talk about it, just because of an ignorant or misjudged reaction.
Everyone is different and will respond to reactions in their own way – no way is right or wrong. I’d encourage you to remember my previous posts on the Vicious Cycle of Infertility -you are not alone and you are not a failure. You have an opportunity to educate and raise awareness, don’t be afraid to correct people or open up a conversation – without this we won’t be able to break the silence and the taboo.
Love, Becky x