Tuesday, 21 April 2015

You are not alone

When I was going through my ectopic pregnancies, the waiting room of the outpatients’ service in the Women’s Health centre of our local hospital - where I spent an inordinate amount of time - had a large poster of a sad-looking woman.

“Miscarriage,” it said, “is very common, but also very lonely.”

Infertility is also, I have discovered, surprisingly common, but surprisingly lonely too. Coming out of infertility without children at all is lonelier still.
We probably all know someone who couldn’t have children or who faced infertility. As we were growing up, we went to school with children who were adopted, or we had an aunt or uncle who never had children. Since then, we might have experienced it closer to hand – with friends or relatives who couldn’t have children, or who never had them, and we don’t know if this was by choice or not-by-choice. Or we’ve experienced it personally. And we know that 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. That’s a lot! So why is infertility so lonely? I have a one word answer: Silence.

Infertility is a very intimate condition. Most of us don’t walk about talking about our sex lives. Most parents don’t talk about how their children were conceived. So it’s understandable that we don’t talk about our infertility.

When we find that we’re having problems, we feel embarrassed, and we feel shame. We feel shame that we are different from others, from the rest of the world who seem to get pregnant without problems. We feel shame when we are not connected, when we can’t do what is considered to be normal. And shame is, by definition, a very lonely state.

We feel less than, we feel as if we’re not “real women/men” because we can’t procreate, we feel flawed, dysfunctional, and worst of all, we feel judged. Judgement silences us.

Society is very cruel. People make comments like “you’re not a real woman until you’re a mother” or say to a man, thinking it's a joke, “show you’re a real man and get her pregnant.” They’re not funny, but they are so prevalent and so judgemental that they automatically silence us.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about infertility and assisted reproduction. So those who go through this and then manage to get their children don’t talk about it either. They might be so relieved they’ve joined the mainstream that they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Or perhaps they just don’t want to remember the difficult times. Whatever, there are a lot of people who have conceived via IVF or IUI or with donor egg or sperm or embryo, who don’t talk about their history, or who actively keep it secret.

Other people don’t want to talk about infertility, because they’re not good at talking about anything they don’t understand. They don’t like talking about difficult emotions, and they don’t want to upset us. So they change the subject, they pretend it's not happening, they hope we'll "get over it."

No wonder we are lonely. We don't talk about it and no-one else does either. We could be surrounded by others who have been through infertility, but you'd never know it.

The good news though is that, even when we know we will live our lives without children, live a No Kidding life, we don’t need to be lonely. There is a vibrant, supportive community on-line – whether through blogging, on Facebook or Twitter, or in numerous messageboards – and at every stage of the infertility journey. All we need to do is look.

We can find people who are going through the same things as we might be and can walk side-by-side with us, holding our hands, crying with us, or laughing at the absurdities. Or we might find those (like myself) who have already been through these things, have walked this path before, and can now help light the way for us all. You are not alone. We are not alone. And that makes all the difference.


This week is National Infertility Awareness Week in the US:

7 comments:

  1. And I'm thankful that I found you during this journey. I'm thankful for a friendship that helped me through many dark hours. Thank you for this reminder that we are not alone in this.

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  2. lovely post. I agree that it can be very lonely and hard putting on a brave face to the world when dealing with infertility. Nice to know we are not alone

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  3. It is so isolating! I do feel so much shame. I am so uncomfortable and not confident when talking about it and in most cases the listener is equally uncomfortable. Something about discussing malfunctioning reproductive parts makes people squirm.

    I have a diagnosed medical condition yet I stay silent about it (in the real world anyway) because it's hard to talk about and the lack of understanding and sensitivity is vast. But what's funny about it is that if I had cancer or high blood pressure or arthritis or any number of other things, I wouldn't hesitate to talk openly about them. Why? Those are the socially acceptable medical conditions.

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  4. Oh, I hear you. Wow. And what a ride it's been. I was updating my blog this week and marvel at how isolating it all was when I started more than 8 years ago to make sense of it all. So glad to have made such invaluable friends along the way. You are a gem! xo

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  5. I so love this post. I agree, there's so many of us and yet it can still feel so lonely, even with the amazing support of people both in person and online. I always feel like the worst is when you put it out there and then other people feel uncomfortable and you feel silence that way... like a former friend who told me, "I just didn't know what to say so I didn't say anything." That silence in return is awful, and makes you feel like some kind of sad sap freak. But, like you said, we're not! And it's lovely to be able to take your experience and share with others and support those who are at varying stages in this infertility journey and making different decisions (or having them made for you). It makes it so much less lonely to have a community of wise women from all different walks of infertility. I know I am glad for your wisdom and support and for feeling less alone for it. Thanks for this post!

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  6. I am so incredibly thankful for all the wonderful women online (including you!) who have supported me through 17 years of stillbirth, infertility and struggling to accept a childless/free life. In "real life," it can still be pretty lonely sometimes, particularly on the involuntarily childless front. Thanks goodness for the Internet!

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