A word for the General Public.

Please, ask me about my fertility.

If you are curious as to why I don’t have children yet, I am happy to share with you why. I am presuming you want to know and will handle maturely the conversation that follows, when I share with you some of my bad news. That I was diagnosed with infertility. That a heaping pile of $hitty circumstances, in concert with 13 rounds of bad luck, have left us with an empty crib at home.

Why say all this now? Because that viral image of the ultrasound-baby making the rounds on social media, beseeching people to not ask women about their baby-making plans, has left me conflicted.emily-bingham-post-1

The viral video of Chrissy Teigen – wife of John Legend – pressing audiences not to ask her (or anyone) about their baby-making plans has also left me pained. While I applaud these gorgeous women for tacitly approaching the subject of infertility, and trying to look out for their fellow TTC-struggling sisters, I can’t help but fear that their efforts to silence others erodes progress being made to remove the stigma of infertility, and the shame of struggling to conceive.

Women who deal with fertility-struggles know a lot about shame. I am not pregnant with a baby, but I am expectant with shame. It grows inside me, inch by inch, lasting not 9 months, but years.

I am ashamed that I have broken body. I am ashamed that I cannot give my husband the children he desperately wants. I wear shame for being that ugly person who gives pregnant women dirty looks.

I am so tired of this shame.

Brené Brown, Oprah-darling and researcher of sociology, has mined the depths of shame and emerged with nuggets of wisdom worth considering: “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”

Infertility thrives in a context of  secrecy: Nobody talks about it, and no one is allowed to ask us about it. It festers in the silence, and yet the whispered voices of terror, trauma, needles poking, ultrasounds prodding, doctors leering, nurses chiding, husbands crying, that rage in our head are anything but silent. But we silence ourselves. And we, “we, the struggling” smother ourselves in judgment. We chastise our uncooperative bodies. “I am broken. I am incomplete. I am a failure.” The one thing I am supposed to do is the one thing I cannot, even with the most miraculous of medical interventions.

Those three things need to be addressed to help shape a new infertility world-order where shame can be rooted out and a fruitful conversation can take its place.

Because infertility—just like diabetes, cancer, Crohn’s disease and scurvy—is a disease. Women and men who have been given the IF diagnosis have done nothing wrong. They are the one in 10 who were unlucky. Period. They did not cause this, but all of the silence that pervades the subject of infertility and miscarriage would suggest it’s something we caused, and therefore, should be ashamed of. It is the herpes of reproductive diseases.

I am not dying of this disease physically, but I worry on a daily basis that I could die from the broken heart it has caused. I linger in a constant state of disappointment. But my biggest problem, aside from my empty arms, is my shame. It is not he nosiness of others.

So to confront my shame and no longer make it the star of my personal narrative, I made an active choice not to blame The Curious Person whose question, “When are you having kids?” may trigger a negative thought pattern. That thought pattern is already activated a hundred times a day, every time I see a baby carriage on the street, a diaper ad on TV, or when I come face to face with a pregnant colleague at work. I’m triggered all of the (damn) time.

The people who think my child-planning is their business are not the problem. Because what if, perhaps, it is their business? When I stand pregnant at 38 weeks, with a protruding belly and an empire-waist belt tied into a sweet bow, I will be their business. Because I will take up twice the space I used to, which will be a conversation topic. So why is my flatter, muffin-topped stomach not?

The more I think about it, the more I just don’t understand.

Which is why I feel passionately about working to normalize conversations around infertility.

I would like to see a cataclysmic shift in the way we, as a society, talk about our fertility struggles. But achieving that goal is a tall order. It asks a lot of women who are already shouldering a lot. And it presumes the rest of the world is ready to greet us with their empathy.

If we miscalculate, and are met with the wrong remarks, and there are plenty that you can read about here, we hurt.

Brené Brown writes: “If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.”

I have an easy guide for simple IF- (infertility) sharing depending on a woman’s comfort level.

HOW TO SHARE your fertility issues:

So when are you going to have kids?

Sharing (light version): When my luck improves.

So when are you going to have kids?

Child-free by choice: It’s not for me (smile).

So when are you going to have kids?

Heavy version: We have been trying for [X] years, have done [13] rounds of fertility treatments and have not succeeded yet. It has been a great sorrow, but I will be a mom one day.

So when are you going to have kids?

Resolution version: We tried diligently and never could. We are rebuilding our lives in a way that is child-free and happy.

Approach 3 is what I share to anyone whom I trust. 15 out of 17 times, I’ve been met with empathy, love and support. At their core, most people try to not be assholes. At least not to your face.

So what do we do when met with the “wrong reply” from a friend or family member? When disclosing something personal and sacred is met with “flying debris”? I don’t have easy answers beyond the corny platitudes I may have learned from watching Frasier. Breathe in, breathe out. Close your eyes. Take a 10-second micro-nap. Or try, like I do, to repeat a mantra.

When my ears buckle to that voice echoing something ignorant or dismissive of my very real experience, I repeat this mantra:

“I shared. I was brave. I am stronger now.”

A good mantra that you can ignite in your head until it warms you from the inside subdues the stings of insensitivity. A mantra, a smile, a change of topic.

And then, I forgive. Because I remember that we’re all just doing the best we can, and I don’t always have the perfect words either.

When you reflect on the conversation later, reach around your shoulder and give yourself a hug. A big, fat pat on the back for being a soldier in spreading awareness about Infertility and throwing yourself on the frontlines for all the women behind us who need us.

Ladies, we are not alone in our struggles. We have each other, and we have a world that is slowly readying itself for us to come out of our shadows, to shed our shame, and receive some comfort and love.

Maybe we should let them help us.

she who is brave 2

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