I remember it so well. I was newly pregnant and our ultrasound showing the heartbeat had been just a few days before, so I was walking around on a cloud of euphoria. I was working for my previous district and when I was called to the office for a delivery at my elementary school the Friday before Mother's Day 2008, there they were, a dozen long-stemmed roses. When I walked in, a few people were wondering out loud who they were for and, assuming that it was a Mother's Day gift, the principal (who knew of my infertility), turned to me with spite and snarled,
"Well, I know they're not for you."
I kid you not. I am quoting her word-for-word.
The flowers were for me from my lovely husband and the words inside spoke of our perfect secret, but her words almost knocked me off the cloud I had been riding and were proof to me that I still needed to keep my mouth closed. That my infertility (on top of already preventing me from building my family) could be used against me was the final blow. No, strike that. The fact that I lost that baby a month later was.
For a long time now, however, I have been very open about my infertility, almost to the point where I'm quite certain I've been Facebook blocked about a dozen times thanks to my zest for posting IF literature for a group who is largely fertile. (I can hear it now: "OK, OK, we get it! We won't tell you guys to relax anymore! Geez!") A lot has changed since that Mother's Day, obviously. I initially 'came out' at my baby shower, but I'm going to be the first to admit that this didn't take nearly as much courage as it should have. I chose a time when infertility was (at least at that very moment) behind me. I was, by all appearances, successful, so I was speaking in past tense and too wrapped up in impending Mommyhood to really feel the full sting of infertility as I had when that principal shot her venom at me. It's far easier to speak about something traumatic after you've conquered it. It was a precisely-timed 'outing', so my hats off to anyone who is speaking while still in treatment/waiting.
Recently there's been this message in our community, especially in light of 'joining the movement', to talk about infertility. It goes something like this:
Just talk! Don't be silenced! If we are to move forward and remove the stigma from infertility, then we need YOU to tell your story!! Do it, and do it, now! Don't delay! Our community needs you to speak-and speak loudly! In fact, shout it from the rooftops!
Now, I LOVE this message-LOVE it! Obviously I subscribe to it and have blogged about needing more IF awareness recently, but that's because I'm in a place where being vocal will not wound me. When I told my employers all those years ago, however, I was. It was only after I realized that I needed to start becoming transparent to explain my ongoing absences at work that I finally approached them. Because of Bay Area traffic, what should have been a 20 minute appointment (pick up sample, stuff in bra, drive like mad, lay on table for 5 minutes, then done!) often turned into 2 hour stretches. In the course of an 8 hour work day, that's a huge chunk of time. And it was my first year with the district, so it made it even more imperative to explain why I was dropping off the face of the earth several times a month. So, I was forced to tell my boss and that ridiculous principal. While I don't regret explaining my absences, I do regret going into any sort of detail and opening myself up in the way that I did.
These confessions were long before I had processed any of my infertility. In fact, most family and friends were none the wiser and here were these two people who held this extremely private information and had no motivation to keep it private or treat it respectfully. I had not yet found my way to a support group meeting nor did I even realize the ALI community existed, so I therefore assumed that I was an oddity, having no idea that any of my experiences and feelings were remotely normal. And because of this, I was so tender about the topic of infertility that the mere mention sent me into tears. I still regret showing my tears to that principal when I told her. She didn't deserve that piece of me, but she got it and eventually abused it. So, should I have shouted about my infertility from the rooftops? No...at least not at that moment.
For those who have yet to 'come out', I would caution them with this: think carefully before you do. I'm not telling anyone to remain silent-no, but I think that we should find a way to balance self preservation and supporting our community. Being open about infertility is not meant to be comfortable. Whatever situation you're in, it should take courage, but it shouldn't be done at the expense of yourself, otherwise it could end up doing more harm than good.
Take for instance someone who lives in a small, rural conservative community. Although I live in a pretty liberal place, the stigma still exists here, so I can only begin to imagine what is being said in some places about those 'people who do IVF'. There are quite a few groups who feel it to be a moral obligation to prevent treatment from happening (take personhood bills, for example), so mean spirits could potentially slip their way in and disrupt your life. And even if you're not worried about the community, if you're not quite prepared to start fielding unsolicited ass-vice, ignorant comments or better yet, very pointed questions about current treatment, then maybe it might also be wise to wait awhile. Being open about infertility educates, which is what we want, but it also has the potential to change the relationships, and thus, the life around you and sometimes not always in a positive way. We need voices, but at what cost? For some, the cost is just too high.
And then again, some people never even tell at all. And I want to say, I get it. I really do, and I don't hold it against them. Does this silence in our community make for more of an uphill battle for the rest of us? You bet it does. But do I think that the members of our community need to participate if it yields more personal pain? No. Not now. Maybe later. So, if an 'outing' can take place at any point in time in someone's journey, we need that added voice desperately, but learn from my mistakes: choose your audience carefully and make sure that you're ready because sometimes the world of being open is amidst rough waters.