Is infertility a disease? Genetic issue? Problem? Disability? Do we not talk about it because we don’t know how to?
A friend of mine shared this article on her Facebook wall last week, and it speaks to an issue almost as debilitating as infertility itself—the fact that no one talks about it. I understand why so many couples choose to keep their infertility a private matter. It’s an intimate issue, trying to have a baby. It’s a personal decision, usually centered on very private discussions about household finances and emotional readiness—and then there’s all the sex. But when you’re staring down the barrel of infertility, the topic takes on a whole new level of privacy and, for many, it forces them into silence altogether. There are feelings of shame, worry over your body not doing what it’s “supposed” to, and add to that the emotion-wrenching journey of the testing and the waiting and the waiting and the results.
I decided to blog about my own journey for two reasons. One, because I thought it would be therapeutic in that anonymous-internet-yes-I-realize-this-goes-out-to-all-my-Facebook-friends kind of way. And, two, because I knew there are others who desperately want to talk about their own journey—okay, maybe not in such a public forum—with even just their own families.
Immediately following my first blog post about our issues, I received responses from friends and strangers alike. Some were direct responses on Facebook or as comments on the blog’s website. Others who are experiencing what my husband and I are. But, overwhelmingly, I received numerous off-line emails and texts, people coming out of the woodwork to share their own experiences with infertility. Friends from high school, from college, from grad school, from pastry school, and at least one person from each of my last two jobs reached out to me to commiserate and give support. I had no idea that most of these people, with their smiling, perfect bundles of joy, had a not-so-perfect experience trying to conceive. It wasn’t the necessarily the fact that I hadn’t known about their own struggles that struck me—please don’t think I’m judging your decision to keep your situation private—but the sheer number of people I knew personally that had problems having a baby. My hunch is that we don’t talk about infertility because we don’t know how to name it. We don’t want to label ourselves as having a problem. As the article states, “Infertility is where breast cancer was in the 1970s — completely in the closet.” Infertility is still a taboo subject. And the problem—and yes, I mean problem—with not talking about it, is that not much advocacy exists in support of those struggling with infertility. If we can’t talk about it, how will others know how to help? And don’t get me started on the meager coverage provided by most insurance companies in most states. Another topic, another day.
I struggle with the naming issue often when I talk about our own difficulties. If I say something like “we’re having a problem conceiving,” does the word “problem” imply that I think something is defective? Well, isn’t it? Something is wrong, somewhere. I don’t even know how to talk about it with my own husband sometimes without sounding judgmental. The last thing I want to to is point a finger where it doesn’t belong. As in, “one of the problems is with your sperm.” Like it’s him who’s to blame, when it’s not his fault, nor is it mine. But isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Somewhere to place the blame? Somewhere, anywhere, but with ourselves?
Today, we go to see the urologist to find just that—a possible cause of my husband’s low sperm count and low motility. I don’t think the outcome of today’s appointment will give us entirely what we need. Yes, it may shed some light on the situation and, yes, it will help determine our future course of action. But it won’t give us a cure or a magical solution to our problem/disease/disability. But, answers or not, I will continue to give our struggle a voice, for the two of us and for others who wish they could.