In or Out
As the Infertile Crusader (with my knee-high black boots and a micro-suede cape with a big letter “I” embroidered on it), I may seem like the most “out” Stirrup Queen in the world. But that was not always the case. Follow me back to a simplier time. When no one knew details about my cervical mucous or progesterone levels.
(Climbs into her way-back machine and pats the seat to indicate that you should join her. Everything gets fuzzy and when the world becomes clear again, you are sitting in a hospital waiting room watching a hysterical woman bawling as she waits to be seen.)
Early on in the trying-to-conceive process I told three people (four if you count my husband’s grandfather) that we were trying because I wanted moral support. A few months into the process and trying-to-conceive is all I thought about day and night. And I needed an outlet to talk about it or I would burst. And I needed to ask questions to make sure I was doing everything right because…you know…we’ve all had those doubts. The am-I-having-sex-correctly doubts. The how-long-does-the-semen-need-to-stay-in-there doubts.
Once we started thinking that there may be a problem, I told a few more people–those who I knew had already tried treatments or who had an RE to recommend. But I was still pretty discreet about who I told. It was on a need-to-know basis as in I need to talk about it so you need to know.
One weekend we were going up to see my husband’s grandfather. We were fairly certain that it was nearing the end of his life and my husband wanted to be there with him. Though I had gotten many negative pee sticks, I was currently 21dpo and it was my first time taking progesterone. I felt ill during the 3 hour drive up to see his grandfather–horrible rolling cramps. I took 4 alleve during the car ride. I think y’all see where this is heading.
When we got there, I passed clots and what looked like it may be tissue to the home health care worker who was there for his grandfather. We called my doctor who coldly told me that there was nothing to do about this because it was probably just (just!) a chemical pregnancy since I was only 5 weeks along. She said the only thing I could do would be to go to the hospital.
So we went to the hospital. And it was a chemical pregnancy. And I was heartbroken. My doctor had suspected that I had been having chemical pregnancies before this point–no positive pee sticks (and no betas yet because I rarely had a beta prior to seeing the RE) yet cycles that went past 18 dpo with an extremely heavy period at the end. But this was the first time that I had actually known what was happening. And since we had discovered my progesterone problems the month before, it felt like it was all my fault. Ha–little did I know that I would have crappy eggs and high FSH too! And here I was worried about a little luteal phase defect problem.
We had told my MIL before we left for the hospital what was happening. I mean, we needed to explain why we were turning around and heading right back out of the apartment during a time when we should have been staying with his grandfather (and believe me, I still feel guilty about this). But even though few other people were there at the time, she got on the phone and told some family and friends why we were at the hospital. And suddenly I was sharing our trying-to-conceive (or…more accurately…our trying-to-conceive-and-not-being-able) experience with many people. Some of whom were related to me and some of whom I didn’t know well at all. It was an extremely awkward funeral when people wanted to keep talking to me about it and it was the last thing I wanted to discuss with anyone who wasn’t either my husband or a close friend.
Which brings us to the question of in or out. And how we decide. And how sometimes it is decided for us. There are those who can say, “well, what’s the big deal. You were out to other people.” I certainly was out on the Resolve bulletin boards. And to a small circle of friends. And to selected family members. But those were all my choices. This was the first time that the choice was taken away from me.
And for someone who talks a good game right now about not being afraid to talk about my infertility, it is a very different story on the inside. This is the truth–I’m not shy to talk about it if I think that the information is going to either teach someone something about infertility or connect to another person in the community. But who wants to stand on a chair and scream out to people they have to see face-to-face, “hey, everyone, I’m completely defective. I have low progesterone and crappy eggs and high FSH and our infertility is entirely my fault.” It is very different to post something in a chat room vs. look at your brother-in-law and know that he knows that the reason you don’t have kids yet is your fault.
And my husband kicks my ass whenever I talk about fault. But that’s how I feel. It’s my body. It may be out of my control, but it still feels like my fault.
And maybe I was so upset by the outing because it was someone else taking liberties with my personal information without asking me. She may have felt like it was necessary to call her friends and tell them, but the reality is that many excuses for our absense could have been made–such as Mel’s in the hospital with food poisoning–without sharing what was at that point a very private thing. It was my baby. And it was my uterus. And it was my sucky low progesterone. And I didn’t want to share any of those things with anyone at that time. Because it was so raw and so terrible and so sad. And I felt a lot of guilt–the timing of it, the fault–and it became this blaring sign over my head–the infertile one. When she told people who didn’t know me very well about my infertility, that became my label. As opposed to the people I was choosing to tell who knew me quite well and infertility became one more aspect of my existance.
It’s such an interesting debate–being in or out or partially out–because everyone has a different threshold (and where are you?). I started thinking about this last week when I read someone else’s blog about how they had been outed and I started thinking about my outing (and after that outing, I was fairly open to speaking about it, but always somewhat bitter because it hadn’t been my choice to put that information out there. It was only my choice to continue or not continue the discussion). And how it changes a relationship. You can’t unring a bell. Once those words are out there, those words are out there. And what may not bother you for others to know may be a source of huge discomfort for another person.
It has made me become more careful. More circumspect. It’s not my place to spread along personal information such as health issues, infertility or mental illness to people who may need to interact with the person without them knowing (except in the context of marriage where I expect that if I tell Jane about my infertility, she will tell her husband, Dick, and I’m fine with that). It seems hypocritical to an Infertile Crusader who is trying to leap tall buildings in a single bound as she attempts to remove the stigma from infertility. But in that scenario, I’m doing the leaping over the building and in an “outing”, someone else is catapulting me.