The Stigma of Infertility
To tell or not to tell…that you’re going through fertility treatment, that is. This is a deeply personal decision that only you and your partner can make. When I was going through my IVFs I only told a very few close friends. I chose people who were either going through it themselves or whom I knew I couldn’t keep this kind of secret from. The vast majority of the people I knew, including my family and co-workers, did not know that I was trying (and failing!) to get pregnant. I had my reasons for this but now, after several years of reflection, I think I would do it differently. Let me explain.
There is a stigma around fertility treatment. Women often believe that their inability to get pregnant on their own is somehow an indictment of their womanhood. They are sent so many messages by our culture that their job is to make babies and that if they can’t do it on their own then they are somehow “less than” other women. A common boast that I have heard is women saying that they got pregnant “without even trying” as if this is an accomplishment to be congratulated for. It suggests that trying to get pregnant is not as desirable as simply being so fertile (read: better) that they need not even attempt it to be successful. With all these messages it’s no wonder that if a woman is not getting pregnant, despite her efforts, that she could feel as though she was not as capable or valuable. And so, stigma develops. Not to mention the stigma attached to miscarriage. So many times women blame themselves for the unintentional end of a pregnancy when, most of the time, there is absolutely nothing that she did wrong.
Do I think you should be ashamed of it? Absolutely not! But, people are often reluctant to share their struggles to get pregnant. I run a group for women dealing with infertility and I am very often asked to verify that their participation in the group remain anonymous and private. I am happy to provide this service because I myself would have preferred it this way when I was going though treatment. If you had told me when I was having my IVFs that one day I would blog about it I would have thought you were crazy! I had zero plans to ever publicly announce my infertility struggle. But a funny thing happened after I had my babies; I became really proud of what I went through to have them. I became very interested in sharing my story because the more I did, the more I discovered what excellent company I was in. So many more of my friends and acquaintances had undergone fertility treatment than I had ever imagined. Once we started talking about it there was a sense of camaraderie and relief to have our experience recognized.
I really feel that the stigma around infertility is beginning to lift. As more and more celebrities start sharing their experiences with IVF, the more normal it will begin to seem. Thank you, Michelle Obama! The more often the concept of fertility treatment is discussed in the media, in popular culture, and on social media, the more normalized it becomes. I have been asked if I think that celebrities who have had fertility treatment have an obligation to share the means with which it took for them to have babies and I always say that they do not. Ultimately, everybody must decide for themselves whether or not to disclose their fertility status. However, I wish that they would. The more often they do, the more the stigma gets chipped away and we all benefit.
I would never pressure anybody to share anything that makes them uncomfortable. That is the point of the group I run. If you want private support then I am 100% committed to providing that to you. Infertility is something that is happening inside of your body. It is a private, medical situation that you go though with your partner. It makes sense that you may want to keep it to yourself. But I believe that there is true power in sharing our struggles with each other. By learning that we are not alone we will feel less alone. Infertility is such an isolating experience but it really doesn’t need to be. When we share with each other, we learn from each other.
I didn’t share my infertility for a lot of the reasons I mentioned earlier. I thought it made me seem weak. What I learned is that several years of surviving and persisting after so much disappointment and heartbreak made me stronger. I will be proud to tell my children that their mommy loved them so much that she was willing to endure pain, spend money, see doctors, and remain focused just to have them in her life. They are the best thing I have ever worked for.