Are You Infertile Enough?
This will be a hard post to read. I’d appreciate it if you’d read through to the bottom.
April 15th usually is National Infertility Awareness Day, though next week begins National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). Resolve has asked bloggers to write on the theme “Resolve to know…” Actually, their theme is “Resolve to know more…” but I dropped the “more” because judging by the comment section that accompanies articles about infertility, many people have no knowledge when it comes to infertility. And in an Alice in Wonderland paradox fit for a tea party, you can’t really take “more” when you have nothing to begin with. So I’m just going to help people “Resolve to know,” full stop.
I decided to tackle a topic not on their list, which is “Resolve to know inclusivity.” This is a very uncomfortable topic, but I also think it’s an important one because we’re a thin-skinned group for good reason based on our interactions with the larger world. We know how it feels to be misunderstood by those clowns who frequent the comment section (I’ve been looking for a chance to use the term “clowns” in a blog post and I’ve found it!), but it feels ten times worse when the sense of exclusion or dismissiveness comes internally, either by perception, insinuation, direct words, or silence.
I direct this resolution both at individuals and also at organizations: those that are in place to educate or aid those with infertility. I’m directing this at clinics and agencies. I’m directing this at bloggers and non-bloggers. And I am directing this at myself.
Cracked.com had an honest post about fan communities that hits close to home because the description applied to the comic book/gaming/indie music communities has also been discussed in regards to the ALI community:
All of the groups to which I claim allegiance are “outsider” communities that espouse a culture of inclusiveness, support, and non-judgment and depend on constant influxes of new members in order to continue existing, yet at some point the fans of these communities decided it was up to them to prevent new people from joining them at all costs. And even if you’ve been a member for years, your fellow Hellboy and Modest Mouse enthusiasts are waiting for the first sign of weakness to swoop in and boot you straight out the door.
I would argue that we’re not really the booting sort. We’re more of the cold freeze or the ignore or the not listening sort. I own that. You need to own it too. I’m not saying we do it on purpose, but we do it inadvertently, and the effect of this is for people to feel excluded. We have adoptive parents who not only have to convince outsiders to use positive adoption language, but they need to convince insiders too. I’ve read posts by people living child-free after infertility who feel as if they’re invisible, forgotten members of the community at large, and posts by those parenting after infertility who feel as if they’ve been dropped like a hot potato. There are those of us who still feel very comfortable and supported by this community, but if there is even one person who feels as if they’re getting the message that they no longer belong, then that is one person too many.
So far in this post, I’ve put the blame on others for a person’s discomfort, but I think — as the fan community has found — that it’s up to ourselves as to whether we paint the whole of the community with the brush presented by a few non-inclusive apples. I’ve found a lot of assholes in the geek world, but I’ve also found some of the most amazing, wonderful, fun people. People who introduce me to really cool things and make me excited to open my email or feed reader. And I’ve found the same in the ALI community. Fewer assholes, though some still exist. I don’t allow them to define the community for me. Instead, I mentally nudge their antics out of the way the best I can, still support the people themselves the best I can, and generally hope that they will change with time and positive interactions. They’re sort of like that crazy family member that you can’t completely dismiss from the whole but you also don’t need to engage with if doing so is a drain.
I want to apologize for any time my words have made you feel excluded. We’re allowed to hold differing opinions, and I can’t own the times we’ve disagreed. I once had a person write me to tell me that she feels excluded on my blog because of my inclusivity; because I include people she hates and therefore make her feel excluded because she can’t be in this space without encountering those people she hates. And… uh… that’s not something I can apologize for. But the times when I’ve chosen the wrong word or stated something in a way that offended you; those are the things I can apologize for and promise that I will always try to do better if you communicate respectfully with me and explain how my word choice or ideology hurt your feelings. Respectful is key: communicating privately with someone who has upset you, keeping your tone in check and refraining from name calling is respectful. Calling them out in a blog post or complaining about them publicly is not.
Hopefully, we can all extend that promise to one another. It makes for a better, stronger community.
Everyone — yes, even the assholes — belong in the ALI community. If you’ve been diagnosed as infertile, fit the diagnostic definition for infertile even though you haven’t been formally diagnosed yet, worry that you’re headed in the direction of being diagnosed, or belong to any of the tangential communities that require assistance in family building due to situational infertility, you belong in the ALI community. You belong here regardless of which path you use to build — or not build — your family. You belong here whether you’re still grappling with your infertility, or whether you’ve resolved it. You belong here whether you’re childless/child-free or parenting. You belong here if your child is no longer alive; from chemical pregnancies to neonatal death. We’re a big community, at least, in my eyes.
And that is the point too; that we all define community based on our own terms when it comes to inclusivity. And you may choose to define the community differently than I do. But if you choose to use the term “ALI community,” that is a term that I coined back in 2008 in this embarrassing post, and it has a very large but concrete definition: adoption, loss, infertility. I don’t give you permission to take that term and twist it to exclude. Make up your own word if you want to do that.
I specifically made it enormous and general so it would include everyone on the blogroll. Every single situation or diagnosis on the blogroll fits into one of those three options. Every single person on that blogroll has their foot in one of the three rings in this venn diagram, and some stand in all three circles. By which I mean that of course you are more than a single word, but with those three words and keeping a broad definition for all three words, every single person can be included. The trick is making everyone feel included as well as having the person including his or herself.
That definition — coining the term “ALI community” — was meant to remove everything that makes our individual diagnoses and situations unique and differentiating and instead bring us all together as a single entity working toward mutual support and understanding so it can extend to the outer world. The term is not about focusing on donor gametes or surrogacy or adoption or IVF or living child-free or parenting… it is to boil away all of those other words we use to describe our place in this community and look at the few things we have in common. Because we’ll find that the emotional landscape is often shared even if the characters moving over that landscape are different.
If you use my term, I’d appreciate it if you also used the meaning behind it.
I’ll end with a thank you to go with my apology. Thank you for the inclusivity. Thank you to everyone who has included me over the years. Thank you to everyone who includes others. I’ve long refused to be a leader, but I have no problem if you see me as a hub, a pollinator bringing people and ideas together. So thank you to everyone who has come here, participated in the comment section or with a project, and then jumped off this hub to find others via the blogroll or the comment section to connect with, taking the threads of the web with you to help with our cohesiveness.
Thank you to everyone who has inserted their ideas into the conversation, who has pointed out our mistakes so we can do better, and who has actively stuck around to make the community a better place. When we’re at our best, we are pretty damn good. And as someone who travels widely across the blogosphere due to her job, there are few places on the Internet that are this close-knit and supportive, sharing information and hugs to help each other get through managing the chronic nature of infertility.
If nothing else, this year, resolve to be inclusive. And if you’re additionally inclined, I’d love to hear what you resolve to have people know for NIAW.