How Honest Talk About Infertility Breaks Down Barriers

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You want to talk about a loaded topic? There are few disclosures as emotionally charged as admitting that you were unable to conceive children. If you think it’s awkward for a woman, try wading into that discussion as a man.  There are very few who possess the courage or emotional stamina to go there. As Eric writes:

“Boxed in by the same profoundly evolutionary, not to mention social, archetypes, that can make a woman feel like a failure for being unable to get pregnant, what could make one less of ‘a man’ than being unable to ‘get the job done?’

Eric first impressed me with his strength and grace in October 2013. We met at a forum focused on the taboo nature of infertility. The discussion turned to the scars left by failed fertility treatment.  It was my first experience on a stage discussing society’s inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the many little deaths that infertility inflicts over and over in our lives.

Why is it society struggles to acknowledge the many little deaths #infertility inflicts over and… Click To Tweet

Eric took the microphone and shared that he and his wife were approaching the end of their fertility treatments. Swallowing hard he recounted the toll failed fertility treatments had taken on their lives. He wanted to know what lay ahead and any words of advice for healing. You can read more about that encounter here.

Today he and his wife Cathy (who has since become a dear friend) share a commitment to write about what they experienced. This week Eric wrote movingly about how his willingness to open up to a dock hand at a marina led to a few epiphanies.

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He writes: “So, for whatever it’s worth, I’d like to offer three clear takeaways for the fellas out there:

  1. Infertility is utterly democratized. It hits people of all ages, races, backgrounds and social status. You never know who out there might be sharing your experiences or fears.
  2. The only person who can actually make you feel those emasculating and derisive feelings from sharing or talking about what you’re going through is you. Accept them as normal, understandable and entirely valid, and you completely take away their negative power.
  3. Consider being open about acknowledging this too-often unspoken condition. You might just find that not only are there other men around you who share what you’re going through and can empathize, encourage or acknowledge your feelings, but you might just help someone else who hasn’t crossed that bridge yet.”

Bravo, Eric! Like you, many of us still struggle every day with how to talk to friends, to family, or to “parents who pine for grandchildren we will never be able to give them.”

You’ve done a major service to many out there by setting aside your fear, opening up and encouraging others to do the same. As you stated so well, “trouble shared is trouble halved, and I think it’s true for both sides of the conversation.”

The Talk: Your Story Matters

Now it’s time, dear blog readers, to open up the floor and continue this dialogue. I propose a book giveaway and book tour. It works like this:  write in the comments section about an experience when you initiated ‘the talk’ — in other words opened up about your infertility and what it felt like.  Let’s be clear, I know this topic is fraught with danger. Misinformation or ignorance on this topic can be mind-boggling. That’s why if you’re not there, yet, with opening up but you can imagine what you would say to someone in a future talk/encounter, write about it in the comments. Finally, since dialogue implies a two-way street, I invite compassionate participation from those who have been on the receiving end of the talk. You’re eligible, too.

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avalancheThe book giveaway is AVALANCHE written by Australian filmmaker and author Julia Leigh.

Available for sale this week, Leigh’s book bares her soul. In sharing her quest to conceive she expands the understanding of the gnawing grief and pain of infertility, pain that cuts so deeply it often leaves us without words. Fortunately for us, Leigh has a gift for conveying the depth and breadth of this confounding human experience.

Book giveaway deadline: August 26. I’ll place all the names of those who comment on a slip of paper, drop them into a glass jar and draw one name. Now … how about we choose the week of Sept 18 to share our thoughts on AVALANCHE? I might be able to entreat Julia Leigh to take some of our questions. Just drop me an email (ptsigdinos @ yahoo dot com) if you’d like to participate in the blog book tour.  To guide us we’ll take a page out of Mel’s pioneering blog book tour format.

UPDATES: We have a winner of the book review giveaway. AVALANCHE, the book, is now en route to Cristy. I’m also happy to report that Julia Leigh will indeed take our questions on the blog book tour now scheduled for Wednesday, September 21.

It’s not too late to sign up. Ping me in the comments or via email by Friday, September 16, if you’d like to participate in the AVALANCHE book review blog tour.

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21 thoughts on “How Honest Talk About Infertility Breaks Down Barriers

  1. Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Pamela, it is rare to get the male perspective. It’s almost impossible to get one who is very reflective. Eric is sorely needed for his insight and wisdom. I’m truly appreciative that he is sharing his thoughts and feelings so openly. Bravo Eric. And thank you.

    1. Pamela Tsigdinos

      Yes! I appreciate all the ways we can reach and enlighten each other on this topic. xo

  2. Thought it was a great read. I wish more men were able to be more open about their infertility struggles and their feelings about it all. It is already difficult and can be a taboo for women to talk about it, but for men it’s way worse.

    1. Pamela Tsigdinos

      Agree!

  3. I haven’t had any positive experiences as a result of opening up to family and close friends about my infertility. When I did open up to a sibling (the first person I told), it caused a rift between us: her (needy, more extrovert) personality type needs to share problems with everyone around her, while my tendency as an introvert is to tell one or two select people. So she told a few people about my ivf, then attacked me when I criticised her for this when I was rock bottom over the infertility. The choice to tell people should always be your own, and she couldn’t understand this, shouting at me and implying I was repressed, unempathetic and cold. It burnt me completely, so I don\’t talk about it to relatives at all now. Where there is familial baggage, there’s judgement. Another relative who knew about it found ways to slip disparaging comments about ivf and ‘nobody has the right to have a baby!’ into the conversation (what does that even mean?).
    However, I have found that friends / acquaintances, and strangers are more satisfying to tell, although I can\’t remember a particularly positive experience. Single friends usually say ‘at least you have someone to try with!’; mum friends have belittled miscarriages by saying ‘everyone has them’ or ‘they’re a good sign!’ (at 39, they’re not really); also, my mum friends were so stressed out with their kids that they couldn’t really relate at all. They lost interest very quickly. Others have listened blankly and then asked me have I considered adoption. I have only ever got full, non-judgemental support from strangers that I have met online, who have been through the same experiences. So I’m really undecided about trailblazing and talking about it openly in my everyday, non-bloggy life, to be honest.

    1. Pamela Tsigdinos

      As you and Melissa pointed out, we can’t be sure of what response awaits us. Seems there’s no one-size-fits all … perhaps assessing each encounter and choosing how much to disclose and when is best on those days when we’re not fully armored up. xo

  4. Melissa

    Opening up to the discussion of infertility is like playing Russian roulette. You never know which person will be the bullet that pierces your heart. But this share is about an instance where sharing was really helpful. I am very introverted. I like to keep my issues and problems to myself, my husband is quite extroverted and thinks nothing about letting everyone know about what is going on. Except when it comes to infertility. He has been very hesitant in the past to share what he is feeling and what we are going through. He really would not even talk to me about it. until one day he randomly checked on Facebook at our fertility center. I was not happy about it. I did not want anyone to know where we were and what we were doing. I was ashamed of not being able to have children and I just knew we would get judgement and pat answers like “just have Faith”, “just keep doing it”, etc. You all know those answers. But then people began to respond. Other men and women alike that had dealt with infertility issues some with success and some without. People we had no clue had experienced infertility. This extroverted interaction opened up a whole new world of support for my husband and he began to talk to me more about his feelings and in turn was more attentive to my feelings. So, sometimes sharing works out well.

    1. Pamela Tsigdinos

      Russian roulette is truly a very apt analogy, Melissa, which makes me all the more glad the interaction you shared led to opening up new support. xo

  5. I also loved Eric’s post, and I hate that there aren’t more safe spaces for men. I’m glad that he had this positive experience and that he shared it with the world. I’m going to share his post with my husband too.

    I could write about all of the negative things I’ve encountered when talking about infertility, but instead I want to focus on two positive things. (I’m not sure if this one counts since it was with a blogger friend) First, work took me to St. Louis in April so I had the opportunity to have lunch with Justine (Ever Upward). During the course of lunch I shared that each of my three sisters had given birth to a baby in a 12 month period. She exhaled deeply, looked me in the eyes, and said with compassion “wow, that must have been really hard.” That simple acknowledgement from another living, breathing human being was exactly what I needed in that moment.

    The second was actually just last weekend. In the presence of another couple just like us (Sarah and Julio) I saw my husband open about infertility up in ways that he’s never opened up before. Not one specific thing, but he talked more about it in the span of a couple of hours than he’s talked about it in the last couple of years. I don’t even have words to talk about how much it meant to me for him to feel safe enough to talk.

    1. Pamela Tsigdinos

      There is nothing quite like being in the presence of someone who provides safe, compassionate acceptance. So glad you and Justine had a chance to provide that for each other. xo

  6. Mary

    I am a nurse working with tons of women and men in their 20’s and 30’s. In the last year, more than 9 of my coworkers have announced pregnancies. It’s been very common for others to make comments like “you’ll be next” and “don’t you want kids too?” But, the reality is that my husband and I can’t have children. We don’t have the parts to even try IVF. I’ve been slowly, when asked in a more private way, practicing being matter-of-fact about our reality and sharing that not every couple that wants children gets to have them. I’ve been slowly educating people about the cost (emotional and financial) of the adoption process – a process we have decided not to pursue. In many cases, things are going well and the questions are dying down… but it’s still difficult that asking a question that can cause so much pain is so socially acceptable.

    1. Pamela Tsigdinos

      Thanks for sharing, Mary, the very real challenge that goes into educating around a topic that has personal pain attached to it. My hope is that (over time) our efforts create an environment that is more socially sensitive and aware of the complexities. xo

  7. I’m sorry I am so late to this. I remember opening up about my second ectopic pregnancy when I had only told a select few about my first. I was amazed at how many women/couples came out of the woodwork and talked about their own losses. I think they welcomed the opportunity to not only offer comfort to me, but to be able to acknowledge their losses again too. It’s the same thing that Eric found.

    It was so nice to be able to read a male perspective on all this. My husband now is reasonably open about it – it took some time! – but men do find that hard. The husband still likes to stay away from all the “feelings stuff,” as he would say! But then, they’ve never been taught or encouraged to explore or express their feelings. I think in some ways, we women have it easier.

  8. Infertility and childlessness in the human conversation…..my “favorite” topic!! Bravo to Eric for a great piece.

    I have opened up and shared myself with many people in many different situations. I’d like to say I’m motivated by something gloriously noble, however what really drives me is a lack of acceptance and tolerance for the fact the world has, so far, failed to make room for people like me, people who have done nothing wrong. Finding this infinitely irksome, I have been opening my mouth whenever I’m up to it.

    The Good: My relationships that have survived are deeper and more authentic and meaningful than they were before. I’ve also probably opened some eyes and hearts and changed some minds on the topic of infertility and involuntary childlessness, I should remind myself of this more often. I’m also more in touch with my innate human vulnerabilities, not an easy thing but in many ways healthy.

    The Bad: Too many people mis-perceive those who are grieving as needing help or fixing, as opposed to the acceptance and abidance that is really in order, and unfortunately assume they are qualified for the job. Talking about my experiences exposes me to this “fixing” crew on occasion, a crew I’m not very good at appeasing. Situations where people share their infertility stories that resulted with a child with me (in response to my sharing) are also particularly hard. In the process of their unloading they assume we’re in the same boat, completely do not acknowledge that I lost parenthood and almost always end up talking about their children.

    The Ugly: Silence, judgement and indifference.

    Speaking out for me has been a double edged sword, and sometimes disillusioning. But I still choose it.

  9. […] Bonus: You’ll help draw attention to the important issues raised in Avalanche, an important new book in the repro lit category by Australian novelist and filmmaker Julia Leigh. Want your own copy of Avalanche? Just a reminder: there’s also a book giveaway and upcoming blog book tour in process. Learn more about that here. […]

  10. Kathleen Guthrie Woods

    I’m so glad you’re including Eric in the conversation. A woman I interviewed recently shared how she had gone to a group event at her church in the midst of all her struggles. She, of course, was looking for some answered prayers, but also peace and acceptance. While there, she overheard a man say of another attendee, “If he was a real man, he’d have children.”

    Having now met and gotten to know some of the Sisters of the Global Sisterhood, I can tell you these are some of the “realest” people on the planet.

    Glad you’re getting these stories out!

  11. Amanda L.

    On one hand, I’m reluctant to read this book, having been through IVF (once). On the other hand, just by reading the comments and reviews, I know it will be a relief to see that others have had similar experiences to my own. I’d love to win a copy!

  12. This post must have gotten lost in the summer vacation shuffle — I know I read it but obviously didn’t leave a comment. So I will say now that I loved Eric’s blog post & admire him for his openness and honesty. It’s difficult to speak up on such an intimate and painful subject, and I think it’s even harder for men who aren’t accustomed (or socially supported) to sharing their emotions openly. I know that the pregnancy loss group Sam & I facilitated for 10 years had a larger-than-normal share of guys attending (mostly with their wives, but sometimes solo too!), simply because they knew that at least one other guy (Sam) would be there. Some of them were even more talkative and emotional than their wives were. ;)

    Opening up about infertility among people with common experiences is one thing; doing so among the uninitiated can be quite another. But occasionally, it can be rewarding. After our daughter was stillborn, a woman from the office asked if we’d been trying for awhile… generally, I try to hedge around these topics, but for whatever reason, I said yes — and she confessed that she & her husband had been too. We became quite good friends & supports for each other, through her endo surgery, a couple of miscarriages (hers), fertility treatments (both of us) and eventually the births of her two children. I felt lucky to have her around to commiserate with at a vulnerable time in my life. She eventually left the company & I haven’t seen her in quite a while, but I would love to catch up with her & find out how she’s doing now… and I may just seek her out, now that you’ve got me thinking about her! :)

    I just bought an e-copy of “Avalanche” and look forward to taking part in the discussion in September! :)

  13. Early on in my journey, when I opened up, responses were really mixed. Some people were kind and empathetic. Others were a barrage of platitudes: “It will happen when God wills it to happen.”, “Lucky you miscarried early. It would have been worse to have a stillborn.”, “What you were carrying wasn’t a baby. It was a genetic mistake. Miscarriage is nature’s quality control system.” Not helpful. It wasn’t until after my 5th miscarriage, when I traveled to Nogales, Mexico for an FDA-banned infertility treatment that I met a single soul who got it. On that day, I met around 7 or 8 couples who truly understood what I was going through. That day was a rebirth for me. I realized that I wasn’t completely alone in the world. Later on, I ended up writing a memoir about my experiences. That opened the door to conversation with people. Some of my acquaintances read the book, and it turned out that they too struggled with infertility and neither of us knew the other had gone through anything. One woman ended up becoming one of my closest friends through her response to my book and the strong connection of our shared experiences. But other responses to my book were quite frustrating. One relative commented after reading my book that “it was all worth it in the end” (because I ended up having a family through adoption and surrogacy after 8 early miscarriages and one late term loss). Another said that I’m lucky because my story makes me more interesting of a person. It’s incredible how people paint their own desires for pretty endings onto my ugly reality. It’s not that I don’t adore and appreciate my family. I’m sure I do more than most. But to say that my deepest sorrow that nags at me daily is actually a stroke of good fortune is incredibly ignorant.

    Pamela, you are doing all of us a great service by telling your story and in turn, bringing all of our stories out of the shadows. Thank you for all that you do!

  14. […] AVALANCHE: A Love Story Author: Julia Leigh Start Date: August 5 Have A Question for Julia? Send it my way by September 18 Post Date: September […]

  15. […] and her husband write honestly about the human challenges that accompany infertility and coming to terms with […]

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