I'm Not the Only Infertile You Know
Two years ago, when I first grappled with the clinical infertility diagnosis, I felt alone. I intellectually knew that 1 in 8 couples struggled with fertility, but I didn't know anyone else who ever had. I felt like the only person God had abandoned, while everyone around me was raising beautiful families.
Boy, was I wrong.
First, I met a bunch of remarkable women online who are in various stages of dealing with infertility. Together, we support once another and help each other see the hope that is still possible and deal with the grief that is sometimes an inevitable part of this process. These are some of the most extraordinary women I will likely never meet in person and I have come to think of them as dear friends. We have grown close over time and take care of our own. You really don't want to mess with a pack of infertiles.
Many of you may believe I am one of the only infertiles you know, the only one you've ever met. When the topic comes up, you can say, yeah, there's that one woman I know from (fill in the blank). She writes that crazy blog about infertility. But, hold your horses.
I'm not the only infertile you know.
Once I outed myself and started telling my infertility story, folks from nearly every part of my life started telling me about their experiences with infertility. Some faced it and are now parents. Some faced it and made peace with a life of childlessness. Some are still deep in the throws of battle. They come from my all parts of my life- from childhood, through college and grad school, into the jobs I have held as an adult. In short, there's not a corner of my life that infertility didn't affect more than just me.
Who are these people? I will never tell because their stories are theirs to share, not mine. Each one has his or her own way of facing this diagnosis and each person has chosen who they let into the world of infertility. Some are incredibly private about it and some are very open about their experiences. No one is wrong in how they are coping. They are all just doing the best they can.
So, why I am telling you this since I'm not going to tell you who else you might know that is facing infertility?It's simple, really. I'm telling you so you remember always to have compassion. It doesn't really matter who they are. Chances are, no matter how I know you, no matter where you live now, or what you are doing, you know more than one infertile.
My sister has been one of my biggest supporters in this struggle. But, more than once, she has said my battle with infertility has changed her perspective on so many things. She used to ask people when they were going to have children, why they didn't have children, when are they going to give the baby a brother or sister, etc. She told me now that she realizes just how difficult those questions can be for women when they are in my shoes.
So, is my sister a bad person for asking these question? Of course not. She didn't know. People cannot be held responsible if they do not know. That's one of the reasons why I have chosen to be so public with my story. People should know that ordinary questions sometimes hurt, even when asked innocently. Everyone should realize there are women in their lives facing this struggle every single day. Everyone should stop to think before they berate that woman who just can't attend another baby shower or keep questioning a woman who clearly wants to stop talking about the kids subject. Folks should really consider the pain others might feel before deciding they are horrible people who must hate children. Most infertiles will probably shrink away from these hurtful conversations. However, if you happen upon an infertile like me, you just might get an education you never anticipated.
So, you might say, why is it my job to make myself politically correct for these infertiles? Why should this fall on me? I've received comments on my blog about my pleas for civility in discussing family building. Quite a few people took issue with my stance that we should be kind to one another first and foremost. I was told I was asking for people to go to far in the name of political correctness. I see it very differently.
First of all, dealing with infertility is analogous to any other medical condition. We don't feel the need to berate people for cancer or diabetes. So, let's stop berating people for family building decisions. Let's break the cycle of hurt so many of us feel when we're assaulted with a barrage of questions about our childless state. Whether people are childless by choice or childless not by choice, chastising them for their failure to procreate can only lead to hurt. So, as Elsa so bluntly put it, "let it go." For goodness sake, know when to let it go.
As a teacher, I ask students to use kindness when we are talking to classmates. Today, I would ask you to do the same. I promise, there is someone you know who is silently struggling with infertility. Be a friend and think before you are the reason their world comes undone today.