26 February, 2017

Knowing better ...

I have to admit that I have had this post largely written for over a year, but for reasons that will become obvious, I’ve been a little scared to post it. Bent Not Broken’s post about being ambushed by a work colleague with a scan video has finally prompted me to hit the big orange button, Publish.

These days, in my happily ever after No Kidding life, I don’t have many triggers. I can watch birth scenes on TV (I’ve always been curious about the act and process of giving birth), and breastfeeding (even though that was a particular loss I felt) with little or no discomfort. But scan pictures can still throw me off kilter. My only scans have been to diagnose (or attempt to diagnose) my ectopic pregnancies, to see the seemingly endless (at the time) problems in resolving my second ectopic pregnancy, to show that IVF wasn’t working for me, and to diagnose my fibroids that lead to my hysterectomy. None of these resulted in good news, or happy memories. So I flinch whenever I see one.

I of course admit I have been scarred by my history. I’ve recounted before my story of emailing good friends offshore to tell them of my second ectopic. They didn't know about my first either, but I updated them at the same time – I was responding to their Christmas/New Year message (how joyous). I received an almost immediate response. It said, "sorry to hear that, but hey, we're pregnant, and attached is our scan photo!" Needless to say, I deleted the email, and never opened the attached photo. This couple had struggled themselves with infertility, requiring IVF/ICSI to conceive, so I could understand their excitement. But as we know, infertility doesn’t necessarily breed sensitivity either.

It’s the same in the ALI blogosphere. Now, before I offend anyone, I’m the first one to support those who are pregnant or parenting after infertility in writing about their realities. Once it is clear they are pregnant or parenting, I don’t believe they should have to put disclaimers, or particularly censor their words. If they’re finding pregnancy or parenting hard, then they should feel free to say so. If they are joyously happy, then they can say that too. We have the choice of reading their posts – usually you can see the direction a post is heading, and choose whether to continue – or not. Self-protection for us is relatively easy.

Pictures, however, are different from text, or spoken words in a podcast, and research shows they are far more likely to elicit negative emotions. And the issue is wider than just scan photos, but these are most commonly posted. If there is a lead-in to a post that suggests I might not want to scroll down to a visual image, or simply refers to coming images, or is hinted at in the post title, or has a photo one click away, then I very much appreciate the warning. I can then choose not to click , or simply to look away, or even just mentally brace myself. But if a photo (scan photo, for example, or birth/baby photo, or breastfeeding photo, or photo of a positive pregnancy test - or whatever might be a trigger) is the first thing we see when we open a post or see a Fb update, then there is no option but to see it. In a split second, unlike with text, we have seen the full image, and will experience all the emotions that surround that. Likewise, in real life if we are asked if we’d like to see baby photos or scan photos or video, or whatever, we can see what’s coming, mostly, and choose to avoid it. But where people want it to be a surprise (like BNB’s colleague), we have no choice, no ability to protect ourselves, and we’re hit when we’re least expecting it.

Now, I do understand that a finally pregnant IVFer might be thrilled to have a good news pregnancy test/scan/birth/breastfeeding experience at last, and may want to share that with their readers. It’s become a rite of passage that some people have desperately wanted to experience. I think many of us can relate to that.

But I have to ask, is a photo of an ultrasound scan (for example) – especially on what, until the scan photo is posted, used to be an infertility blog - really necessary?

I don’t really understand why people want to share their scan photos anyway – especially if we already know they’re pregnant. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have shared mine. After all, they don’t impart any extra knowledge – unlike birth photos, where you can see the baby, learn if they have red hair (like my adorable niece), or if they’ve got long limbs (like my sister), or dimples, and start to get to know the new little human. Scan photos though, all look exactly the same (with the exception of scans for multiples), so sharing them online with others seems unnecessary. Wait. I acknowledge that they are of course completely necessary and important for the parents-to-be, but probably only the parents-to-be  or okay, maybe the grandparents-to-be too. But for the rest of us, they’re pretty irrelevant, perhaps even incomprehensible. After all, it’s not as if we require proof of their claim that they’re pregnant! We can still be happy for them or to offer our congratulations.
I know that someone who hasn't experienced infertility might not really understand that sharing such images (or the way they share them) can be painful, and I can choose to educate them (or not), depending on who they are and the relationship I have with them. It is much easier to do that these days.

But that’s the thing I don’t understand here in the ALI blogging community. People who are pregnant after infertility know, for example, that scan photos can be painful. They know how it feels to be side-swiped by suddenly coming across an unexpected photo. Or even if it doesn’t affect them, they know that it can and does affect others. We all wish we didn’t know that, that there was no reason to know that. But surely a cost – and I would argue, a benefit – to infertility is that it can bring greater awareness and compassion into our lives, especially when we consider how our actions will affect others.

Yet despite that, some still choose to post scan photos, arguing that they have wanted to be able to do this for so long, they should be able to. That’s a fair enough argument. I agree, it isn’t fair that some women and couples can, without guilt or thought, spread their happy news this way, and that it is harder for the infertile. But, knowing what we know, do we really want to be those women? Can we, after experiencing so much, really be those carefree people? We all know former infertiles who seem to suffer from infertility amnesia, treating current infertiles and those of us without children in ways that would have appalled them even weeks/months earlier, when they were going through infertility themselves. I find it hard to believe that they truly forget, that there is never a wee pang of guilt as they join the insensitive parent/pregnant person club. It's a choice. And it isn't as if that is the only choice, either. There is a thoughtful parent/pregnant person club, and - although it is unfortunately smaller - you don’t have to have experienced infertility to be a member.

So what I find hard to accept is that some of our fellow bloggers then consciously choose their own wishes over the pain of the people they know will be reading their posts. It’s not done through ignorance, but rather is a decision not to care.

Does this mean I hold those who’ve been through infertility to a higher standard? Yes, it does. And I guess that's why I'm writing this here. Because I like to think that when we know better, we do better.


  1. I agree on all counts! I do hold my fellow infertility sisters (regardless of how their infertility was resolved) to a higher standard. I get their excitement. They should be excited. But they should also exercise compassion. I can give couples that got pregnant easily and who never experienced loss a bit of a pass because it's a problem of lack of knowledge, but I'm less forgiving of those who do know and do it anyway.

    I'm also with you in the thinking that those who went on to get pregnant/are parenting shouldn't have to offer disclaimers. When you read their blog you know that their situation and that there's a decent chance that they will talk about their kids/pregnancy. I very much prefer real, genuine people. Parenting and pregnancy aren't glitter and unicorns all the time.

    One of my very good friends who struggled with infertility and several miscarriages and was very open about all of it shared information about her pregnancy (including scan pictures) in the most sensitive way I've seen. She would update her FB status something to the effect of "Appointment today. Mama and baby are doing great. See comments for scan picture and details." Now, if I were in her shoes, I probably wouldn't have shared as much as she did, and definitely not the scan pictures, but I did appreciate her sensitivity and knowing there would at least be one person that I didn't have to worry about logging on and being smacked in the face with a scan picture.

  2. I agree completely. It's a decision not to care, as you say - it's more or less ego winning over empathy, I think. And that's a killer last line you have there: "I like to think that when we know better, we do better." Me too. I don't think that just because you go through infertility hell you then have a license to do all the things that you hated others doing only months earlier. And in the face of all the (possibly/probably still infertile) readers who supported and agreed with you throughout said infertility hell? You're then going to wave your scan in their faces? Nah, not cool. As for scans in general: I absolutely have zero interest - pregnant women of the world, your scans are for immediate family only. Please.

  3. Oh, holy jeezum...that email. How can you hear "I just had my second ectopic" and then go forward with sending the joyful news complete with scan IMMEDIATELY? Not that people should be squelched, but wow, the insensitivity of the timing is unbelievable.

    I struggle with scans myself, and with what I would have done had I been able to have a happy one. I'd like to believe I'd be sensitive and limited in my showings, but honestly I think it would have depended on when everything came together. If it was earlier in my journey, before I was quite so aware of the different outcomes and the depth of losses that can be endured, I'm not sure I would have thought about it. I hope I would have, but there's no way of knowing.

    I feel like it's a hard balance -- I fully support women who have struggled to get pregnant writing about pregnancy and parenthood from an honest, no-holds-barred perspective, and this feeling of "I've waited so long for this moment, it's my turn now" is understandable, but I get your point. Totally. I have been side-swiped by ultrasound pictures in blogs before, which is one reason why I took the photo preview off my blogroll. I do appreciate a heads up so I can choose to look or not. And, for some reason, late scans have less of an impact than early ones (but for someone else the opposite may be true).

    I agree that there is a level of sensitivity eradicated by the public sharing of the scans. Their prevalence on facebook and in announcements (or on the table at a baby shower) is mystifying to me, because it really is such a bizarre thing, to share your innards.

    I am glad you wrote this post and then hit the orange "publish" button. I'm glad that even though it is a risk, you put these feelings out there, this thought out there, so that there can be a conversation. You're not saying "don't do it," I feel -- you're more saying "When you do this, it makes me (and others) feel this way, and I don't understand it." Very thought-provoking but also kind and sensitive on your own part. Great post.

  4. I agree with you. This is why I choose to post my gestational carrier's ultrasound photos on a page separate from my regular blog post. I decided this a long time ago because ultrasound photos are a big trigger for myself. I have vowed to not show them on a regular blog post that would show up on someone's reader with the preview photo being visible even before they clicked on the image (as least true for Wordpress). I let people know that if they would like to see any photos, feel free to click on the other pages. I don't know if this is the right way or not, but I am doing it because I feel that this is the best way to handle it for myself. I got ambushed by fellow bloggers' ultrasound photos one too many times.

    1. I think it might have been your blog that gave me the idea of having a link to click to ultrasound photos. I think it's the perfect solution. You still get to post them, but you are also honouring both your previous pain and the current pain of readers by being sensitive. You are a perfect example of knowing better and doing better! Thank you.