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Infert-dar

You know how sometimes you’re speaking to someone new and there is something in what they’re saying or what they’re not saying that sets off your Infert-dar, that internal radar that lets you know the other person needs assistance to conceive?  It could be an expression that passes over their face when someone eight-months pregnant walks by.  It could be a tentative pause when they ask you if you have kids.  It could simply be something in their story: longtime married with no kids. (Are they child-free by choice or not by choice or do kids not even factor into their mindset at all?  Am I the only person who is constantly thinking about kids?).  Whatever it is, your Infert-dar goes off.

But really, what comes next?

The internal alarm is great when it results in two people getting to share a “me too.”  But when there isn’t a casual opening for you to say something like, “I know, morning meetings are hard for me too because I have to go to a clinic and have a reproductive endocrinologist thread a catheter through my vagina,” what do you do with that knowledge?

Ignore it?

(But what if they’re desperately seeking a friend to vent to about baby showers?)

Poke at it?

(But what if they never want to talk about it and bringing it up ruins their day?)

Ask about it?

(But what if you’re totally wrong, and then you just asked this random stranger about the state of their reproductive organs?)

Obviously the path of least social faux pas is to ignore it, but ignoring rarely creates the change we wish to see in the world, nor does ignoring build community or provide answers or give comfort.  Someone always needs to step forward and say it first.

But sometimes it feels really really strange to be the one to step forward and mention that your uterus doesn’t work.

How often is your Infert-dar piqued, and do you ever ignore it (or wish you hadn’t ignored it)?

27 comments

1 Kasey { 08.07.13 at 7:45 am }

I think its so important for us to support one another. Anytime I feel like somone may understand or may be going through infertility struggles I make mention of my struggle first in hopes to open the door for them to feel comfortable to discuss whatever it is going on in their lives. I always feel better when I get to talk o someone face to face who understands me and I want to be that person for other people as well.

2 a { 08.07.13 at 8:53 am }

I’m much more an observer than a participator. When my Infert-dar goes off, I just wait for the other person to bring up the conversation. Odds are, they don’t really want to hear my story beyond “we have something in common” anyway, unless they need a doctor recommendation. People would much rather talk about themselves, but it’s good to do it with someone who has some understanding.

3 Heather { 08.07.13 at 9:00 am }

I do the same as Kasey. I’m very open about how our two girls came to be. I’m doing a bit of a dance with a mom I met last spring (one child who is 6 years old). I will never ask, “Do you plan on having more” because that’s just rude. As I get to know her I will probably slip in our struggle to the conversation.
Another mom that I have become close with has two kids but very far apart in ages. I wonder if that was because of secondary infertility. Again, I will never elude to such a thing, so I just mentioned our struggles with infertility. She didn’t grab the bait so I let it go.

4 Turia { 08.07.13 at 9:29 am }

I absolutely have Infert-dar, and it goes off regularly. I try to walk a fine line between not ignoring it, but also not automatically over-sharing. And I’m getting really good at answering the “Are you going to have a second?” question with, “Well, we’d really love to, but it took us a long time to have E., so we don’t know if we’ll get lucky again.” People either bite at that, or not, and either way I feel like I’ve helped open up the issue a bit.

5 Formerly known as Denver Laura { 08.07.13 at 9:35 am }

Through a mutual friend, I met an older mom who had faternal twins. Instead of just assuming she was infertile, I spoke up about how I had to postpone an IUI for the out of town wedding we were attending. She looked like she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I didn’t push it further. I just stopped assuming after that. I mention it to people when it comes up as in, “we adopted – one and done.” If they’re curious, I’ll go into more detail. Most often if they start giving fertility advice, I end it with an abrupt, direct, sarcastic comment that I should probably regret but for some reason feel like they had it coming.

6 KeAnne { 08.07.13 at 9:40 am }

Before we had our son and my IF wasn’t known outside of friends and family (like at work), I would listen and then poke and prod a little to get more info. Now I try to put our story out there so that people can come to me if they have questions or need a safe place to vent.

7 Amy { 08.07.13 at 10:28 am }

I’ve never been shy or quiet about our struggle to have our daughter. When people ask me if I want more…I always say, “Yes, but we no longer have IVF insurance coverage, so unless the laws change, Lexi will be an only child” To me, it opens the face that we did IVF…that there are laws preventing such procedures (financially)…and that I do really want another. I’m not ashamed of my infertility…and I’m happy to share my experiences so others may learn.

8 Catwoman73 { 08.07.13 at 10:30 am }

This is so interesting- my infert-dar is ALWAYS going off. I was sitting on the beach on the weekend, and a family set up camp right next two us. Two children of different races. Different races than the parents as well. I automatically started wondering what their journey had been like- how their little family came to be. That was a pretty obvious situation, but I have also encountered plenty of those other, more subtle situations as well- the slightly older couple with no kids, or even just one child (probably because that is my situation), the young coworker staring wistfully at the hugely pregnant woman passing by… it happens all the time. How I handle it always depends on the chemistry I have with the person, and how well I know them. When I choose to probe for more info, or share my situation, it’s generally with those that I feel extremely comfortable with, and I always start with very broad questions or comments to feel out how the person will react. I find that most infertiles do want to share, particularly with someone who actually understands.

9 Brianna { 08.07.13 at 11:45 am }

I don’t know that I have Infert-dar, but I’ve decided recently that I’m just going to stop hiding my infertility. I talk about it openly with my bosses at my desk, which is in cubicle land. I’m tired of having to wear a mask to hide my emotions behind, so if I want to bring it up, then I bring it up…it has nothing to do with anything I get/hear from whom I’m talking with.

10 k { 08.07.13 at 11:46 am }

Mine always goes off, but I’m often wrong. I think I sort of have started to assume everyone struggles, and last night I got beaten over the head with that assumption. We had a neighborhood BBQ and a couple we didn’t know showed up with twin 15 month old girls. I paid close attention and then overheard the mother say to another neighbor, “We weren’t even TRYING!” Although I think I was dead on with the neighbor who mentioned her dog being protective of kids and I asked how old hers were and she said, “I just have her – she’s 7.”

I tend to be an open book, so if people ARE going through it they can simply ask or open up, because clearly my infert-dar sucks.

11 It Is What It Is { 08.07.13 at 11:52 am }

This happens all.the.time in my life. I find that because I am so open (and because I always have Baby G in tow, he sparks conversation), it generally disarms the person enough to offer up whatever they are going to offer up.

In a similar vein, while in the woman’s restroom yesterday, my girlfriend was complaining to me about her marriage and the many costs of leaving it to which another woman who had entered the bathroom threw out, “Pre-nup” which lead to a whole bitter conversation on her part about how her husband screwed her in their divorce after 17 years of marriage.

See what I mean?

12 Another Dreamer { 08.07.13 at 12:10 pm }

I don’t usually broach the subject, and leave it up to the other person. If they ask about my son, I tell them we’re very lucky to have him and go into the short story of it. Sometimes they tell me their own story. That actually happened with my hair stylist once, she really seemed like she needed an ear.

13 notwhenbutif { 08.07.13 at 1:48 pm }

I wouldn’t necessarily say my infert-dar is always going off, but actually that it is the other way around. I *think* I’ve become fairly good at recognizing those around me who are childless by choice not medical circumstance, but in my field single women/couples who have chosen child-free are a strong majority. I wonder, though, if my childfree-by-choice-dar has ever misfired? It certainly could have back in the by-gone days when my diagnosis was fresh and my own private wounds drowned out everyone else’s issues.

These days I’m like many of the other ladies that have already commented. I don’t think I could be more out and proud about my IF if I started wearing “I got transvaginally probed this morning, how ’bout you?” stickers on my chest at work. I’ve found casual ways to insert our struggle into conversations in a manner that I hope isn’t off-putting. A lot of the time when I’m meeting new people for the first time it is because they have just moved to our very small college town to assume a new job at my university. With that large cross-country/international move they’ve typically just done they are looking for doctor recommendations, restaurant reviews, lists of things to do and see. I find a way to inject “It’s a little far, but there’s this great restaurant up in so and so. I have a doctor up there.” That often opens up a conversation about my health issues and the rest follows depending on how I perceive their responses.

I’m very open on social media, as well, so that comes in handy. A non-confrontational way to say, “This is me and what I’m dealing with!” without actually having to find a convenient way to slip that into conversation. Only time that ever backfired was when I met a new woman at a large professional conference, we hung out together in the evenings, and she friend requested me the next day on FB and I accepted as we sat side by side during a panel session. I awkwardly sat there looking at the corner of my eye as she navigated to my home page and saw the giant National Infertility Awareness Week cover photo I had posted. That was strange…

14 Alexicographer { 08.07.13 at 2:03 pm }

I was intentionally very in the closet (with friends/acquaintances, not family, though even them when it came to what we were actually doing “in the moment” as opposed to trying/considering in general) for the many years we were ttc #1. Once he arrived, I was more open about how he got here and its having been, er, challenging. I was not, however, generally open about the fact that we were pursuing treatments in hopes of having another, for pretty much the same reasons as the first go ’round; I needed that privacy/space.

Now if I’m talking with people about families, how many kids we have, and such — and those questions do seem to come up pretty frequently in casual conversations — I usually try to work into the conversation the fact that I had hoped for a second child but have instead found myself with just the one. As I’m pretty much at peace with that circumstance now (often even very much at peace with it), it’s pretty easy to talk about, and it opens the door for acknowledging in general that our families aren’t always as we had envisioned or hoped they would be. I don’t usually discuss treatment explicitly unless asked (which I’m usually not), but I think the “hoped to” part also makes it possible to ask (if anyone wants to) what we beyond hope we used, in our efforts to grow our family.

15 Geochick { 08.07.13 at 2:13 pm }

My infert-dar has been piqued in the last couple of months. Once on vacation when my aunt was poking at a woman she barely knows (a friend of my cousin’s) about having children and she stated there were never going to be any children, that ship has sailed, blah blah blah. My aunt did the “you’re still young!” bs and I was extremely uncomfortable, also having just met this woman. I didn’t feel like I was in a position to say anything, but I definitely felt like I let the woman down by NOT saying something. I didn’t know her story, and that made me pause, because if I assumed it was infertility, and it wasn’t, I would look like as big an ass as my aunt.

Recently, I had another experience in an airport, that was just observation. A family of four. Daughter was at least 10. Son was barely 1. That made me say “hmmmm” in my head. Still, with relatively young looking parents, who knows what that path was?

16 Shelby { 08.07.13 at 2:50 pm }

I get too excited when my infert-dar gets piqued! It’s like I’ve found another member to our secret club! And you don’t need to be wearing a red thread bracelet for me to spot you. My infert-dar is excellent!

Because I am a flag-waving, out-and-proud IFer (an ambassador to all things IF, if you will), I usually start out by making a very clear statement about my IF, thus leaving the door open. For example, my kid loves babies much more than your average 3-year-old, which prompts the comments that we should have another. I always take that moment to make a somewhat vague, but ultimately IF-revealing remark, like, “well, if you have a magic wand, then sure, I’d love to have another!” Sometimes I might be bolder and actually mention infertility briefly. If the person is comfortable enough, they will come to me. Otherwise, I’ll leave it be. I think leaving the ball in their court is best practice. Not everyone wishes to expose themselves like I do.

This is interesting you’re talking about this as I have a new friend who is in her mid-forties and has a baby and toddler. She’s made vague comments about possibly having used egg donor (the ball might be in my court now), so I can’t wait to gently broach the subject! My infert-dar has made it clear to me that we’re everywhere! In fact, within the last year I found two acquaintances who not only used the same clinic as me, but the same doctor–and the subject always got started because of my big IF blabbing mouth!

17 Valery Valentina { 08.07.13 at 3:57 pm }

Once my IF-dar was buzzing on the shortest of emails, a LinkedIn request I think. It started out with a former classmate saying he was married, 2 kids, suburbia. Two emails later he told me about the one in the middle that didn’t make it, and how his wife had had very scary birth stories too. And they were very compassionate about me saying goodbye to the genetic child I would never have.
But we shied away from meeting up IRL , even though they live less than an hour away.

18 sushigirl { 08.07.13 at 5:20 pm }

There’s a woman I know who is very over the top and officious about her work (like, in a you-think-about-this-waaaay-too-much-way), has been married for a few years and doesn’t have kids. I’ve been wondering if she’s IF or child free but doen’t want to ask for fear of upsetting her.

19 Tireegal { 08.07.13 at 5:33 pm }

I am pretty open about my infertility and that has opened up conversations with women that have been good sharing moments. What I am not a fan of is when some nosy woman at the YMCA starts badgering me about Isobel’s eye color and mine and what color is my husbands eye color ( which if I had a husband would be irrelevant anyway) and I have to calmly tell her in front of my daughter that Isobel had two mommies and no I don’t want to talk to the rude stranger about sperm donors, thank you. And then she proceeds to try to placate me by saying that Isobel is lucky to have two parents that love her because there are so many unloved and neglected kids in the world. Somewhere in there is the insulting implication that Isobel should be grateful for two parents even if they aren’t the ideal heterosexual couple. Aargh!!!!
PS I’m now reading Measure of love after finishing the first book and loving it. I have finally forgiven Adam for not being the ass I believed him to be. Your writing is amazing. I have even forgotten its you who is writing it, which helps with the suspension of disbelief!

20 Jessie { 08.07.13 at 8:17 pm }

My infert-dar does go off regularly, and I tend to look for more confirming signals before I say something, but I do tend to ask about it.

21 loribeth { 08.07.13 at 9:51 pm }

Dh had a cousin who had been married for 10+ years… they both loved children and I couldn’t imagine they didn’t want to be parents, but they weren’t. I will admit that I was secretly hoping they never would, because I liked not being the only childless adult woman at family gatherings. While the other women talked mommy stuff, she & I would discuss work and travel.

There was a time when she wasn’t showing up at family gatherings, particularly the kids’ birthday parties. There was always an excuse, but although we never discussed infertility, I could guess the real reason why she might not want to come to some of these events — it seemed SO obvious to me. Some of the other women noticed her frequent absences, but the apparent reason was lost on them. they were actually quite snarky about it: “Well, I guess she doesn’t like us very much, does she?”

She finally became pregnant at age 43, after more than 10 years of marriage. And she was very reluctant to have a baby shower. Again, the chatter: “What is WITH her?? Why wouldn’t you want a baby shower?” etc. I tried to say that in some cultures it’s common not have a shower until after the baby is born — but since she was from the same community & culture as the others, that suggestion didn’t hold much water.

We did eventually have a small shower, before the baby was born. She had another baby two years later at 45. If they used fertility treatments, they’re not saying, and I’m not going to be nosy — I think if she wanted to confide in me, she would have — but it seems pretty obvious to me that they did.

22 magpie { 08.08.13 at 10:59 am }

i have that radar in person – but less so on the internet. i’m quite open about having done ivf…so the conversations happen fairly easily.

23 Mali { 08.08.13 at 12:51 pm }

Yes, I think we’re probably all very aware of our own situations, and perhaps look to find it in others. Just yesterday I saw a European mothr and Asian teenage daughter, and immediately thught about adoption, when she could have been an exchange student, niece, etc. and my BIL and SIL had twins when SIL was 44, and I know they had at least one if not two miscarriages before then. I assume IVF, and perhaps donor eggs, but they’ve never said (and never will, as FIL’s Will gives to grandchildren of “natural issue” only), and I will never ask.

24 Kimberly { 08.09.13 at 1:09 am }

I’ve been told by many close to me that my infertility radar is strong and incredibly accurate. But I won’t generally say anything until I have a strong feeling about it (or my spidey sense starts to tingle). Sometimes its a look on a person’s face when someone else is complaining about being a mom, sometimes its how they don’t say anything while everyone is talking about kids, while other times its something they say or how they say it. But since I’m so open about our struggles and make it clear that I’ll talk to anyone about it who has questions, that I get asked before I can ask. But if I do ask, it could be while everyone else is talking and I approach the person quietly and say, “I was wondering if I could ask you something, but its ok off you are uncomfortable answering…” And leave it up to them to answer whatever I ask. But if I’m asking, I’m almost certain at that point and its just to let them know that if they are going through it, they are not alone.

25 Rachel { 08.09.13 at 1:50 am }

YES! I feel like mine goes off all the time. And I don’t always know what to do with it. I just wrote a blog about this exact thing happening the other day at the OB office:

http://www.thelewisnote.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-story-no-one-sees.html

Now that I have a baby with me (we’re adopting from foster care), I feel really self-conscious when I’m out and about. It *appears* that I have it all together childwise. My girls appear to be evenly spaced. And since baby even looks like us, I feel like no one would even know our story.

The truth is, we almost lost Maddy twice in pregnancy. She’s our miracle. I’ve gone on to have 3 successive pregnancy losses. I have multiple, unrelated issues in pregnancy and am in the deep throes of testing. I am also seeing a reproductive endocrinologist, have been diagnosed with secondary infertility, and have no idea if I’ll have another child biologically again.

And so, I can’t help but wonder about the stories of all those around me. I know looks are deceiving.

Today in the grocery store, I was enviously eyeing the burgeoning belly of a stranger. But then I realized her other child with her was around 8. And I couldn’t help but wonder at all that could have happened (or didn’t happen) in those 8 years in between.

I still don’t know the right way to broach the subject with strangers. It’s awkward no matter which way you slice it.

26 Chickenpig { 08.09.13 at 7:17 am }

Are you kidding? I live in CT 🙂 We will talk with people about the weather or the Red Sox, but we don’t talk about our body parts, or anything that might lead to the talking about body parts. I used to have my inferti-dar go off when I saw twins, but then I realized that ‘natural’ twins are crazily common around here, both fraternal and identical, and all of the parents except for one pair have a plethora of children. Gaps in families are common because of the high rates of divorce and remarriage, and every older ‘parent’ I see with children that don’t look like themselves are grandparents that have custody of their grandchildren. In short, I highly recommend that every infertile I know move here because apparently there is something in the water and the only infertile couple for around 50 miles is us.

27 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 08.17.13 at 10:00 am }

This happens to me, and the obvious answer is to try and drop a casual remark about my own experiences and see how the other person responds, but it’s kind of difficult to find an opening. A lot of times it gets left unresolved.

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