Perpetuating the Infertility Taboo

As I mentioned in a recent post, I will soon take on a more public and impactful role in the wider infertility community through volunteer efforts with an organization whose mission  is focused on infertility awareness, support and advocacy.

Outwardly, my volunteer efforts will focus on helping other people who are experiencing infertility, however, my motivation for taking on this role is not  purely altruistic. Aside from all of the usual benefits that people get from volunteering their time, I am hoping that this more public role will force me out of my comfort zone and get me talking more about infertility, and my own experience with it in my day to day life.

While living with infertility, I did not like to share many details about what was going on with friends and family. I was always honest when people asked if I wanted kids, and would freely share that we were trying, but that was usually the extent of it. As I have written in earlier posts on this blog, the reluctance to share many details extended even to other people in my social circle who were also experiencing infertility (though in this case, the reasons for not wanting to share were much more complex).

The sad thing is that I think at the time, my instincts were correct, and I was emotionally better off by not sharing. Even now, when I am sharing my experiences with others who are in the midst of their own infertility struggles, if the topic of being more open with their broader social circle comes up, I generally advise that the less said the better. Instead, I give them ideas of how they can connect with other people also experiencing infertility, or steps they can take to protect their emotions from the repeated painful reminders that being infertile in a fertile world can bring.

Unfortunately, infertility remains one of the last taboos. Probably the closest analogy I can think of is the perception of mental illness, yet I think even mental illness has come a long way in the last ten to twenty years in terms of public awareness, and acceptance of the mentally ill.

All of these factors lead to a vicious cycle: the general public has many misconceptions about infertility; as a result, infertiles who choose to share their struggles find themselves facing ill timed or intrusive questions, or receiving unsolicited advice from caring friends and family who are trying to be supportive (not to mention much worse from others who may not be as well meaning); leading to infertiles deciding they are safer to keep quiet about their struggles; resulting in an uninformed public and the continuing taboo.

There is the odd person who has the emotional and mental make-up to take on the role of advocate while in the midst of their own struggles, however for most people, I think it is more realistic to advocate once their own infertility is resolved (however that resolution may happen). Therefore, I strongly believe that in order to break the vicious cycle, and properly educate the public about infertility, it is up to those (like myself) whose emotional resources are no longer drained by infertility.

And yet, despite promising myself that once I had Baby Boy I would be more open about what we went through and share my experiences with friends and strangers alike, to date I  think I have failed miserably. The reasons for this failure are many.

I am generally at peace with my own experience with infertility. Yes (as I explained in a recent post), the scars are there, but they are just that – scars. Infertility is no longer a gaping, weeping wound, nor even a fresh scab that can easily be picked to bleed again. It depends on the day, but I would guess that it has an impact of 5% to 10% of what it used to (and much of this is actually due to the positive after effects of infertility, which I also described in the aforementioned post). Therefore, I think I am in an excellent position to advocate and share my story every chance I get.

However, the reality is very different. When I do bring my experiences up in conversation, I tend to keep it vague – I say that “it took us a long time”, or maybe (the odd, odd time), I admit to doing “fertility treatments”. And while I wish that I took every available opportunity to share even this amount of information, I usually only bring this up when I suspect that the person in front of me may also have experienced (or be currently experiencing) infertility. And when I share even these fairly neutral statements (from behind my current shield of motherhood, and growing pregnancy belly no less!), my stomach is clenched and my heart is racing, and I feel completely naked and exposed.

Therefore,  I completely understand why infertility remains a taboo topic, because despite my best efforts so far I have not been very successful in doing my small part to change things. I am looking forward to what I hope will be growth and healing as I take on my new role, and slowly, step by step become the advocate I’d always hoped I could be.

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