Thursday, February 9, 2012

Smoke and mirrors

Most people in real life have no idea I'm living with infertility.

There is no brand, no scarlet letter.  I do things most fertiles do: grocery shop, exercise, go to work, etc. There is no obvious way to identify me out of a crowd.

But for those who are living with infertility, I'm easy to spot. I am the one who gets quiet when someone announces that are pregnant "after only a month of trying." I'm the person who avoids the play area at the mall. I look longingly into strollers as new mothers push their children pass. Not only am I easy to spot, but I have no problem spotting fellow IFers. I've become tuned in to the signs.

When people learn that Grey and I are living with infertility, they usually act surprised. I had one person tell me "but you look so healthy!" when she learned the news. Granted, there's always that moment where advice is offered (and gently rejected), but usually silence follows. Because the idea that a happy couple like Grey and I living with something so terrible is something most people don't want to try to comprehend. The idea that 1 in 8 couples is struggling with this disease makes it all too real that someone they know and love is quietly battling.

Because of this mindset, I've also learned techniques to deflect questions about plans for children from people who really don't know better. I don't have the emotional energy to defend myself from the onslaught of questions that comes with this news every waking hour. And, frankly, there are moments where it's just not worth the announcement.  In a way, I've become an illusionist: oohing and awing my audience with the image of a carefree and full life.

As all of you know, though, it's all smoke and mirrors.

So, how does this work? Well, there are a few universal truths.

First: the imagination always makes for a better story than the truth.  The last event Grey and I attended was for his work. I spent a good amount of time dressing, doing my hair and even applying some make-up. The goal was that even though I felt awful inside, I was determined to show a happy, healthy me. In addition to this, while we were at the event, I made certain to keep talk about myself to a minimum. I answered basic questions, smiled loving at my husband when people talked about his accomplishments, and then quickly made sure to change the subject. Basically, I keep things vague and present an image of prosperity. This is the smoke.

Which brings me to my next truth:  everyone loves to share their story. Whether it be about the vacation they just took, their woes with their teenage children or even telling you about a life-changing event, most can spend quite a bit of time filling in the details of their life. So I use this and have found that it's very easy to keep conversation going without having to touch on my life outside of some superficial details. And when the conversation starts to die, I stoke the flames with another question. This is the mirror.

The problem with being an illusionist is that one becomes paranoid about who knows your secrets. Though many at Grey's work know now about our infertility, I'm cautious about letting them know about the details from the last month. Those memories are painful and a source of weakness. So when asked how I'm doing, I smile and say I'm fine while actively looking for an exit in case I need to break down.

But now I wonder if keeping that facade is hurting everyone involved: me for feeling the need to hide and them from not learning the truth about infertility. I'm not suggesting that I sit each person down and explain the horrors of the D&C, but answering "you know, I'm really not doing well, but today is okay" may not necessarily be a bad thing. After all, the truth is suppose to set you free.

Update on FET: Saline sonogram and mock transfer has been moved to Feb 14th. Honestly, I can't think of a more comical way to spend Valentine's Day.  In the meantime, I'm "patiently" waiting for AF to show up. 


  1. I too am very familiar with the smoke and mirrors. The things we do to hide our pain from the world.

    Hoping all goes well for you!

  2. It's amazing that us IF'ers can spot each other, isn't it?! I am starting to learn, the hard way, that sometimes it's ok to say, I'm not ok.

    Obviously not to every random person who asks, but sometimes we have to let our guard down a little in order to get help. Be choosy who you share with but you may be surprised at the support you receive as you open up. It's not an easy thing to do but sometimes it pays off. It's like having someone to help carry your burden. :)

  3. Good post. I think we all dodge and avoid some of those questions sometimes. Even as important as it is to let people in on the secret that is infertility, it's just as important to get a break from being the 'infertile one' sometimes. It's okay to give ourselves an out. As long as we aren't hiding and ashamed, we can play the illusionist every once in a while.

  4. My husband and I kept...and continue to keep...our infertility secret. We live in New England, and people here keep their medical stuff private to spare other people pain and embarrassment. My husband has had a lot of guys at work ask him if our twins are from IVF, and he says yes. It seems there is a LOT of infertility going around my husband's workplace among the men, which may be why our insurance covers infertility so well. I get casual people who ask if my twins are 'natural' or if I took 'those fertility drugs' to get pregnant, and I just divert those questions. I'm sure I've met IF people IRL without knowing it, but it might help if we had a secret handshake or something.

  5. Great post. I love the conversational tactic of getting the other person to talk so you don't have to. I think a good strategy for fielding general questions about your well-being may be to always have something other than IF on hand to discuss. I'm totally saying that for myself because when I'm down and someone who doesn't know my story asks, I totally fumble for words because all I can think of is IF and loss. If I'm at work, I can talk about work, but sometimes don't know where to go with the convo in other settings.

    Wow, happy Valentine's Day to you! So romantic! Agh. Good luck with the mock transfer and patiently waiting for AF.

  6. I need to see you in person soon to give you a big squishy hug! On the subject of your post, I have noticed too in going through this that it is amazingly easy to deflect attention away from yourself in social settings. Most people are more than willing to talk about themselves when given the chance. I am sorry that your valentine's day is a date with the u/s and some Advil. Make sure Gray treats you to something nice afterwards...:)

  7. Good luck on the mock transfer. I hope AF decides to show up soon. I've given up on hiding my infertility. Maybe its because of my age but way too many folks now want to know why we don't have kids.

  8. And so are the days of my life too. Smoke and mirrors. Love this post. We haven't told anyone yet that we'll be moving on to IVF and I'm still not sure if we will. I hope the mock transfer goes well and that you'll have a great Valentine's Day.

  9. This is a great post. Smoke and mirrors is right. I will say, I do find it freeing when I am honest about how I am feeling. But, time and place for everything right? I think you are being so strong and brave. Hang in there!

  10. I so understand this. Your second point especially hits home as it's been the only way I've been able to avoid any talk of our first IUI when we were in the tww and now when we're moving past so much. People really do love to talk about themselves and sometimes it's a welcome relief that it doesn't require much effort to avoid the spotlight on us. Whatever you decide to do in terms of telling the truth or the whole truth, do whatever feels best for you. *hugs*

  11. I definitely identify with this. Before infertility, I spent most of my life as a very open book (a lot like the people you're describing at parties, always willing to discuss myself). Now I'm much more likely to be the questioner, and I make conscious efforts to limit what I share about myself. I'd like to think this has made me a better person, though of course it would have been nice to have this change happen a different way.


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