I have a confession: I have undiagnosed infertility. And I have been hiding this unofficial – yet official – diagnosis from the world for the past two years like it is the bubonic plague. And lately, I have been asking myself why.
For two years, I have hidden my appointments with my infertility doctor from my bosses, acting as though I am the most thorough patient in regards to check-ups with my primary care doctor. I have expertly navigated through conversations with friends and family in regards to children, laughing off their not so subtle hints with a joke about making sure it is within good timing. I have held friends’ beautiful babies in my arms, attended multiple baby showers, and sincerely well-wished upon social media birth announcements, all with a dull ache of something beautiful and unachieved in my heart. And I never spoke about it to anyone. And lately, I have been asking myself why.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, data from 2006-2010 shows that the number of women in the United States who have used infertility services is 7.4 million, and the rate of pregnancy resulting in miscarriage is 15-20%. Over seven million women that live in a country I walk and breathe and live in daily are struggling with the same dull ache that I am, and this is a significant number. And yet no one talks about this issue. Through the grapevine, we hear whispers of friends of friends and cousins and sisters who have undergone infertility treatments, or experienced the devastating loss of miscarriage. People provide well-meaning advice (“Just don’t think about it, and it’ll happen!”) or alternative medicines (“Pineapple core and acupuncture are key to battling infertility.”), and you try everything. Everything. But then it doesn’t matter. Because at the end of each month, there continues to be a stark, blank white space where another line should be. That missing line means that no one else is inside of you, and it essentially feels as though you have failed again. No one talks about the silent devastation that so many women experience when they repeatedly see this boldly honest, blank white space. Essentially, it feels like a stark reminder that you have worked for four weeks and have failed once again. You choke down your pride and silently move on to the next attempt, and lately, I have been asking myself why.
Why is this a silent issue? Why do we question if, and when, it is appropriate to share? Are we a culture that is fixated on solely celebrating joy, and yet a culture that pushes down any inclination of sorrow? In a time where we are more socially connected than ever, what is the appropriate level of sharing, and the adequate level of response? In our parents’ day and age, there was no Facebook to post about the joy of a baby’s birth, or announcements of loss; we discovered this knowledge through the grapevine, or never found out about the news at all. Now, we are constantly updated with our friends’ breakfast updates and selfies and vacation plans – are we supposed to choke down the superficial, and back away when updates get too real? Instinctually, we shrink away from sharing that seems too bold – but lately, I have been asking myself why.
Over the past few months, I felt as though I could not take infertility treatments anymore. After twenty-four months of no progress and no positive results, I asked my husband, “Why does no one talk about this?! More people have to be going through this!” I felt very alone. And I realized that I could not blame my communication-less frustrations solely on a “we” problem, when it was also a “me” problem. I was not comfortable in sharing my deepest disappointment, and I, also, was ashamed. I, also, was hiding behind closed doors and computer screens, acting as though I was unashamed, yet my actions were demonstrating that I was indeed very ashamed of my body. My body does not work in the way that it is “supposed” to. We need help in conceiving a child. We have been unable to conceive a child naturally. And as I write this, I am not ashamed.
Suffering is a natural consequence of being human, but suffering alone is inhumane. There is an immeasurable amount of loss in this world that people endure daily; this loss comes in so many different forms and manifests itself through many unique emotions. I do not feel as though anyone’s loss should be hidden or trivialized in its nature, because if it creates a strong reaction in an individual, than it must mean something. I encourage anyone experiencing any form of suffering – be it infertility-related or otherwise – to reach out to someone, anyone. No one should chastise you for expressing pain. No one will perceive you as weak. In my opinion, those that reach out are stronger than those who hide. And so I am choosing to reach out. I am so very tired of hiding. I am not ashamed. There are over seven million women in the United States experiencing this same experience – some of them struggling through silent losses on their own – and lately, I have been asking myself why.