So back to the #StartAsking campaign. This year (to me) the campaign really represents a movement to start opening the lines of communication. Unfortunately, although infertility is a pretty prevalent diagnosis, it's often something that's not talked about... sometimes even considered a "taboo" subject. And I get it, trust me of all people I really do. It's considered a "private and personal" matter for many couples, and often starts with a phase of denial that needs to be worked through.
I spoke briefly in an earlier post (that you can check out here) about how at the beginning of this journey I struggled to really even accept the reality that this was what my husband and I were facing - the dreaded word: INFERTILITY. I didn't want to accept that and didn't want to be "that couple" that struggled to have a baby. I wanted to be like every other couple who got to experience the rush of excitement when first deciding to "try." The couple that gets to fantasize about all the cute and fun ways they will tell friends and family that they're pregnant... and then actually get to use one of those ways to tell people. I wanted to be the couple that was just "normal" when it came to baby-making.
But instead, I got to be one of the lucky 1 in 8's - and from there I had to embark down the long and winding road of living through my infertility battle. No matter how much I didn't want it to be true, how much I prolonged even making that first appointment to see my fertility specialist (Dr. M's) or how hard I tried to wish it away, I couldn't. It was here. It was real. It was a battle I was about to embark on that had no definitive end in sight.
You see with infertility, especially in the beginning phases, there often comes some denial, as I previously mentioned. Denial in a sense that you just keep hoping that this next month will just be "the month" and then you either won't even have to bother telling anyone about the struggle or at least light-heartedly share about the struggle after you can announce your pregnancy.
Even more so, often times with infertility there comes this weird and sometimes even hard to understand feeling of shame. Shame that you can't get pregnant like everyone else. Shame that as a woman your body isn't working the way it was designed to. Shame that your body can't successfully accomplish the one thing as a woman that seems so easy (an even "accidental") for so many others. Shame that you are "the couple who can't have a baby."
For a long time though, I didn't really even understand these feelings. On the outside, I remember feeling like, "I'm not ashamed about what we're going through, I just don't want people to know. I don't want their pity." But really, once I was able to work through many, many, many feelings, I realized that a lot of it was rooted in some sort of shame that my body was letting me down - that it wasn't doing was it was supposed to do and there was nothing that I could really do to make it.
Yet through all of the "working through my feelings" I was adamant about still not telling anyone (and I mean anyone) about our struggle - for various reasons... and this is one of the major downsides to infertility. This shame of silence that you lock yourself into. The feeling of loneliness that you don't mean to, but actually do choose to lock yourself into. By not sharing (even with just one other person close to you) you prevent yourself from being allowed to have a support system around you. You close yourself off to an outlet for love and support and compassion.
And in my situation, that's exactly what I did... I unintentionally locked myself into this dark place of sealing all of my feelings, fears, thoughts, and frustrations inside - with no way to properly process them.
But even more so, the even darker side to all of this was what I had inadvertently put my loving husband through. He on the other hand didn't hold the same thoughts as me about not telling anyone. I mean, he wasn't all about shouting it from the roof-tops, but he also didn't really understand what was so bad about sharing our difficulties with family and close friends. So unfortunately, what I did was lock him into a dark world of silence as well - one that he had no choice to not be in, and one where he had no one he could talk to (without fear of me going crazy for "telling our dirty little secret").
You see, when a couple goes through infertility it doesn't only impact the woman, it also significantly impacts the man in the situation. He was going through his own range of emotions in dealing with this difficulty, many that were the same as mine, some that were different. But sadly, and regrettably, it took me awhile to realize this. I figured since we were going through this together, he had me to talk to and I had him... which we did, but there's still so much power in being able to open up to someone else about all of it. My husband worked so hard to be strong and supportive for me, that I think he sometimes forgot to take care of himself, and allow himself to process through all the feelings he was having... and I clearly didn't make that any easier for him. Sweetheart, I know you know this, but I am truly so so sorry... you didn't deserve to have to be in that place alone, and I know you allowed yourself to be because of how much you love me - for that, I am eternally grateful, and love you more than I could ever express. I'm sorry...
Of course everything is clearer in retrospect, but looking back I wish I would have opened up sooner to close family and friends about our infertility. I wish I would have let my husband speak openly to whomever he felt comfortable sharing with. I wish I didn't lock us both into this dark and lonely place for so long. But - I did.
So now in moving forward and seeing how far we've come and how amazingly powerful and helpful it's been for us to open up about our journey, my advice to others - whether you're just starting to navigate your way through these waters, or knee deep into the world of living with infertility - is as follows:
- First and foremost, your journey is your own, and ultimately you get to choose who and how and when you would like to open up and share. Just because it was something positive and helpful for me (and my husband) doesn't mean it's right for you... or right, right now
- Communicate openly with your partner and be accepting of the fact that you both may have different needs - and be respectful of how to best have those needs met
- It's a personal choice of who to tell, but consider opening up to at least one person you trust about it... I can't tell you how amazing it was for me once that shadowy wall came down and I knew I had a friend whom I could call and chat openingly with about all the nuances (and frustrations) of infertility treatments. Likewise, it was just as amazing once we knew we had the support of both of our parents behind us... praying for us, sending love and encouragement, and providing support
So in light of this week dedicated to bringing awareness to this issue - I challenge you to start opening the lines of communication. Infertility is a medical diagnosis and we all need to band together to break the stigma, misunderstandings, and taboo culture that surrounds it and start breaking the silence...