Since the beginning of history, the shame of infertility/loss have been tightly linked with the blessings and joys of fertility and child-rearing. The Bible is filled with stories about infertility, such as Rachel and Leah, Hannah, Rebekkah and Elizabeth. In ancient Greece, Hera and Artemis were regularly prayed to by women seeking resolution. Even fairy tales are filled with examples of infertility, with classic tales such as Snow White, Thumbelina and Rapunzel. In all cases, the stories are the same: the heartbreak of longing for a child mixed with feelings of shame and unworthiness.
The 20th century was an era of vast technological change. With the industrial era came the invention of motorized vehicles, space travel, modernization of medicine and advances in agriculture. It also brought with it advancements in fertility treatments. In the age of molecular biology, scientists were able to devise a method to join sperm with egg outside a woman’s body. Following the birth of Louise Brown, fertility treatments continued to be improved upon, with the introduction of new drugs, modifications to optimize protocols and invention of techniques such as intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and preimplantation genetic screening (PGS). By July 2012, more than 5 million babies had been born through assisted reproductive technologies, allowing for people who would previously have been unable to achieve pregnancy and bring home biological children.
Despite the leaps and bounds made by technology, though, infertility, loss and adoption remain very taboo topics. In many cultures, couples facing a diagnosis of infertility or repeat pregnancy loss are often shamed into remaining quiet or are met with platitudes such as “relax,” “go on vacation,” or “God’s will.” Too often, infertiles/RPLers find themselves isolated during a time of intense trauma and grief. Nevermind talking openly about all the grief and the pain caused by this disease as the discomfort of others far outweighs any solace an infertile/RPLer would hope to find.
The problem with this model, though, is that by not talking about infertility and loss, the myth of deserved shame and grief is perpetuated. By remaining silent we encourage the 7.3 million people in the US alone (1 in 8 individuals) who are facing this trauma to live in the shadows.
Like many ALIers, following my diagnosis with unexplained infertility I chose to remain silent. A lot of my decision had to do with preserving my pride, as I didn’t want to be viewed as a whiner. The few who I did confide in were quick to reassure me that my inability to become pregnant was simply due to me being stressed. Yet as time went on I knew we were missing something. After all, Grey and I were doing everything we were suppose to without success while others we knew continued to find themselves accidently pregnant following misuse of birth control or under the assumption that it couldn't happen that easily. It was following my sister’s tearful announcement that she too had an “oops” that I knew it was time for a change as remaining silent about our situation was not only hindering my ability to process the trauma that is infertility, but was actually exacerbating my grief.
Since coming out of the infertility closet I’ve found a community filled with men and women from all walks of life who not only understand, but who have been able to support Grey and me during moments when others were unable. Through writing about all the failed treatments, our miscarriages, the uncertainty and the myriad of emotions, Grey and I both have been able to not only heal, but also find the strength to continue on our quest to expand our family.
Most rewarding has been learning how sharing our story has impacted others. Discussions with others about our journey has always resulted in someone pulling me aside to tell me that they’ve been on this road too, resulting in extended conversations about their path and all they’ve been through. In addition, we’ve found that those who might otherwise be blissfully clueless about the ALI world have become more sensitive to those around them, modifying their behavior under the realization that seemingly benign questions about family planning are truly not.
The movement to bring awareness about infertility and loss is not a new one, with the early pioneers blazing the trail and choosing to talk not only about their journeys but the need for support and understanding. It was because of these pioneers that the advances in medical treatment exist, that RESOLVE exists and that the ALI community exists. Without these pioneers, we’d still very much be in the dark-ages.
Still, there is work to be done. Despite treatment options, few still have the means to access this care. Equally so, many suffer silently assuming that they are alone in facing the trauma that is infertility/loss. By joining the movement, even in the simplest ways, we are changing the conversation. Instead of hiding the scars of infertility/loss, having the courage to show them and talk candidly about how they’ve made us stronger promotes this change. Joining the movement doesn’t mean one is required to tell their full story to strangers. Even today, I find myself assessing the situation before I launch into my TTC timeline. But what it does mean raising awareness, such as posting about NIAW on Facebook (and maybe even using some of Keiko Zoll’s headers fabulous headers), it means refusing to allow the myths to continue by correcting someone gently, and it meanreaching out to someone who’s struggling. Even the acknowledgment that infertility is a disease affecting 1 in 8 individuals in the US (1 in 4 globally) reaches this goal. No act is too small for this cause. No action is without meaning.
This year I encourage to find your voice. Join the movement.
To learn more about infertility and loss, check out these resources from RESOLVE: