03 April, 2013

Sharing about sharing

Telling, not telling, opening ourselves up to criticism, judgement and support; is it being vulnerable, or ensuring we have a wider support group?  Is it setting ourselves up for hurt, or for having  people with us  who know what we are going through, and can help us?  This is one of the issues we all face when we are facing infertility, or down-stream when we have come through the other side, and are either living our lives with or without children.

The need to tell, to connect with others who understand, is of course why so many of us have come to blogging, both writing blogs, and writing comments on other peoples' blogs.  But even here, we have the same issues.  Do we open up and say everything, or edit our thoughts and our opinions?   When we're blogging, of course, we are also vulnerable to accusations of over-sharing.  

I've talked about it before, and my conclusion has always been that we are all different, and we should all do what is right for us at the time.  And what is right for us when we are going through the difficult times might not be how we choose to handle "life after infertility."   I was one of those who chose not to make it public knowledge, though my immediate family and close friends knew bits (not all) of the story.  They knew about the losses, but not generally about the IVF. 

Yes, I hear you.  Here I go again.  1, 2, 3, Roll your eyes!  But the reason I'm addressing this is two-fold.  First, I keep seeing the issue come up, whether it is a question about Facebook sharing, a post written and removed (but it still makes its way to my feed) about reactions to a pregnancy, or discussions of our responsibility to speak out, to spread awareness of our situations.  To tell or not to tell is a real question for us all.

So I was interested to see what Brene Brown would say about sharing and over-sharing, in her book Daring Greatly.   We share to connect, that's clear.  But when we share with someone, anyone, everyone, where there is no existing connection, then we are perhaps "over-sharing."  The response of the those on the receiving end might be, as she suggest, simply to wince, feel awkward, or  (and this is my addition), as many of us have found here on the internet, to be on the receiving end of judgements, nasty comments, and even abuse.  If we are at a stage where we are very vulnerable, hurting, sad and alone, then over-sharing is both a reflection of our pain, reaching out desperately for understanding, but also - if we don't receive the support we want - yet another disappointment, another example of where we don't "measure up."

However, this doesn't mean we shouldn't share.  Because Brene Brown believes that receiving empathy when we are vulnerable is absolutely important.  She believes it banishes shame, and it restores that part of us that feels good about ourselves.  Her advice is advice I love: 

"We share our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them."

That sentence articulates completely why I don't explain to strangers why I don't have children, or why I didn't adopt, or why I waited so long to have children.  (Well, except on this blog or the Huff Post!)  These days, I'm feeling a lot less vulnerable about having no kids, and so I will talk about it relatively freely. I'm a pretty good judge of who I can tell, and who will respond supportively or with interest, and who will be embarrassed, or judgemental.  But I am still cautious.  I retain the right to choose whether or not to share, and I never feel obliged to share.  And even if, these days, I don't believe the basis of any negative comments I might receive, it doesn't mean they won't hurt, even as I tell myself to brush off the comments.  Ultimately, it's my pain, my truth, and I get to choose who sees that. 

So who do we share with?  Brene Brown's advice is to share with "people with whom we have ... relationships that can bear the weight of our story."

I love this too.  How often have we shared things with people and discovered they never talked to us again, or that friends and acquaintances stepped away, because they couldn't cope with our pain?  Or we were offered platitudes and advice to "get over it?"  Those relationships invariably suffered.  Or they were never strong enough to cope with the weight of our story.  And the people who stuck through this with us, who responded with empathy and not judgement?  Those are the connections we will keep and cherish for a long time; those are the connections that will grow.  And many of those connections are ones we have made here, or on other blogs.  Sharing when you receive empathy is the best medicine.  

Sharing.  I'm sure there's more to say.  I'll try to give it a break for a while!


  1. Beautifully written!
    I love the sentence: "We share our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them."

    With years I learned with whom I can share. So yes, life with infertility does get easier as years are passing by...

  2. One thing though that popped to mind is that it's not always the fault of the listener if they couldn't handle the weight of a story. I mean, literally, in carrying weight, if you ask me to flip the mattress, I'll tell you that I can't handle it. Josh can. Which is simply a fact: some items are so heavy that only certain type of people can carry them well. And it seems unfair, then, to blame someone for being too small or for not having enough stamina to handle something emotionally (by which we mean fulfill our expectations -- they may not even know they're handling it poorly in some cases) in the same way that it wouldn't be right to tell someone that it's all their fault that they can't flip the mattress on their own. We understand people being physically weak; we're not as forgiving for people being emotionally weak.

    That said, some people just suck at hearing and processing difficult news :-)

    I try to have an open mind and think, just because they supported me in this difficult time doesn't mean they will be fabulous with all difficult news. And vice versa -- there are people who sucked in talking with me about infertility but have been fabulous in talking about me with a death. If I wrote them off based on how they dealt with infertility, I would have missed that support.

    1. Oh, I absolutely agree. I think that's the point - that we can't share our stories, vulnerability or shame with everyone and expect them to be able to bear the weight. I also found that I have friends who play specific roles in my life (and I in theirs) and just because they can't bear all my issues, doesn't mean that I shouldn't share with them in the areas we have in common, or where I know they will be interested or empathic. It's also made me think about how I react to other people's stories, how I can be more empathic, or even tell them why I might be struggling to deal with their stories.

  3. share with "people with whom we have... relationships that can bear the weight of our story."

    I love this line because it strikes a cord with me. Often times I've debated on whether or not to share our story with others. Although we have told some of our closest family and friends opening up has been a struggle for me.

    There are some days in which the last thing I want to do is to talk about my infertility. On the other hand there are other days in which all I want to do is to shout it from the rooftops.

    For me it has been about slowly finding a balance and learning that maybe not everybody is ready or interested in hearing about our struggles. Not everybody is going to lend a shoulder to cry on or offer insightful advice and that's OK. Because just like that, support can appear from the most unexpected sources. And suddenly, people who we didn't knew could share the weight of our story are right there... helping us to carry this, sometimes heavy load.

  4. LOVE this post. I find myself nodding and nodding and nodding some more!!! :-D

    I was reminded of my teenage years the other week. In my pre-teen, I was really introverted and I didn't open up to my friends, but after that I started to change and I enjoyed finding my voice and I sort of gone through one end to the other extreme. I overshared with my closest friends, some of whom weren't really ready to receive as much private info. Some were, but some weren't. And that was an important lesson for me in balance. I think that some people may just not be ready to listen - they may not be ready to listen at that particular time (they may get ready later in life) OR they may not ever get ready at all. So I also think it's important to choose to whom you're sharing your stories - whether they're happy or sad stories. And I also believe that timing makes a huge difference, as well, in sharing our stories.