The theme of National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) this year is “Don’t Ignore Infertility.” What does this mean, if you are not someone going through infertility? What is it like to be an infertile in America?
Photo credit: Bodega Bliss
If you were shopping at a certain grocery store in California last May, you may have spotted a striking woman who resembled the actress Vera Fermiga. You might have watched as she carefully chose healthy and varied produce, and pondered what kind of meal she was going to make with her pickings. If you watched her for a while, you probably saw her smile, revealing an even, white row of teeth, as she admired a display of chocolate. Although the smile did not reach her eyes. A mind reader would have uncovered her inner life: she was recovering from her fourth miscarriage in two years.
“Four. I’ve lost four babies. That number is daunting. That number changes everything. At three, there was still a chance, my percentages were still pretty great. But four? At four they’re not so good. At four I have to start thinking that this might not happen for us. At four I have to start imagining alternatives – alternatives I never wanted to face.”
A Child To Call Me Mama
Photo credit: A Child to Call Me Mamma
Across this far flung country of ours a few years back, you may have seen a slender, tall, purposeful young woman perusing the aisles of her local home improvement store. You may have asked yourself, what was causing her lovely brow to furrow like that: what pressures was she under? A psychic could have revealed to you that she was wondering how in the world she was going to be able to raise the $30,000 needed for a domestic adoption. And she was also questioning why someone on Facebook compared the experience of adoption to buying a home.
“(When you buy a house) Does anyone do background checks, inspect your current house, ask you about your childhood, ask you about the stability of your marriage, make you write an autobiography about yourself, question your discipline techniques, get references from friends? No? Didn’t think so. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t take a couple of years either. Does the average person really think you just fill out an application, they assign you a kid and then you live happily ever after?”
The Road Less Travelled
Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Wikimedia Commons
Infertility is not limited to America, obviously. Up north, in Canada, a dark-haired middle-aged woman with kind eyes peruses the aisle of her favorite scrapbooking store. It’s May, and the approach of Mother’s Day is inching closer. As she walks past a display advertising goods for that coming holiday, a body language expert might be able to see the smallest sag of her shoulders, the way her walk slowed just a bit. That expert might be able to translate those gestures into her thoughts:
“Even after ten years, there is not a day that goes by (& often not even an hour) that I am not thinking about my daughter & what happened to us in some way shape or form. She continues to be present & influence my life. We will visit her niche at the cemetery just about every weekend. It’s often just a brief visit (one particularly blustery day last winter, we didn’t even get out of the car) but it’s a ritual that gives us comfort.”
Finally, closer to the California grocery store, a woman stares at her computer. This woman is me. I’ll tell you what I am thinking:
“I finally think I’m blindly heading out of the fog of my grief. I will never not be infertile. But day by day, I really hope that infertility can and will release its hold on me. I keep hoping it will fade, into something I can look at from a distance, like Picasso’s Guernica. I can behold the power and terror it smothered me with and I should never, ever forget its devastation, but perhaps I can become at peace with it and spend more time in the present, with those I love. Guernica can remain in the museum of my heart, another exhibit (along with my wedding, the twins births, my travels) that I can revisit when I need to. But I don’t need to stand in front of it 24/7 anymore.”
The truth is, we don’t have psychics or mind readers around to tell us what isn’t being said. The body language experts work exclusively for the celebrity magazines to translate the slightest movements of the movie stars, not the shrugs and head positions of average people.
The problem is, what’s not being said is being ignored.
Faces of ALI
I decided to launch my series Faces of Adoption/Loss/Infertility to really illustrate how infertility affects lives. Because those of us going through it seem to be so misunderstood and yes, ignored. When infertility is talked about at all in the media (with a few notable exceptions, for example Redbook) the focus is often on the extreme cases and ethical issues related to 1% of cases and so often judgement is implied or even explicit in the comments connected to the articles written.
So those suffering from infertility flock online, to the blogosphere. There are thousands of blogs written by those going through ALI, and most of them are anonymous. Why is that?
It’s mostly because of the stigma we feel as infertiles and the lack of support we feel in real life.
Why Do We Gather Online?
In the blogosphere, we can share our true feelings with others who have “been there” and who can comfort us. We can reveal the true level of devastation we are suffering from.
It’s because those closest to us often say painful things to us. We know people don’t mean to hurt us. But they do.
“My two coworkers (told) me that they “feel so sorry for people without kids! How empty their lives must be.”
“My SIL who knew we were devastated about not being able to having children looked at us with her newborn in her arms and said ‘You can’t imagine what it’s like to feel this kind of love.'”
“That was a defective baby and you wouldn’t have wanted it.” (As told to someone after a miscarriage)
It’s because insurance doesn’t cover most infertility treatments, and some don’t want to “out” themselves as having pre-existing infertility issues to their employer.
It’s because when people tell us, “Just Adopt”, they don’t understand how much it costs, how long it takes, how difficult it is and how much rejection is involved.
It’s because people are scared: infertility is increasing among people in their 20s.
Crunching the Numbers
A huge chunk of the population, an estimated 1 in 8 of us, is classified as infertile. Being infertile is a medical condition.
Here are some numbers:
In 2012, the population of the United States is about 313 million.
Approximately 10% of us are infertile.
That means about 31 million of us in the United States are suffering from infertility. 31 million! That’s more people than the total populations of Belgium and the Netherlands. COMBINED!
And so many of us are sad and upset. Women going through infertility suffer from higher rates of depression.
I Don’t Want To Ignore Infertility!
You CAN help us and make a big difference to many! If we approach you about our infertility, you can be supportive and listen to us. You can acknowledge that we exist, and ensure we are not ignored. You can show us you value us: that you value your sister, your fellow churchgoer, your co-worker, your friend, your neighbor.
1. Be kind. There are things that people say that they may not know are hurtful. Listening, saying you are sorry: these two actions help immeasurably. Don’t feel compelled to give us advice or tell us a hopeful story. Trust us: we are considering ALL of the options available, and chances are we know way too much about the statistics and where we are on our journey.
2. Help raise awareness! Post this aticle on your Facebook page. Go to Resolve.org to learn more about infertility.
Please help us feel less alone. Please help us feel less ignored.
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