The Pros and Cons of Keeping Your Fertility Journey a Secret
By Kristyn Hodgdon
Something happens after you’ve been trying to conceive for a few years. You get tired of keeping the whole thing a secret. Not only is it emotionally challenging to withhold such intense feelings of pain and fear from the people who know you best, but it also gets logistically harder.
Whether you’re trying to change your diet, cut out alcohol, save money, or ditch plans so you can do your IVF injections at a certain time, it can feel practically impossible to keep something so all-consuming to yourself. Not to mention the unsolicited questions from family and friends about when they can expect a baby.
So what’s the argument for keeping your infertility journey private? And what is the upside to sharing your struggle? In this article, we’ll explore some of the pros and cons of being ‘out’ about your TTC journey.
Let’s start with some of the cons:
Sharing your fertility struggles definitely veers into TMI territory for many people. For one, the whole thing is inherently sexual, so that makes things intimate very quickly. Not to mention the fact that it’s a tough subject to talk about. There’s no secret, magical solution that people can give you to help. And people oftentimes don’t know what to say, so sometimes your news is met with a lackluster “ohhhhh” response or just a vague, “I’m sorry…” that trails off into infinity.
Everyone Has an Opinion
It’s kind of like that “When You Give a Mouse a Cookie” book. When people know about your struggles, they’re going to want to start asking questions. And when people start asking questions, they’re going to have some opinions. “I would NEVER do adoption!” “You’re really considering a sperm donor?” “Do you guys even have the money to do IVF?” The important thing here is to not let other people’s non-educated, non-medical opinions affect you and your partner’s decisions. And we all know how easy it is to say what you would or wouldn’t do in a situation you’re not even close to being in. This is a huge drawback to sharing your news early in the process, but the good news is that you eventually get better at ignoring the noise and the bullshit and the bad advice. Like Taylor says, “shake it off."
You Can’t Take It Back
Once you open up about your fertility struggles, you can’t un-share that information. So you want to be really sure that your private medical business is something you don’t mind being out in the world. While most of my friends were respectful of my privacy, I also know that it’s really easy to let some details slip…not in a gossipy, malicious way but just in a whispered, “Yeah, they’ve been having problems…” way. It doesn’t feel great, but it’s also not the end of the world. 1 in 8 couples experience infertility, so goodness knows you’re not alone.
Sharing a very private, vulnerable thing about yourself is NOT easy. I’ve definitely shed some ugly tears in front of some mid-tier friends who looked terrified. But guess what? I survived. This kind of journey is scary and it’s big and talking about it honestly can feel weird and yucky…but it’s also a real way to connect authentically with people who care about you and (mostly) want to be there for you.
Pity Sucks Even Worse
For me, my biggest fear around sharing my fertility journey was pity: friends or loved ones looking at me and feeling badly for me, like “Oh poor Elyse, she’s just living her sad shell of an existence and will never be fulfilled unless this happens for her.” The reality is that my friends don’t pity me, they just want me to have what I want. It’s more empathy than it is pity, and that’s pretty freakin’ awesome.
On the other hand, there are also some pretty big pros to being open about your fertility struggles:
While some people will reply insensitively or callously when you share your fertility story, most people will offer their support. They’ll ask what they can do to help. They’ll apologize for not being there for you. More often than not, your friends and family members will rally around you and try to lift you up. It’s pretty incredible.
The other weird thing that happens when you start sharing your story is that others start sharing their stories, too. All of a sudden, friends who you never knew struggled will tell you about their own experiences, as well as their favorite doctors, books, blogs, and Instagram accounts. Then you have that cool “hive mind” thing happening, and you learn more about various resources that can really help you out. Or if your friends haven’t gone through it themselves, sometimes they have other friends who have and can get you guys in touch. Yay for MORE support!
Living Authentically Feels Good
Being open about who you are and what you’re going through is scary, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. There’s a freedom that comes with not having to act like everything is perfect and fine and instead, showing the world your messy, real, beautiful life. And when you live authentically, you give other people permission to live authentically, too. Bonus? You don’t have to frantically hide all your meds and needles when friends come over to visit. Woohoo!
It Helps You Spot the Crappy People in Your Life
While most friends and loved ones will show up for you when you tell them you’re going through a hard time, others won’t. Some will feel guilty, uncomfortable, or not know what to say or do. Some will think you’re being dramatic. Others will make it about them and wonder why YOU can’t be there for THEM. And believe it or not, this is a huge positive. Going through tough things in life has a way of weeding out the self-absorbed, thoughtless, and petty people who we call “friends.” Usually, these are people you’ve known for a long time, but who you really don’t share much in common with anymore. And that’s okay. By cutting the fat, you’re making room for new friendships and relationships with people who want to help support you.
Reducing the Stigma of Infertility Helps Others
Infertility is a tough journey, but it’s also needlessly isolating. When you talk openly about your struggles, you allow others suffering silently to see they are not alone and that there’s no reason to feel like a failure or feel ashamed. Sharing your story is the best way we can all work to reduce the stigma of infertility and inspire others to get the support and love they need to keep on keepin’ on.
If you want to share your fertility struggles, that’s awesome! Here are some tips for making it slightly less awkward and for protecting yourself from too many uninformed opinions:
Just because you tell someone about your fertility struggles doesn’t mean you have to tell them everything. You don’t have to get into specifics or say when your next egg retrieval date will be. Keep things as high-level as you want; you don’t have to answer every question. You decide what you want to share and with whom.
Understand that the Word Might Spread
Most friends will keep your secret safe if you tell them not to share your news, but some might not. Don’t tell your infertility story to anyone who you think might blab (either inadvertently or maliciously) to other friends or family members. It doesn’t always come from a cruel, gossipy place, but sometimes people just slip up. Make sure you’re selective about who you tell, if you care about keeping your journey a secret to the rest of the world.
Learn to Ignore Terrible “Advice”
When you tell people bad news, they immediately want to help problem-solve. It’s just human nature. While “Have you tried this thing?” or “My cousin went to this acupuncturist…” might be annoying to hear, they come from a loving place of wanting to help you. Learn to take this advice with a smile and a grain of salt. Also, don’t listen to any of it (unless they’re a medical professional). You know your body. You know your partner. You know your financial situation. Don’t let others (especially poorly educated others) bully you into decisions you’re not comfortable with or affect your mood by giving you weird, stupid advice.
Tell Them How They Can Best Support You
The most common question I received after telling friends about my fertility struggles was, “What can I do to help?” Being prepared to answer that question in an honest, helpful way is really important. Ask yourself, is there something they can actually do? Do you need help with injections? Do you want assistance setting up a GoFundMe page? Do you need a buddy to help you find a therapist? Those are things friends can help with. Or do you just need the occasional check-in text? Again, most friends will want to be there for you, and it’s helpful if you can give them simple yet concrete things they can say or do to give you the support you need.
Whether or not you decide to share your fertility struggles is a personal decision between you and your partner. Even then, it doesn’t have to be black and white. You can choose to be open with some people and not others, including only the details you feel comfortable sharing while setting healthy boundaries and being transparent about how your loved ones can support you.
If you are still not comfortable talking about your infertility journey, that’s okay, too! Rescripted’s always-free fertility support community is a safe space where you can meet and connect with thousands of others who GET IT. You can join here because sometimes, it takes a village to build a family.
Elyse Ash and her husband Brad went through three years of infertility, two rounds of IVF, and one frozen embryo transfer before seeing their first positive pregnancy test, which brought them their daughter, born in March 2018. Elyse lives in Minneapolis and loves poetry, hockey, social justice, Beyonce, and pretending she’s into yoga.