I’ve made a living in two predominantly testosterone-driven industries: the auto industry and Silicon Valley. I know what it feels like to be in the minority — both as an English major and as a woman, but shoot, it took being infertile to truly appreciate what it means to be dissed.
You can be as out there as you want, comport yourself in the most off the wall way your little heart desires (this applies more to Silicon Valley than Detroit), but even remotely imply infertility and watch people recoil like you’ve got cooties or worse. Have no fear friends who read this blog, I’m talking about the people who don’t know me behind a passing hello. I’ve been doing a little field research … and I might as well be telling some people I’m an axe murderer. In fact, I think I’d get a warmer reaction. What is it with the discomfort and suspicion that surrounds infertility and infertile people? I’m funny, warm, tuned into the latest gossip, dress stylishly and heck, I can even get a head turn from construction workers.
But tell people I’m infertile and things get, well, weird. I’m amazed given how much time people devote to bragging on their kids and the effusive praise society lauds on parents and the sacrifices they make for their children but there’s zero patience for those who want to talk about the efforts they undertook to have kids and the fallout that occurred when things well, got rough. Ironic, isn’t it? They can talk about their kids, we are supposed to be mute.
Just to validate my theory, I’ve also been looking into pitching ideas or contributing pieces to a range of magazines. I was motivated to extend some of the insights that I’ve derived from this articulate and insightful community. Here’s what I’ve learned: magazines love stories about the joys and challenges of parenting; balancing work with kids; raising generation Y or Z or whatever the new letter is; fighting the weight gain/stress that comes with being a mom; not letting kids control your life, etc.; or the other extreme such as how to bed a guy without really trying. Okay, I could do the latter pretty easily (who among us can’t?)
But God forbid you mention anything remotely connected with the I words (infertility, IVF, IUI, ICSI) the magazine editors just do NOT want to hear about it. In fact, more than a few editors state in so many words up front: Infertiles Need Not Apply. What? Did I hear you right? You’ve had your fill of stories about couples who can’t conceive? Their lives are completely uninteresting to you? You mean 20% of the children-bearing population and their lives just don’t sell magazines? Really? Did you happen to consider that infertiles are voracious readers.
Hey, we’ve GOT THE TIME to read (heeellllooo! no kids are underfoot to distract us!) And we’ve practically got a patent on killing time with the waiting thing. Have you looked around doctor’s offices lately? We are THERE.
And another thing, how do you know we don’t have interesting stories to tell? Have you ever solicited them? Drama? Oh, we’ve got drama. In fact, you probably couldn’t handle our reinvention stories. Come on. I dare you…
November 14, 2007 12:11 pm
I’m totally with you on this one. There are just NOT enough infertile voices out there in the magazine community, especially when you consider just how many publications exist. When I do see a story on infertility, it ends up sounding so much like the last one I read. It’s like the publishers are only willing to consider our narratives when they conform to a very safe standard, that usually involves a happy ending. They like to highlight the “cool medical sciency” part of it, but not the emotions and social stigmas involved in living through it.
November 14, 2007 12:57 pm
Oh come on pj, how do you REALLY feel? I think you could use this post as your query letter.
November 15, 2007 12:39 am
Great idea, Lady Macleod!
November 14, 2007 2:08 pm
It’s amazing that you’ve gotten such a negative editorial response. I make a point of reading every article in popular magazines about infertility, and I notice on message boards that others do as well. Editors are really missing out, and so are readers.
I wonder whether a more “how-to” approach, targeted at the majority (fertile) population, might succeed where personal stories have failed. For example, an article on “what to expect when she’s not expecting” and how to best support a friend during infertility or pregnancy loss. What to say, what not to say, etc.
November 14, 2007 2:38 pm
It seems the only kind of infertility most news/magazine editors are interested in are the ones that stereotype the rest of us: pregnant with quads; my mother had my baby; twins born to two different moms; etc. Stories that have headlines better suited to rag magazines than to anything with a glossy cover.
Oh, but yes, please tell me for the 1,000th time how to give a better blow job ’cause that’s so important in enriching my life!
November 14, 2007 2:44 pm
I can’t believe that editors actually say that they won’t publish stories about infertility. That is insane!
November 14, 2007 3:20 pm
Maybe you just have to find a decision-maker who is in that 20%. But then, I guess SHE’D be writing the story.
It IS unbelievable that our voice isn’t recognized for all the power behind it.
November 14, 2007 3:37 pm
Everyone wants a happy ending, I guess, and woe betide if you can’t supply one. There are very few infertility stories out there in the big wide world about women who tried and tried and in the end did not succeed. I wish there were more. As much as I want children, I do not believe they are the be all and end all and I do believe that a fulfilled life is possible without a child, as sad as a corner of your heart could be.
That’s a very good point that us infertiles DO have time to read and are killing LOTS of time in doctors’ offices so hey, if you want to sell magazines, we’re your market!
Thank you for your lovely comment. It’s so true, the quiet and gentle people often make the biggest impact on our lives in all this noise and boom of our world.
November 14, 2007 4:28 pm
I’m experiencing the same thing – nobody wants to hear about a struggle unless in the end it’s all beautiful and lovely and has babies popping out guaranteed. nothing like them thinking we’re uninteresting.
November 14, 2007 4:34 pm
I am also surprised that magazine editors want nothing to do with articles about or geared towards the infertile community. Their refusal makes being infertile appear shameful.
November 14, 2007 4:41 pm
Amen sister! I wish there were articles on the day-to-day strength it takes to deal with infertility. People with cancer stories are everywhere – and those stories get into the details. Why are articles about IF just a timeline of events?
November 14, 2007 8:34 pm
Actually, a lot of cancer patients are very annoyed with how cancer is portrayed in the media. All the “how strong” he or she is. Well, work hospice and find out a lot of patients are not all that strong. They hurt and they acknowledge it.
There are a lot of stories, that, for whatever reason, do not want to be told by the powers that be.
November 14, 2007 7:42 pm
It’s kind of like the irksome fact that almost all women on TV and in magazine are a size 4 or less when the average size is in the teens.
No one wants to see “real” women and, likewise, no one wants to hear about “real” struggles. They are just icky.
November 14, 2007 8:30 pm
I don’t know. Detroit seems to have changed a bit, it seems. I know a lot of people around here who couldn’t or didn’t have the money to conceive via science or adopt. (Well, if you stay away from certain communities.)
Now, the auto industry being what it is – a guy domain – I think there may be the “ick, woman stuff” going on. Just like they aren’t too keen to hear that you have a gyn apptmnt. Yes, I keep my situation somewhat closer to the vest due to working in that industry – mostly because, well, I know I would get the “ick” factor from the guys.
It is just their nature. Most women I know are all like “Why can’t they take your egg?” And, then, I have to explain that it isn’t quite that simple every time.
I really, really need to start that flowchart that I keep thinking would help explain to the engineering types what is involved.
Publishing is a funny industry. It really takes finding exactly the right editor within the right publishing house. I know that a lot of science fiction writers have tackled reproductive health over the years. (Bujold comes to mind immediately.) They just sort of put it in the background to another story.
Perhaps disguising your story in some urban fantasy or science fiction story? Heck, even Laurell K. Hamilton (whose writing has degraded) has an infertility storyline where the doctors were completely unable to help no matter what they did. It is a passing part of the story, but a key to why the story is happening.
Genre editors tend to be better able to deal with what is, for all it shouldn’t be, controversial issues.
I am a promiscuous reader – if it is in front of me, I will attempt to read it.
November 14, 2007 10:24 pm
how about two possibilities from the ny times. one is the “lives” page in the back of the sunday magazine. the other is “modern lives” in the sunday style section.
best luck. judy ratner.
November 15, 2007 12:09 am
Some people pull back because they have no idea what to say. Other people will put their foot in their mouth because they have no experience or understanding of the issue.
(Guilty, on both counts here)
But I can’t understand why people would intentionally ostracize you or not let you talk.
November 15, 2007 12:36 am
And therein lies the opportunity — through magazines and other communication channels — to increase understanding and knowledge. This will be an uphill battle, but one I’m prepared to engage in because I believe both those who’ve lived it and those who are mystified by it can help each other.
November 15, 2007 1:38 am
“Hey, we’ve GOT THE TIME to read (heeellllooo! no kids are underfoot to distract us!) And we’ve practically got a patent on killing time with the waiting thing.”
November 15, 2007 1:54 am
I totally agree — if infertility ever is covered, there is invariably a happy ending, multiples, or some sort of “cool science” angle involved. Very rarely is childless/free living mentioned as an option, and if it is, it’s usually no more than a line or two (maybe a couple of paragraphs, if it’s in a book). This article in Chatelaine (a Canadian women’s monthly) is one of the few I’ve ever found that gives the childless/free option more than a cursory mention — and it was in the May (i.e., Mother’s Day!!) issue!
November 15, 2007 5:26 am
Funny reaction. I found I got it when I was in hospital for OHSS from the older generation. One woman talked to me happily under the assumption that I was a heart patient, and when she found out I was IVF, she stalled and got awkward. The thing is, I have seen infertility stories run – but they tend to be touching success stories. Like strong cancer patient stories, I guess. They will touch the subject, but only from one angle.
November 15, 2007 12:48 pm
Excellent points. I think a lot of things are twisted by the media. However, their flat out refusal of covering this topic is interesting in a crappy kind of way.
November 15, 2007 1:12 pm
I’ve noticed this as well. When talking to people about my currently living situation, I tend to mention that there is a new baby in the house…and that it’s all the worse because we can’t have kids. I actually watched someone take a physical step back in shock the other day…which she attempted to sympathize. Usually I get the dreaded comments, but that seems to be better later. I do, however, get very very tired of being told how “nice” I am, how “strong” I must be to do what I do, and how I react to IF. I’m not strong, I’m not nice…it’s just my mask.
November 15, 2007 4:28 pm
Great topic. On people’s reactions: I think there is a sense in which people feel as if the information is “too personal” for them to absorb (as in “overshare”). Funny when you consider people think nothing of talking about their children in very intimate and detailed ways to veritable strangers, even going so far as to whip out pictures. Maybe we should all carry pictures of all those embryos that never took in IVF (“I was going to name this one Tanya,” etc.). Seriously, though, I have found the most satisfying approach to being asked whether I have kids is to say, “No,” and leave open the possibility that I didn’t have them because I didn’t want them (which feels more empowered than my actual situation). However, I also understand the need to inform and enlighten people about the realities (agonies) of being unable to conceive. So, I’ll be thinking about this until the next person asks.
On the magazine thing: I REALLY like one of the comments above about writing a “how to” – and “what to expect when you’re not expecting” (clever!)… I couldn’t read enough back when I first learned of my IF and it is comforting to know you’re not the only one. What about a piece that asks us infertiles about advice we’d give to someone just starting their infertility journey? I know that I’d advise to push doctors on diagnostic tests (how shocked was I to learn 7 years into it that my “unexplained” infertility is actually a straight up Luteal Phase Defect and no one bothered to present me with different diagnostic options).
November 15, 2007 10:34 pm
I have definitely experienced the same thing when I mention my IF in conversation. A new co-worker gave me little more than a blank stare. She is a mother to two young children and talks about them (and the pregnancies that brought them into being) incessantly. For some reason IF is a taboo topic complete with a blinky red “warning” sign. Come to think of it, anything health related and unpleasant seems to fall into that category. I have a few acquaintances who are going through different health challenges right now and it is interesting to see mutual acquaintances step wide around the topics as if they are a no-man’s land. Everyone seems so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they avoid talking altogether. If those of us going through IF are strong enough to talk about it, how squeamish can the fertile be? Is it guilt? Aren’t we the ones with the battle scars? On the media topic, where I live there seems to be a glut of IF-related print and television news stories lately. Unfortunately they end up being mostly frustrating to read/watch for someone like me…especially when those who have no idea what this feels like are given the opportunity to comment (read: pass judgment). Ultimately I guess I have to give credit to these media outlets for taking on the stories. Hopefully they represent a few more steps out of the taboo closet for IF topics.