What Would You Do?

infertility question
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infertility questionNow this may be hard to believe after reading my posts, but I don’t actually think about infertility 24×7.  While infertility has significantly shaped the course of my life and how I relate to people, I try very hard not to let it get the upper hand or to define me entirely.

This blog is an efficient way to organize my thinking on the subject, to raise awareness about the lasting emotional aspects of infertility and to tackle infertility myths and misinformation. I could just as easily create blog entries on politics, travel, college football, favorite reads, etc.

So with that caveat, I’m going about the normal course of business in the office today — and not thinking about being infertile or anything related to infertility — when this email lands in my inbox in response to a project-specific email I sent out last week.

 Hi, Pamela,

Seeing your email come through the other day made me realize it has been quite a while since I dropped you a line. How are you? I hope you enjoyed your summer – it is hard to believe that it’s coming to a close already.

I’ve been keeping busy on the work end, but managed to find plenty of time for fun in the sun with my family. We had a gorgeous summer and John (he’s nearly three) has learned to swim, hit a golf ball and play baseball. Also, we’re expecting twins near the holidays – a boy and a girl, so we’ve been trying to get prepared for that major addition to the household! Hope all is well with you. Best, (Name Deleted)

Honestly I’m stumped here.

As you know I’m committed to removing the stigma associated with infertility and to educating people about how hard it is to cope with notes and conversations just like this after losses from IVF and years of trying unsuccessfully to conceive.  Here’s where I’d like your help. Everyone is invited to weigh in — infertiles, fertiles, regular readers and those dropping by the first time. I’ll be setting up an anonymous polling widget in my sidebar to capture opinions — again this is anonymous so the bashful types can have at it.  Should I politely let her know I spent some of my summer spare time contributing to my blog Coming2Terms — Living with Infertility in a Fertile World — and writing a book on the same subject?

These types of opportunities present themselves more often than you might think. I’m fully aware that we all face losses in our life, but I don’t know anyone who has ever “gotten over” the loss of children. For those who do want to comment as well, I’m all ears.

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28 comments

  • Yes. Yes. Yes!! People should know that we are not going to be all thrilled when we get these kinds of announcements. While we can be happy for them, it also causes heartache. Not that we don’t want to know, but please don’t blindside us – especially at work.

    I’m sorry you got that email today. Please let us know how it goes however you respond.

  • JJ

    Yes, my vote is to respond honestly–and I know you have the tact to do it in a way that will get the message across without sounding like you are whining. I am sorry too, that you got this email at work, and it probably brought up a lot of feelings..

    Let us know the outcome!

  • DD

    Knowing that these people are not sharing this info to be hurtful, but a way to start (or end) a conversation, you should feel free to do the same.

    They are telling you something personal about themselves. For many people, it’s their family life. For you, it’s your book and writing about your experiences with infertility treatment. Why does the “family” talk trump the “infertility” talk? It shouldn’t and doesn’t.

    I myself wouldn’t hesitate to respond to the person who says, “And we’re expecting this Winter!” with “Really? We’re going for a donor egg cycle this winter! What a coincidence!” It’s up to them whether or not they read sacasm in it.

    I voted Yes.

  • I guess that I am not sure. I know that I do not freely talk about IF outside of just a few people because I don’t want to answer the rude questions that come about as a result. I am not trying to hide my IF but at the same time like to take a break from dealing with it every once in a while. I guess my answer would be on a case by case basis dependent upon who it is.

  • In my experience (with very few exceptions including those fertiles who are intentionally insensitive), people talk about their children because it is the major focus of their lives, and is a way of finding common ground with others our age. The fact we don’t have children, in my religious community, is VERY uncommon (especially after 13 years of marriage), and so I am confronted with this issue frequently. For me, I have found that I feel best about such interactions if I am honest and straight forward (avoiding any details that might sound whiny). I have been surprised (pleasantly in most cases) by the responses I receive.

    So I guess, I vote yes… with the caveat that it completely depends on how comfortable YOU are with having these people read and know about your infertility struggles. As long as you are ok with it, I think it never can hurt for fertiles to be exposed to the struggles inherent in infertility. Who knows… she may be able to pass on the info, or use what you write to help someone else.

  • I voted “it depends” so I will explain – You may not want them to know your website since it is a work person…but I do think you should respond about your book.

    I probably wouldn’t be very nice.

  • Bea

    She’s giving you an update on her life, and I think you should feel free to give her an update on yours. The fact that her life involves kids and yours involves the lack of kids is beside the point.

    Bea

  • I voted “it depends”. I think I would mention that you spent the summer writing a blog called “Coming2Terms” and insert the address. I’d also mention you’re writing a book about the same thing talked about in your blog. They can come see if they want to. If you are comfortable with it, say something like “I’m glad to hear about (whatever the child is that did whatever). I hope you cherish every moment you get to spend with them and realize what you have.”

  • I think it depends on the person and if you trust the person or not AND how comfortable you feel about that person knowing. I used to be open about my IF and it taught me a hard lesson that a lot of people are very self absorbed and don’t care what you are going through. It may just end up opening more wounds and causing more hurt OR it can be the opposite and the person can be very understanding and sensitive. Its a risk. For me, I’m very careful who I share my journey with because of what I had to endure. I’m so private now. Good luck. Sorry you still have to deal with emails like that.

  • chicklet

    While I’m not ready to come clean about my blog yet, I have come clean to more and more people about my IF lately. And it feels really good to educate people who are so clueless. So wake her up, find a nice way, but wake her and shake her.

  • Deathstar

    I’d write back and email acknowledging what she had told you and then shared whatever news you care to share with her. Sharing your news about your baby – your book, is a great idea. I don’t think she meant to make you feel bad, but once people get the message that you have bittersweet feelings about such news, they’re unlikely to repeat it again.

    Reporting on whatever your child is up to seems to be the thing that parents like to share but most of my friends know I can’t have my own. They spare me the details of what wonderful thing came out of their kid’s mouth. And on occasion, they tell me they’re expecting as soon as they can probably so don’t have to surprise me later.

    If they make insensitive or stupid comments, I get snarky.

  • I think I’d let her know about the book the blog is up to you. I’m very careful about who I tell about mine since it represents some very private thoughts at times.

  • Karen Rani

    I have felt that sting when we spent a considerable amount of time trying to conceive our 2nd child. While I sympathize completely, I gently want to encourage you to find healthy ways of coping with the sting. Pointing unsuspecting people here could be a cold shower or an educational experience- it all depends on the person and how the information is given to them. I think it’s all in how you treat the situation. I don’t have a black and white answer to the question but really think you need to find ways to cope with those situations that helps you.

    • I look forward to the day when unexpected notes like this will feel like a sting rather than a sucker punch. If you have a secret formula for speeding up the grieving process let me know.

  • Mel

    I’m with Bea, when people ask for an update, I give them an update. Your update shouldn’t make them uncomfortable or if it does, I would probably point out that their update made you uncomfortable. It’s all a matter of perspective and I rarely need someone to get it right the first time–I just need them to get it right in the future after we’ve spoken about it. I probably wouldn’t mention the blog if it’s a work person, but I’d certainly mention the book. Who knows–maybe they’ll ask for some tips and be open to listening.

  • First time reader and commenter.
    I voted “It Depends”. Only because this person is someone you know from work. Since I don’t read your blog regularly (although now I will) I’m not sure if you talk about other things here (like work). If you do, I would tell her about your book but not your blog.

    If she is somebody that you have a personal relationshio with outside of work or even a good friendship while at work… I would tell them about the blog.

    I never hid my infertility struggle. If somebody asked when I was having children I would always be honest. When I got pregnancy annoucements, I would respond with a congratulations. If they asked how I was, I would tell them.

    Infertility is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s a personal issue sure but nobody asks to be infertile.

  • I think it’d be perfectly ok to tell her about the work you’ve done on your novel.

  • Ann

    I voted “depends.” I think you could use it as a response to what you’ve been doing all summer.

    I am a writer, too, and as I consider changing careers (again) back to freelancing, I’m thinking a lot about the writing samples I have to offer potential clients. Unfortunately, my blog has to remain “my little secret,” even though it’s such a big part of my life.

    If you feel comfortable with sharing your blog’s url with your acquaintance, I say go for it. But do it in a way that just shows “what I’ve been up to,” so to speak, not in an overtly “I want to educate you” way. The education will come, trust me.

  • Karen

    I so did not mean for my comment to be taken out of context – I really do believe that you need time to heal, to accept, and to grieve. What you need to do in order to cope with these situations will definitely require support from people who love you, and time. As I said, I don’t have a black and white answer, but please don’t mistake my honesty for maliciousness. I truly believe you need to invest your time in learning how to cope. I don’t know how to put it any clearer, but I most certainly did not sucker punch anyone.

    • Looks like a double misunderstanding here. I was referring to the original email offering up a sucker punch, not your comment. I truly appreciate what you are saying and hope one day that the pain does diminish.

  • Cece

    I would say it depends. Does she have any idea of your fertility issues? If so – I would maybe forward on the blog name. If not, if I was in the pregnant person’s shoes, and you wrote me back that you have spent the summer dealing with infertility… I would but crushed that I made you feel bad. I’m not even sure I would know how to respond. But maybe, if you did it more like… ‘Wow! That is big news! I’m kind of jealous… we’ve been going through IVF this summer. I’ve even started blogging about it if you’d like to check it out blah blah blah.”

    Does that make sense? I guess it really depends on what your relationship is with this woman – true friendship or just work colleague. Also – don’t know about your work environment, but I know that not everyone is ‘out’ about their infertility at work. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) infertility isn’t like a broken leg… it isn’t a health issue that anyone would know you had unless you said something. And I totally don’t expect that people who are probably super excited about a life changing experience would think to damper their excitement on the off chance that you are having fertility issues. Until I started on my 3 year journey to get pregnant (and I’m still not there – starting IVF in the fall) the thought that anyone would have trouble getting pregnant never even crossed my mind.

    Good luck!

  • I couldn’t choose any of the choices because none fit what I would do (and have done) in a similar situation.

    As you acknowledge, the fact that it is a sucker punch to you is not the typical or common way that someone would feel about such an update. You acknowledge that this is your tough area.

    As such, I would reply that I was happy for her news, but that for me, this is such a tough area as I am coming to terms with a childfree life after infertility (and after considering other options like adoption).

    (And on that note, it is often, as you know, hard for people to understand why adoption is not a choice for many since it is such a common way of family building these days. So it might be good to add that you’ve considered but rejected that option as well.)

    I think that referring her to your blog is a little insulting. It is as if you are saying, “you dumb twat! See what I’m going through!” From where I sit, it is better to just TELL SOMEONE where you are than referring them to another location where they can read what you are experiencing.

    There have been plenty of areas in my life where I have felt sensitivity where others would not or did not. There is race, my unmarried/unpartnered state (for many years until I met my husband at 38), in addition to infertility. Suppose you wrote to me when I was 37 and said that you and your husband flew to Paris for a week. Would you want me to send you to my blog that describes in excruciating detail how much I am struggling with being single without prospects in an increasingly married world? No, I think you would want me to just tell you “great, but that’s a hard area for me.”

    Hope my rambling makes some sense.

  • MLO

    First, thank-you for the award! (Now I have to decide which 5?)

    But to this, I would say that you have been busily working on growing yourself as an author. You have been working very hard to find creative outlets that will allow you to help people understand about issues that are near and dear to you. (If she knows about the infertility issue, include that, if not, since a workmate, it may not be the best thing to include.)

    You can even say that it has become an all-consuming passion for you (if that be the case), and that you are excited about the new opportunities it is presenting in your life.

    You can say that you have started up with a whole new group of friends who have/are shared/ing these experiences.

    She is giving you an update about her life, and it all depends on what exactly you want her to know. You can gently issue an invitation to know more, if so desired, or allow room for her to back away if she isn’t ready.

    Pax,

    MLO

  • rachel

    I have been reading your blog for a while now and have been wanting to comment for some time, but this post really did it. I think your writing and outlook are both important — for the fertile community as you have said — but also for IF’ers who are going through treatment and want to know what life is like on the other side of the coin. face it — life will be different from the way we always planned it — for many of us. No one who goes through infertility treatments wants them to fail; no one plans it. But it is so good to know there is support out there, and people like you who are outgoing and committed enough to be public about IF. I think it is a good idea to respond “in kind” to your acquaintance and I know you will do it in a tactful and non-defensive way. (I don’t know if I could!) It is not something she may want to hear but it would be certainly educational, and we all learn from being open towards others’ experiences.

  • Jen

    People talk about family because it is the center of their life and that is completely understandable. Speaking as someone who is infertile, if I got my nose out of joint everytime I had an e-mail like this I would never survive being permanently infertile. Also, you can tell this person loves their kids and with so many horrible things going on in the world, I think it’s great to see.

    Second, I would not tell her about the infertility blog because you don’t know her well enough, as evidenced by the fact you didn’t know she was pregnant. Unless you are an extremely tactful writer, your reply has a chance of coming across in a bad way. Fertile people don’t want to understand infertility. IF hurts me deeply but most people have other problems to worry about in life and to be frank most of them don’t care unless it’s happening to them personally.

  • My thoughts on this vary with my ability to cope with comments like those in the email you received. Some days I don’t even feel a remote sting, other days it’s the worst kind of sucker punch. On those days do what you feel most comfortable with. Say as much as you need without exposing yourself too much. for some time I thought it best to keep quiet, but lately I’ve come to realize it’s worse that way. Speaking up and talking about something that hurts is healing.

  • MotherONone

    Tremendously excited about having found this blog – I added it to my Google feed!

    OK, I voted yes. The reason is because a lot of the announcements and “updates” are straight-up bragging (albeit probably not conscious bragging). Every day we live as IF women we are subjected to countless conversations about children starting school, taking first steps, the “clever” things they say, the lessons they’re taking, etc. Folks need to understand these experiences are not universal. One day, I got stuck in perhaps the millionth such conversation. I turned to one of the parents, a friend, and said, “Infertile people are subject to this kind of conversation ten times a day.” She looked horrified and guilty. I am not a self-pitying person, not on this issue or any other. I own my infertility and have gotten comfortable with it. I don’t walk around feeling inadequate or wounded. Yet, I think that parenthood, particularly in middle class communities, has reached a cult status. Frankly, it’s unappealing. It’s like we’re back in the 50s.

    Also, people have got to understand that when they have biological children it is the ultimate hypocracy to say, “Well, why don’t you just adopt?” Maybe they don’t know what else to say and want to give hope, but it is such a ridiculous response. I sometimes want to say, “Why didn’t you just adopt?” Although, I am conscious of being labeled bitter. Anyway, wonderful blog, wonderful entry. It helps me to read stuff like this, it really does.

    • Delighted MotherONone that you found me, too. I often wonder where the other IF women post-treatment are. Thank you for your insightful comments. Good to know I’m not alone in my experiences or thinking.