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Infertile Once Pregnant

I want to start this off by stating the obvious: everyone is entitled to approach and disseminate information about their infertility in a way that works for them.  Some people speak about infertility early and often, and some people only mention it after the birth.

There are benefits and drawbacks to telling people before you know how things will turn out, just as there are benefits and drawbacks to only mentioning infertility after the fact.  You’ll get a lot of support, but people will constantly bring it up.  It becomes your Story, with a capital S.  And yes, infertility is front and center in your brain when you’re trying to build your family and can’t; it’s the sort of thing that makes itself very difficult to forget about since it is happening in your body.  But that doesn’t mean you want it brought up all the time.

So I understand why people don’t bring it up until they also have news to share.

I’m grateful when celebrities step forward and talk about their struggle with infertility, using their platform to help bring information to the general public.  I am equally annoyed when the media runs stories about how so-and-so is sharing their struggle so people finally understand how hard to it can be to experience infertility.

(Excuse me, media, don’t you think that your prior negative spin on infertility coverage is part of the reason the general public believes what they believe?  If they’re not getting their information from personal experience, they are getting their information from the media.)

But part of me knows that if a celebrity is opening up about infertility (vs. having the media speculate on their fertility), chances are, they are currently pregnant and simply not announcing yet.  The announcement comes a month or two later, with a little bump and a due date a few months away.

I am happy for them — and to reiterate, I am grateful that they shared that not every family is formed easily — but the timing cements that wrongly-held belief that there are just so many options out there and one will work for you.  Yes, there are a lot of options, and yes, hopefully one will work.  But it’s not a given, and believing so belies just how hard it is — emotionally, physically, and financially — to undergo fertility treatments.   I am so grateful they exist, but they are not easy.

The baby surrounded by IVF needles picture hits a little closer to reality.

It’s a blameless situation, yet it spreads a message through the general public.  You announce your infertility, you have closure to your infertility, you move on to parenthood.  That is their story; there is no other way to tell it because that is how it happened for them.  Or, the only other way to tell it is to tell it based on someone else’s timeline, which isn’t fair.  Yet clearly timing matters.

That truncated story of infertility to pregnancy becomes the story in the general public’s mind when they aren’t given a multitude of stories to follow.

I am grateful for celebrities who announce their infertility at all, just as I’m grateful for non-celebrities who speak about their infertility.  Every story matters.

But I wish there were more people who began their story in medias res; in the heart of the unknown.  I wish the media would follow their story, not to wring the tragedy out of it, but to serve as a realistic portrait — like that baby surrounded by needles — of the marathon of ups and downs the average patient experiences.  That for the vast majority, there isn’t a neat solution waiting for them when they enter the clinic, but instead a series of tries — some successful, some not — that they hold their breath through month after month.

Maybe their story would end with pregnancy and birth, or adoption, or surrogacy, or living child-free.  But the point is that just like the person experience infertility, we wouldn’t know until we know.


1 Kimberly { 10.20.15 at 8:13 am }

I like the point you mention is that there are a lot of options out there and HOPEFULLY one will work for you. That’s something I think people still don’t understand. Just because there are all these treatments, etc it doesn’t mean you WILL end up with a baby. And that’s what makes this road a very difficult one. Its the unknown factor amplified.

2 Katherine A { 10.20.15 at 8:31 am }

Yes, especially to this line: “That truncated story of infertility to pregnancy becomes the story in the general public’s mind when they aren’t given a multitude of stories to follow.”

I think the other thing about the only revealing infertility once to a ‘safe’ zone of pregnancy – or sometimes only after the baby is born – is that it leaves out some of the other things that can happen in a pregnancy after infertility. In the media reports, I’ve almost never seen talk about stillbirth or later miscarriages, twins are often shown perfectly healthy (not premature) and situations like mine (horribly tenuous pregnancy then a very preterm birth with a long NICU stay) are all sort of brushed aside with “oh yes, it was scary, but it’s okay now”, ignoring the current research that shows significant emotional trauma for many parents who spent a great deal of time in NICU. I get that people don’t always want to talk about that in the media, but I also see mostly cute, full-term, chubby babies from pregnancy after infertility – and yes, I know that for some people, perhaps even many, that’s their reality – but it’s not the only outcome. In my experience, people generally think once you’re pregnant, you’re pregnant and will take a baby home, which sadly isn’t true for so many.

And that, of course, is presupposing that treatments actually work to make someone pregnant when the actual success rate of IVF is not even 50% across the board. It was frustrating at times explaining to people who assumed that IVF ‘usually’ works that no, that isn’t the case.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

3 Charlotte { 10.20.15 at 8:41 am }

I think a big reason why the general public learns from the media that infertility+treatments=baby is because the reporting is on celebrities who have unlimited resources and ability to pursue treatments until something works. They aren’t encumbered by financial or geographical burdens, or even just being able to take the necessary time off from work to have procedures or to travel. There also isn’t a lot of reporting on exactly how people are getting pregnant…I mean, look how many celebrities are in their late 40’s and pregnant. Are we to believe that because they are celebrities, their eggs don’t age like the rest of ours?? I have always found those stories a little suspicious when they claim they “naturally” got pregnant at 48 and had a genetically perfect baby….because in the general population that just isn’t reality. So the information the media is putting out there is already skewed based on who they are reporting on, and doesn’t really accurately represent the average infertile.

4 Cristy { 10.20.15 at 10:16 am }

Your post is on the heels of Pamela’s post about this. And I’m echoing what is said above and in the comments there.

I think people feel more secure with infertility stories when they know there’s a happy ending. Meaning after years of treatments, a healthy child(or children) is born. No one wants to hear about complications or cases where things weren’t as smooth. Because those stories bring up guilt and make people reassess the “just keep trying and everything will be okay” mantra. It brings to light that things can be very hard.

The image of the baby surrounded by IVF needles brings a lot of emotions for me. On the one hand, I can completely relate. We had a similar outcome. But on the other, it simplifies things to a point that misrepresents and twists all we’ve been through. It wasn’t that simple and I still live with the trauma caused by our losses and infertility. None of that magically disappeared.

5 Working mom of 2 { 10.20.15 at 12:55 pm }

I dunno. I don’t see how you can get the solution you want. People understandably don’t want to discuss what they’re going thru for the reasons you stated. I kept mum at work bc I really didn’t want to be asked all the time and I certainly didn’t want to answer questions about my m/c. Yes, now that my IF he’ll is over and I haven miracles I am much more open. But I don’t think you can fault me for that. Celebrities are no different.

Plus, sadly, you have to think about work repercussions. Employers including Hollywood studios might treat someone different re assignments, promotions, etc. if they knew the person was trying to have kids. Is that ok? No. But it’s still there. But regular people usually don’t go around at work announcing their plans even if they plan to have kids in a few years, so why would we expect infertiles to reveal that kind of info and risk their careers that way? As we all know IF sucks (as in heart-reaching horribleness) and I think it’s too much to ask one of us who hasn’t had success yet to take one for the team like that.

6 MinnieK { 10.20.15 at 2:40 pm }

I am (almost) completely open with my (non-work) friends about my infertility stuff. I say almost because although I link to my blog on facebook a lot, I actually have customized my facebook settings so that not everyone I am friends with can see everything that I post. This keeps work friends from seeing what I post. I am so open for a couple of reasons, but mostly because I have amazing friends whose support I need and want. But, I have to say, sharing everything can be intimidating, even if I know I am only sharing with people who love me. If I were a celebrity, and I was sharing with the (very judgmental) world, it would be even scarier. As a culture, we tend to prefer our celebrities be “winners.” We love happy endings. Part of a celebrity’s value to the public is providing us with happy stories with happy endings, preferably with just a touch of struggle to make it interesting. Celebrities know that and that is why they craft their images so carefully. This is part of their job. While I would love for a celebrity to be bold enough to share her/his infertility story from the beginning, I am not sure we will ever see that. If I were someone’s publicist, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. And if I were a celebrity, I would never share as much as I do as a regular person. The stakes are much higher when your image is your livelihood. So I don’t really blame them for keeping their real stories to themselves. To be honest, I feel like we’d be better served by a few books and movies that accurately portrayed infertility.

7 Kathryn { 10.20.15 at 3:27 pm }

I think Amy Klein’s Motherlode columns were very honest – stuck in the thick of infertility with out knowing what the outcome would be.

8 Justine { 10.20.15 at 10:10 pm }

Thought-provoking post. I’ve also wished that more people would tell their stories in public places, and that they’d tell their stories while they’re still unfinished. But it’s painful to do that. I started, and couldn’t do it after the second loss and after the diagnosis of “unexplained secondary infertility.” And I wonder if it would have been even worse if I’d been the subject of public scrutiny. I had the luxury of keeping my story to myself. It’s a vicious cycle: we don’t tell those unfinished stories because people don’t respond in ways that support us so we don’t tell the unfinished stories … hard to break that.

9 Mali { 10.20.15 at 11:09 pm }

I agree that any mention of infertility, other than maybe vague reference to the struggles once the baby has arrived, is still very rare. And as you point out, the idea of donor egg or other assisted reproduction seems to be taboo in the media.

I’ve been very grateful that some celebrities have opened up about their struggles to get pregnant, after their efforts to conceive have ended, and with no baby. It is rare though. Unfortunately our stories are still taboo.

10 fifi { 10.21.15 at 9:56 am }

As Katheryn mentioned, Amy Klein did write about her infertility struggles as they happened. And she got the predictable comments, “why not just adopt?” “it’s your own fault for leaving it so late”, “what a self-indulgent column”, etc. It would be hard to read that while you were in the middle of treatment and decision-making (although there were more compassionate comments as well, so maybe that helped).

11 Dreaming of Diapers { 10.21.15 at 11:07 pm }

Telling your story is all so painful yet extremely necessary at the same time. I’ve realized most people are so ignorant and uneducated about infertility and all it encompasses. And I don’t blame them. They haven’t had to deal with it so how would they know. I am very open on my blog but, honestly, it’s hard for me to be as open in my personal every day life. The few people I have told bring it up every single time I see them…it’s exhausting…and frankly, they make me feel bad about myself. I see pity in their eyes and it feels like a punch to the gut. Nothing about this is easy. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life but I am determined to help other women who are going through this nightmare. Learn from what I’ve been through, learn from my mistakes and just know that you are not alone. That, in itself, is why telling your story, whenever you are comfortable is paramount.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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