How to Clear a Room: Mention Infertility


I was at a conference this past week where one of the sessions concerned social media tools.  I was in the minority of people who raised a hand to the question, “who has a blog?” During a break a few of the participants asked me about my blog experience and what I blogged about.

I deliberately only answered the first part of the question and told them my experience had exceeded expectations, that I was able to reach around the world on a subject very important to me, that it allowed me to become part of a new form of community building.  My response intrigued them further. The question came again: what is my blog about?

I hesitated, searched my head for the right euphimism and then thought, oh what the hell. I’m not going to sugar coat it to protect against awkwardness, plus a part of me was curious to see how they would respond to the truth.

“It was nothing to do with work,” I said, “It’s about Infertility. I’m part of a community of women [and Matthew, of course] who discuss everything from the cost of treatment to the cultural aspects.”

Not surprisingly, the women’s faces contained a mix of shock, discomfort and unease and they visibly moved back. The conversation suddenly held a pregnant pause (forgive the pun). Clearly they expected me to say that my blog concerned a light hobby.

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I rescued them from their unease with a redirect and said that there are all sorts of topics discussed online and that getting familiar with the social media tools had helped me in the office adjust a few marketing efforts. 

I’m not surprised at their response. For better or worse infertility seems to share the same traits as the words cancer or leprosy — it evokes an odd mixture of fear and contagion. Gotta wonder if that will ever change.


6 Responses

  1. Deathstar

    May 5, 2007 6:40 pm

    After spending so much time avoiding certain social situations (i.e. baby showers, getting together with more than one couple at a time who have children), and being quiet in the face of insensitive remarks, I think I’m going to start speaking out. I’ve made excuses for other people’s behaviour, and tried to be supportive when I listen to my one of my friends talk about her post partum depression or my sister talk about her son’s problems. Does anyone call me to see if I’m doing okay or ask me if I want to talk? If I do talk about what I’m going through, I get well, you can always adopt lecture. Sigh.

    This whole issue has been incredibly private and painful to me, but now I think I need to explain a few things on how I really feel. Then at least people will learn something or at least think twice before say something hurtful.

  2. Aurelia

    May 5, 2007 9:11 pm

    I’ve cleared a LOT of rooms by mentioning infertility. And miscarriages, whew! Trust me, even when the people concerned are the professionals that are supposed to deal with this on a regular basis, they chicken out. In fact, I’m convinced that’s why this issue is consistently underfunded and misunderstood in the media. Because our society is too uncomfortable to deal with it.

  3. MLO

    May 6, 2007 4:20 am

    It is odd, isn’t it? We compare all sorts of diseases in conversation, but infertility (and certain aspects of childbirth) cause a reaction that even cancer no longer does. We don’t speak of stillbirths either – not anymore. (I grew up in a family where I knew about miscarriages and stillbirth through the women.) I never expected not to be able to even conceive – but I expected miscarriage.

    Truthfully, I think it is also rooted in the false idea that pregnancy and childbirth are “safe”. They are not. Women die. Infants die. We just pretend it doesn’t happen. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard ignorant young men say something like “women in Third World countries deliver in the fields and keep going.” This is patently false. African women, for instance, have incredibly high rates of death in childbirth.

    My Great Aunt was infertile via miscarriage and stillbirth, she has so much grace around this. I firmly believe that the society she was in was more able to deal with that reality than ours is. In her time, women still died in childbirth as far as society was concerned. And there was no science that could “fix” infertility.

    Now, what I’m about to say is not very politically correct, but I think this is part of society’s expectation that women should be just like men. Our unique reproductive health needs are not acknowledged by the workplace or the ability to schedule “maintenance” appointments. How many women have to take a day off for their PAP Smear? The majority, is my guess.

    All of the major religions in our current society devalue women who do not procreate. This was not always the case. Wise women were not always “mothers”.

    The reality is, I think most perceive the infertile as being afflicted with a deadly disease – the end of all futures. Many truly believe that without progeny they have no future. This is not true – you can have “spiritual” progeny as well as “physical” progeny. That is something that is lacking in so many today.

    We, as a society, have become so tied to the physical realm that we no longer value the other gifts that human beings bring to the table. Those who are not infertile ascribe a physical loss that instills a deep fear within them. They don’t know how to react.

    I know I am still working through this. I am often surprised by what can cause me pain – an off-handed remark about someone’s child in casual conversation. If I – for both personal and professional reasons – am uncomfortable, how can I be surprised by those around me who are also uncomfortable?

    • lady macleod

      May 9, 2007 7:54 pm

      Thank you for the insight. You have expressed your feelings such that I feel the need to reach out and do the ‘hand pat’. I have only experienced a small part of this prejudice. The children I lost whether at six months or after birth were indeed children; they were ‘real’ to me. I could not believe the number of people who said, “Well it wasn’t like it was a real child.” As though somehow that should make my loss less.

  4. Foreverhopeful

    May 9, 2007 5:36 pm

    It amazes me how uncomfortable people are about infertility. I totally agree, so many people are scared to talk about it or even be around us infertiles… making us feel more and more alienated from society. I actully had this long post and realized its getting too long that I might just write my own post about it. I love coming here because you always have such great topics to discuss.

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