As I’ve been reading the comments on this blog recently, I’m dismayed at the distressing situations some of you have found yourselves in lately. From celebrating a birth in the family to being asked to coordinate Mother’s Day activities for all the (other) moms to having pregnant bellies foisted upon us, we’ve all found ourselves in one of these situations at one time or another.
For many of us, our response, as well brought up citizens, is to suck it up, hide the fact that we’re hurting, and do what’s expected of us. Incredible as it seems, sometimes it’s easier to just make it through the event as best we can than to stand up and explain to someone why asking a women who can’t have children to host a huge celebration for someone who can perhaps isn’t the most well thought-out plan.
This is one of those “teachable moments”—an opportunity to be an advocate and to educate the public about some of the many misunderstood facets of being childfree/childless/infertile.
It all sounds good on paper, but when emotions are raging, feelings are hurt and injustices are being dealt left and right, the last thing you want to do is get on your soapbox and educate.
And yet, in many cases, the other person isn’t meaning to be insensitive or cruel or even thoughtless. In most cases, they honestly don’t understand that they’re ripping out your heart and tap dancing all over it when they gush about babies and pregnancies and mommies.
I learned this a number of years ago in a writing class when someone kept using the word “retard” to describe people who acted stupidly. Finally, one of the women in the class stood up and said that she had a daughter who was mentally challenged and she explained why the word “retard” was so offensive and upsetting to her. She said what she had to say very calmly and without humiliating the person, and I have never forgotten that moment. I’ve never used that word since and I cringe whenever I hear it. Not everyone in the class that day will have had the same response, I’m sure, but I know that several of us walked away that day with a new level of understanding of mental disability.
I’m not going to sit here and say we have a duty to educate the public so that “some day infertility and the plight of non-moms everywhere will be understood.” It would be great, of course, but for right now, many of us are just focusing on making it through the day with our emotions intact. And I know that some people just don’t want to hear about a topic that, frankly, makes them uncomfortable.
But what if we spoke up? What if we said, “You know what, this is what I’m going through right now, and it’s hard for me to be around babies/pregnant women. It won’t be like this forever, but for now, I need you to cut me some slack.”?
I realize you’ll have to pick your moments and targets carefully and you’ll have to be mentally ready to talk about something you’d probably rather not talk about at all, but if it meant that one person had a better understanding of your situation and did in fact cut you some slack, it might be worth it. Only you can know that, though.
Love your article and have been trying to do this lately. I’m in a place where my emotions are in control and I can talk about why things are hurtful without breaking down and crying. When I have spoken up, people I work with have appreciated learning about what I have to say. There have been some people who haven’t, but they tend to be insensitive to begin with. I recognize there will always be those kind of people in the world and I try not to let it get to me.
Thank you for this post….I am getting the nerve up to post it to my Facebook – maybe a ‘teachable moment’ for some.
I have been trying to be more open about my infertility to people, to explain to them about where we are at and what we have gone through. I have found that the men I have talked to or my husband has mentioned things to, seem to have more compassion then the women. I had a conversation with a friend whose wife is expecting. He asked me the standard question as to when Steve and I are having children. I told him that we can’t and and after a pretty lengthy conversation about it he said that he learned so much from me that day. He has been married for four years and the first three years they weren’t ready for children and just wanted to enjoy their first few years of marriage – child free. He was asked over and over and over again as to when they were going to get pregnant – he told me he couldn’t imagine if they were actually trying at that time and couldn’t conceive – what that would have felt like to be asked numerous times when they were going to have a baby. He said it would have been a knife in the heart each and and every time. He said he will never ask someone that question again after talking to me. It made him realize that not everyone out there is as fortunate as he and his wife and that one simple question can cause so much pain for someone.
So very true that not every moment needs to be a teaching moment. I’m glad you said that. This whole thing is just a work in progress and while some are easily able to voice their feelings, it’s not so easy for others. We all have different ways of dealing with this and not one way is right over another. It’s a journey. I’ve been voicing my hurt to more people but the funny thing is that their response doesn’t change. The looks of “I don’t understand” are still there. So I’d just say that if you are going to speak, don’t expect others to “get it”. Speak up because you need to get it off your chest and let others know…not because you have high hopes for the others to all of a sudden understand. That part is hard. And I fear it will take longer for them to understand all of this…one step at a time though, I know.
One of my biggest struggles is people not “getting it”. My DH keeps telling me that no one will really get it unless they walk in our shoes, but I still get so frustrated and angry and I just want to make them understand. I guess he is right and I have to learn to let that go.
I’ve been trying to tell people some facts about my situation (rather than personal emotions) but so far i have only managed with close friends. I really itch to stand up and talk about why some women never have children even in a more public context. But there are several problems. Of course there is the fear of being told that i was a frustrated spinster and it’s all my own fault etc. blahblah. Now i wouldn’t mind having to answer that – if it didn’t mean that i would then have to “tell on” my ex-partner who simply was impotent – he had both erectile problems and low sperm quality – and apart from/in addition to that changed his mind about having children halfway through TTC and infertility treatement. Btw I will never know if he changed his mind because he felt bad about his own infertility: He never said, so I’ll never now if it was the strain of infertility, or if he didn’t just truly change his mind about children, or even simply had gotten bored of the relationship with me. So THAT is the “truth” i would have to tell people and I feel it’s not possible because i would tell something very intimate about a person who isn’t there.
I find this VERY frustrating.
I’m very happy to say that at least for now, I am able to speak about our fertility struggles with other people. It may very well be because a little over a week ago I quit my stressful job. I found a part-time position where I will not have as many responsibilities so I can take better care of myself and the hubby at home. For those who may not know, I have been diagnosed with premature ovarian failure, which deeply affects my strength level and ability to cope with stress. When I talked to my boss (who thankfully understood why I was quitting since he knows of our struggle), he advised me to come up with a reason for why I had chosen to quit, in case anyone else asked. He was trying to prepare me for the questions, and he knew that up until now, our struggle had been a private one. After pondering what I’d say, I decided I had nothing more to hide. So each time I have been asked, I have revealed our deep, painful secret. Contrary to what I expected, talking about it has been very cathartic and dare I say empowering. The weight is slowly being lifted off my shoulders.