I don’t owe them anything

I have always struggled through my journey with infertility with who to tell, how to tell, and what to tell with friends and family. I am very honest about my infertility in general, if you’ve had a conversation with me in the past 3 years, you probably know that I’m infertile and that I’ve suffered losses before we were lucky enough to have our son, Leopold.

In my journey to Leopold, I felt in my gut that I should be strong enough to share my journey with my family and my husband’s family. I should be able to be open and honest, because without that how will anyone be able to understand what infertile couples go through to have their children? I put a lot of pressure on myself to be able to be an infertility advocate to those close to me.

With each attempt at discussing it, often I come out frustrated, feeling misunderstood, and judged. I usually would receive one of three responses:

  1. unhelpful comparisons (At least you don’t have cancer or most recently, at least you don’t have to worry about birth control)
  2. unsolicited and uninformed medical advice (maybe you should take these health supplements I’m trying, have you thought of surrogacy)
  3. just relax (delivered in many different ways, and I’m sure these will be much worse now that L is here and came along without assistance).

There was the rare wonderful occasion when a friend or family member would just listen. Instead of judging or telling me what to do, they would just say this sucks and I’m sorry. I think so often friends and family want to help you and save you and want to fix it.

Newsflash, IRL friends and family: you can’t fix it. Even my reproductive endocrinologist with a decade of education and years and years of treatment experience can’t magically heal me. We can up the probability of pregnancy with a lot of effort and expense, but there’s no magic wand or cure for us. I will never be able to get pregnant and plan my family with the ease that fertile couples can.

I used to be hurt or take it personally when I got these misinformed comments. It used to frustrate me to no end, was I not explaining myself properly? Why couldn’t they understand how this felt? How could I say it differently to help them understand what this is like?

This time, there are a few big differences in my attitude about all of this. One – I don’t expect anything from people. I don’t expect them to be able to empathize with me on infertility. I expect it even less this time around, if I were to talk about it, I know I would hear a lot of “just be happy with what you have” or “just relax like you did with L.” I know they won’t understand the complexities of our situation or our diagnosis.

Two – I don’t expect to be able to get them to see what infertility is like. It’s too complex. I can try to share my journey and hope they understand, but I can’t help how they interpret it given their own life circumstances. Along that same vein, I don’t feel the need to tell people we’re pursuing treatments at all. I don’t feel that I owe them anything. I felt it was the right thing to do to tell my mom and immediate family the first time around. Now? I’m not so sure. I don’t need their opinions and maybe it’s better / easier for everyone involved if I don’t worry them with it.

If I do share prior to treatment, I’m considering putting it an email or letter so that I’m able to tell our whole story, diagnosis, and decision making process, while outlining appropriate ways to respond. Something like, I know you may not understand or agree with this decision, and that’s ok, but we ask you to be sensitive and supportive of us. I would likely share after we did IVF whether it was successful or not. I’m not ashamed of our infertility, but I am protective of my heart and our journey.

What do you all think? What has worked for you in communication with family and close friends? Do you share when you’re moving forward with treatment?

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12 thoughts on “I don’t owe them anything

  1. I say to guard your heart, and that’s your first priority here. If you feel that you would need support from family if the IVF fails (no it won’t!), then I think the email idea is nice– but if I were you, I’d go light on the “journey” aspects and heavy on the “here’s what you should say” aspects. I think that too much detail just invites too many invasive comments and advice. Maybe just something along the lines of: “After over a year of unsuccessfully trying on our own, and with a dr’s help, to produce a sibling for L, we decided to pursue IVF as our, fully-informed, *best* chance to succeed at having another child. Needless to say, this is an emotional process, which has wrapped up all of our hopes and fears, in addition to being physically and mentally very taxing. There is a chance that it won’t succeed, and we would really appreciate your emotional support in that event, to help us cope with such powerful disapposintment. (here insert excruciatingly detailed instructions on what you would like them to do, along with tactful hints at what to avoid saying).” Anyways– my two cents! If I were you, I’d probably just hide my tears behind some sunglasses and tell no one. You’re lucky that you have a family whose emotional support actually helps! even if they blunder in giving it sometimes. It’s true that no amount of explaining will make anyone understand what IF is like. It’s weird, right? But it’s true, people are very poorly equipped to understand, even when you blatantly say “I am suffering with this and want your emotional support”. Then, they just think you’re being a drama queen! It’s truly frustrating and alienating!!

  2. It’s so interesting that you’re writing about this now because I was planning on writing something about this on Tuesday. I actually just emailed my extended family on my dad’s side to let them know that we had been struggling to have a second child and would be pursuing treatments in the new year. I have to admit, I was expecting some words of comfort from my aunts, especially one who said the right things after my ectopic. But her only reference to it in her email back was, “Looking forward to your good news in 2013.” Needless to say I was really disappointed. But in the end I think it was good for me because it taught me not to expect anything from my family and to understand better why I’m even telling them. That is what I’m going to tackle on Tuesday, what I’m trying to accomplish by putting our struggle out there. The truth is I’m not even sure I know.

    Sorry I can’t be more help. I’m working through all of this myself.

  3. People just never know what to,say so either avoid or give ridiculous advice. Even now people keep,saying to me you never know!! I do know. I know it might happen unassisted but probably won’t so thanks but no thanks. Good luck with whatever you decide to do. X

  4. I’ve found that I can’t expect people to understand, so I just loosened my expectations do I’m not continually disappointed or insulted. People say upsetting things sometimes but I don’t have any control over that. Even little things, like my best friend referencing her family’s super fertility and her assumption that it applies to her, too, I want to say, “Dude, you can’t rely on that, it’s just not that simple” but whatever. Hopefully she’s right and will be super fertile, right? So I just brush it off. It’s mostly strangers who I will gently correct, or I’ll mention that no, twins actually don’t run in our family, we used fertility treatments– ppl who don’t want to know or who find it awkward will probably not ask the next person who comes along with twins 😉

    Man, I am rambling today, don’t know if I actually answered your question.

  5. We kept to ourselves when we were going through treatment, and I only shared it on my blog where no one IRL knew to look. I didn’t want to add the pressure of other people knowing, or the disappointment should it not work. If you feel like you need/want the support from others knowing, then I would say go for sharing whatever you feel comfortable with. I think your idea of an email or letter, where you can fully explain what is going on, is a good idea. Knowing that whoever you are sharing your story with won’t totally understand will hopefully guard your heart should they say the wrong thing. That is hard to work around – you want the support, but usually don’t get it in the way you are hoping. You always have us here who at least have some knowledge of IF, even though each situation is different.

  6. Like others, I found that attempting to share what was happening invited insensitive comments and platitudes. And erroneous “medical advice” from people in my life who are, in fact, medical professionals. A lot “Just…” and “At least…” which, when you are in the very bad place, is extremely hurtful and can seriously alter those relationships. Finally, after being told point blank that my IF was “not as bad” as my SIL’s (by both her and my ILs), I decided that I wasn’t going to tolerate comparisons of the *emotional* part of the journey anymore as each couple’s medical situation is unique, even cycle to cycle. Add in loss, and well, yeah… As a result, I do not share the specifics of my diagnosis (although I do discuss PCOS as a general health condition) or the specifics of our treatments. Not even on my (public) blog – not even with other IFers. I simply cannot bear being told it’s “less than” again. But sharing the emotional part of the journey (in ALIland) has been invaluable. I am not ashamed either, but I am afraid of being too honest, if that makes sense.

    So, when this all blew up with my SIL I sent my ILs this resource from Resolve: http://bit.ly/TH2X2P (I don’t know why these fact sheets are so hard to find on Resolve – they aren’t in the usual drop downs for some reason). Anyhow, I found this document really useful in explaining the emotional impact of IF as a life crisis, and how the *cause* or the treatment path does not denote or dictate the day-to-day impact on the individual. It really did prove useful in getting them to understand that there is no “worse”, only the degree to which the individual/couple is struggling emotionally at a particular point in time, and that the journey is both cyclical and ongoing. At the end, there are several suggestions as to how friends and family can be supportive with trying to “fix it” because like you said, they CAN’T. I also found that this article helped put into words all the swirling grief and other negative emotions to see why this was impacting me so deeply, and honestly, reading it again this morning has helped me to clarify why what still lingers, lingers.

    IRL, I only discuss the emotional impact when something truly wounds me. When a thoughtless, or deliberately hurtful comment is sent my way. I basically tell the person that what they have said hurts me and why, and that if they don’t know what to say to be helpful, simply saying “I am sorry this is happening. I love you, and I am sorry you are hurting.” They can’t fix me, but they can hold me.

    Hope this helps you and C make a decision on how and when to share. Our family and friends, they love us, they are just so dense sometimes. xoxo

  7. This is a great post. When Babe and I first started trying waaay back when, we were pretty open about “trying.” Then the questions came, “are you pregnant yet?” “Have you tried this?” “are you elevating your pelvis?” Yeah, so when we didn’t get pregnant the unsolicited advice came rolling in. When we first started treatment, I told everyone who would listen. I was so sure it would work and we would have a baby in seconds that I didn’t think anything of it. And when it didn’t work, it SUCKED having to tell everyone. After a couple years of going back to trying the old fashioned way and failing miserably, we decided to seek treatment again. This time we kept it to ourselves. My immediate family didn’t even really know, until we moved to IVF. I knew I was going to be a mess if it didn’t work as it was our last hope. I needed my safety net. My 2 BFF’s knew, a couple of IRL friends who had been through IVF, and my immediate family(with the exception of my brother and his wife). Ironically when we sought treatment a second time and we decided not to tell anyone was when I found this community.

    You’re right, you don’t owe them anything. I am completely open about it now. At first, I was kind of like “does it matter how my child was conceived?” but then I wanted to let people know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We struggled and we used science, but we have our daughter. I think your approach is just right for you. You have an excellent network of support here and on twit. We’ll be here for you. Let those uneducated fertiles know later…and then educate them LOL!

  8. I think you’re doing everything you can. I’m proud of you for speaking out. You’re doing an awesome job.

    Do you ever find that speaking up helps you find more people who struggled, too? My (new) hairdresser asked me when we were going to have number two. I said “I’m not sure, we had a lot of difficulty getting pregnant with number one.” I was really blunt because I just didn’t feel like walking on eggshells that evening.

    Turns out, she had some trouble too, had a laparascopy and was on clomid and metformin. She got pregnant naturally, but I was glad I opened up and we found that little bit of common ground.

  9. Oh my – I so relate to this post. I am going to explain how we handled this not to make it about me, but so you can see the evolution we took as cycles went on.

    We told everyone about our first IVF and got all sorts of comments and “I just feel it that this is going to work” encouragement that it was enough to drive me insane. Then, when it didn’t work, my own mother made me feel the worst of anyone with her “helpful” “buck up, it could be worse” comments. After our failure, she said that she’d have to update all her friends (sigh) and that, “I honestly thought this could not fail. How could this fail?” As if I knew!

    So the next time – we limited what we told my parents. It was better, but when I had the miscarriage, my mom said things like, “at least you know you can get pregnant, you need to move on.” Ugh. So the next time, we told them NOTHING. My sisters knew every single detail of the cycle and my parents knew nothing. It was wonderful. Not one thoughtless, hurtful comment was spoken by my mother. Not once did my dad compare my challenges with my mother’s pre-diabetic state (she ended up not being diabetic at all, but my dad compared my infertility to that and her MS time and time again). It was pure peace for us.

    We followed a similar model this time around. They knew we were cycling, and we told them we’d tell them when there was something to share. Of course they asked, but we limited our answers. It was a good decision. Even once pregnant, my mother said one of her stupid comments after the ultrasound: “Well, that’s good because I have NOT HAD A GOOD FEELING about this pregnancy.” Gee, thanks, Mom.

    If there are certain people who make comments that upset/trigger you, then I would not tell them. And it’s not out of shame, it’s out of self-preservation. We tell EVERYONE but our parents about what we’re doing in regards to cycling, and when. Coworkers knew I was pregnant for 6 weeks before I told my parents. My sisters have known every detail but keep it to themselves. It’s wonderful, because only the people who could be supportive the way I NEEDED them to be supportive were in the know.

    You don’t owe anyone anything. If you do decide to give them a heads-up, I think your email idea is good. That did not work with my family – my parents called immediately (IMMEDIATELY) asking us who was the infertile one and what were we going to do about it. If your family will respect your requests (mine absolutely do not), then I would send it.

    You know them best, and you know yourself best. In this scenario – you must look out for #1 (you, C, and Leopold) – #2 through infinity does not matter.

  10. I so get where you are with this. This is the reason we’ve been very sparing (and honestly, rather casual) with who we’ve told about the most recent miscarriage. Our parents and my sisters were the only ones we told at first. Beyond that, I’ve mentioned it in passing to two close friends if I’ve seen them or happened to be already talking to them on the phone. And I specifically decided I don’t want to tell my BIL and SIL about it, among others. Basically anyone who will talk more than they will listen after hearing the news gets the boot. The first time around I was so shell-shocked and needy I could put up with that, but this time I just don’t have the patience for people who will try to tell me how to feel or how to cope with something I sadly know a lot more about at this point than they do, despite how many “friends” everyone has who’s gone through this.

    That came out crankier than I intended. I just agree with you– many people need to fix things, without realizing or wanting to admit that these problems don’t have fixes and all you can do is listen and care. I hope that our experiences with IF and loss have made us more sensitive to that and less likely to treat others that way, whatever difficulties they may be negotiating.

  11. My strategy is to not really tell anyone. Partly I know it’s part of my residual (and silly) embarassment about the whole situation (I should be able to get pregnant – that’s what I’m MADE to do) but partly it’s out of self-preservation. I don’t want to deal with anyone else’s reaction to MY situation. I actually have been thinking about writing something about this as well, although from a slightly different perspective… we’ll see.

  12. I have thought about this a lot lately because my husband and I have been discussing when to start the adoption process again. The first time around, we were SO open with everyone about everything and dealt with a lot of the things that you mentioned in your post – unsolicited advice, comparisons to someone who knew someone (who thought about adopting and then magically got pregnant, of course), and a lot of misconceptions about our situation and our choices. It’s a fine line because you want to protect your heart, but you may also want or need your family’s support. For us, when we are ready to start again, we’re probably going to wait until after our home study is approved and we’re officially waiting before we tell everyone. I think whatever you decide to do, just make sure you’re doing what’s best for you, your husband and L and try not to make your decision based on how you think others will react. Good luck!

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