Silent Sorority Marks 10-Year Anniversary

Silent Sorority marks its 10-year anniversary this month. It became the first memoir to tackle failed IVF and explore infertility’s disenfranchised grief. In honor of this milestone, we’ll look back at the book’s impact and the conversations it stimulated. Let’s start with The Ladies in Waiting Book Club. The initial discussion is preserved on The Wayback Machine. You’ll also find it shared below. Welcome your thoughts!

Infertility Amnesia

From Stephanie, Arizona: In Silent Sorority you made this observation:

“Perhaps most curiously of all: the vast majority of infertility books have been written by mothers. Not exactly the archetype an infertile woman can relate to. Most mother-authors wrote what amounted to “This, too, can happen for you” memoirs. Some even flipped to the dark side. They became Momzillas convinced their path to success was the righteous one. What is it they say? Converts make the worst zealots?” 

There was a parallel situation yesterday on an infertility chat board. I (and others here) have been on the received end of what we call “Infertility amnesia” where instead of being 20/20 hindsight, it’s more like rose-colored glasses. Some of the most unsupportive, hurtful comments I have ever read on the boards were from women who “went through the fire” of infertility (IF), and got pregnant and had a baby. Somehow (and I hope I don’t offend) some women who had slightly better chances, slightly better sperm count/ egg quality, etc., have this attitude that since they did it, anyone can do it and “just you wait til you are in my shoes” seems to be a really haunting echo.

They seem to forget about the women who will never be there. I have met some really amazing women who have retained their sensitivity after conceiving and having a child or two, and in truth, I think they are a majority on the boards. What advice would you have for a situation like this? I don’t want to be antagonistic (read: bitchy) and I don’t want to be too passive and let others get hurt. Thanks!

Author Response

Thanks, Stephanie. Great question. What I’ve learned is that sensitivity varies as dramatically as fertility. I think we’re most caught off guard by the sense of betrayal. We’re often at our most vulnerable when we’ve visiting various infertility forums and blogs. We go there because there’s an implicit understanding that we’ll be treated with kid gloves. There’s an expectation of caring and support.

Many of us have shared a great shock, sorrow or loss. When we’re greeted with the opposite behavior or response, it can feel like sucker punch of the worst kind. And you’re right the vast majority of “MABI”s (Mothers After Battling Infertility), as I once called them, possess an extra gear, a sensitivity and empathy that extends beyond the norm. And then there are the Marie Antoinette’s of the Infertility world.

I’m not a psychologist so if you’re out there, please chime in. That said, I’ve often wondered if the dismissive attitude or thoughtless comments you describe — and I’ve witnessed firsthand — might derive from:
1) a variation on survivor’s guilt;
2) denial (It’s easier to pretend away the bad stuff than to contemplate their worst fear, e.g. becoming moi);
3) ‘false sensitivity.’

In other words, leopards don’t change their spots. Maybe they’re showing their real colors today. Perhaps there was some Academy-award winning performances as the understanding infertile during their Trying to Conceive (TTC) days. To answer your question directly: rather than engage in battle I often found it best to step away from the computer, or to stop visiting a particular blog. If it’s a moderated forum, perhaps contact the moderator and ask them to remind about etiquette. The Etiquette guidelines on this LIW blog, for instance, is an outstanding example.

Socialization and Surprises

Let me add that we can also be surprised on the upside at the other extreme. We in the infertility community been socialized to expect misunderstanding from the “fertile” community. I know I’ve been touched deeply by reader email from sisters, mothers, friends, those who wanted desperately to know how to help their loved one facing infertility’s worst.

Apparently halos aren’t handed out in infertility Hell nor in delivery rooms.

We earn them by being kind to each other.

Book Club Comments

Maria said…Fantastic topic! I’m a therapist specializing in infertility, and one of the biggest themes I find in this work (for others AND myself) is finding some control amidst the chaos. I LOVE, Pamela, that you’ve pointed out the biggest thing we can do as people who are offended by less-than-sensitive comments is determine our own behavior: That is, stop visiting certain boards, contact administrators, etc. It’s a feeling of empowerment to say, “You know what? I don’t want this in my life, I’m walking away. Or I’m going to voice my concerns and then walk away.”

Depending on the offender, one can also gently speak his/her needs from that person. Such as, “The comment about _______ made me feel really uncomfortable — not that you meant it offensively at all. I’m just wondering if you can say ______ instead. What do you think?”

I’ve personally also found it important to send out some positive energy (blessings, vibes, prayer, meditation, etc.) for that person to become aware and to find peace. It is SOOOOO difficult to do that when feeling wounded, but I’ve found it brings me great relief.

I have an ex-friend who, like you said Pamela, was probably a “falsely sensitive” person. We struggled with IF for 2 years together, and once she was successful, it was like she wanted all IF and IF-related people to go away. I felt rejected and hurt (totally sucker-punched) and had to choose what to do with that. I voiced my concerns and needs, which didn’t go well. So, I chose to remove that energy from my life. Once healed, I felt empowered. A calm, peaceful empowerment; and joy followed suit.

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NancyPants said…I have only run into this on a few occasions. Most of my friends that have dealt with IF and were successful in getting pregnant have been understanding, very sensitive to my feelings and extremely supportive. The ones who have been insensitive, and sometimes just plain mean, are acquaintances whom I must socialize with due to my husband’s job. The two that have really been hurtful were women that I wasn’t very close to, but after painful incidents began and reoccured, it made sense to me. Both women aren’t very nice to begin with. I have seen them hurtful and exclusive to many other women (and it had nothing to do with IF). But, I think because I know they experienced IF, I expected them to be more sensitive to me.

My grandmother always told me if I expect someone to make me happy, be ready to be disappointed – what she meant was, I am in charge of my happiness, and I allow myself to be affected by others.

I hated when she would tell me that because I was only looking for a little sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. So, knowing that, I simply stopped going to anything where these insensitive women were going to be. If they can’t be avoided, I say hello, and move on and mingle with others. I have had to work hard to get myself to able to do this – I used to just go cry in the bathroom or the car or when I got home. Well, I still cry when I get home but not because of their insensitivity – it’s because of my frustration that I am still not pregnant.

Shower Anxiety

So I still dread running into them. There’s a shower coming up I really must attend. It’s just I don’t want to be singled out and made to feel like a freak of nature, which happens every single time. I plan on hugging the mom-to-be and leaving when it happens. But I like your idea, Maria, of explaining in a gentle way later to the offender. Great advice! And as far as the halos, I agree!

Rachel K said…Such a good question, Stephanie! (And a good answer!) This is something that bothers me because I feel such a connection with my IF sisters. Not surprisingly, I care more about them than a lot of ungrateful ‘fertile’ people in my life. It’s strange (yet, good) how I find myself praying for these women and cheering them on from hundreds of miles away. So wish we could ALL have success. I have already promised myself that if I do have a baby, I will never give up IF awareness and I will never be insensitive to the plight of the women here.

Recently on the Resolve boards there was a thread that really pissed me off: a vent about expectant mother parking. Lots of women, myself included, chimed in venting about this. Then, a bunch of women who had been pregnant started chiming in about how they NEEDED it, and if only we knew how tired they were, etc. I was so irritated I stopped reading the thread. I saw it popping up as it grew with more responses and I refused to open and read because it had upset me the way those women who had been pregnant acted towards us still hurting. As one poster said, “remember when you needed to vent about something, even if it didn’t make much sense?”

I like what Pamela says about the guilt these women might feel. I believe that is a possibility, but I find it odd that instead of using their guilt for good (i.e. remaining an active voice in supporting the IF community) they become somewhat ugly and self-righteous.

Insensitivity

Dani said…I wonder if women with IF amnesia experienced insensitivity during their IF struggle and somehow absorbed the hurtful comments so much they now believe them to be true.

I’ll use my experience as an example to explain further. Some of the most hurtful things I hear about my miscarriage and infertility (mostly from people “trying to be nice”) is that I’m somehow to blame. For instance, when I was grieving my pregnancy loss years ago, I had so many “well-intention-ed” people tell me they thought it was because I was too stressed. That the m/c was a blessing in disguise because it wasn’t a good time for me to be pregnant anyway. Or it was because I was too thin. If I just gained some weight, they were sure I’d never miscarry again.

I received similar advice for my subsequent IF: I don’t relax enough. I’m too thin. In fact, a family member said to me: “Do you weigh more than you did when you miscarried? I only ask because I wouldn’t want to see you finally get pregnant again only to have a repeat miscarry.”

Irrational Thoughts

Anyway, even though I know that stress did not cause my IF, and I certainly know I’m not too thin (I  look slimmer than I am. My BMI is 21. I’m healthy and active), I still find sometimes when I’m really down, I start reeling in my head: “I don’t relax enough! I am too thin! I will always and forever be infertile and I’ll always, always miscarry! It’s all my fault.”

Rationally, I know none of this is true, but it’s hard not to absorb the wrong information. Once you hear something enough, it starts to ring true. It’s as if my cells have taken hold of people’s words and clung to them. It’s as if what people say about me is trying to become part of who I am.

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Healthy Reminders

So, I have to remind myself of what I know: my IF was caused by endo and adenomyosis and uterine fibroids, structural issues I can’t control. My doctors think I’m at a great weight. I’m healthy and I take care of my body and I practice yoga 4 days a week and I walk every day and people often comment on what a calming energy I put off (I put people at ease). But I have to work at reminding myself of these things, because it’s easy to believe the worst of what people say about me.

All this to say: I wonder if the women with IF amnesia just heard too often the insensitive comments and instead of fighting them, they began to believe them about themselves. And now that they’re on the other side, they believe those same things about other women. It’s like they’re projecting their worst fears about themselves onto someone else.

I’d also like to add to Pamela’s second point, about pretending the bad stuff away.

Some women just want to forget IF happened to them. IF is so isolating and makes you feel so much like an outsider that I think some women–after getting to the other side of IF- do all they can to “fit in” and feel like an insider. They throw away their IF identity as quickly as possible to look “normal” (or what they perceive to be normal).

Rewriting History

I knew a woman who struggled with IF. She moaned about FB and parents who only posted pics of their babies and only posted about how hard it was to be a parent. Bam! She got pregnant and guess what? Her baby is on her news feed all the time.  She constantly posts ‘funny’ things like, “13 Things Non-Parents Should Consider Before Having a Baby.” It’s as if she was never infertile. I think she was just so happy to join the world of “fertiles” she jumped right in and never looked back. It’s like she doesn’t want to own the infertility part of her life.

Kim said…I think these are such beautiful points that I almost don’t have anything else to add because you’ve read my mind.

@Maria: You are absolutely right… we do have a choice many times to avoid the situation or choose not to return to it. The only ones we can control is ourselves.

And if we’re reading an article about IF on some mainstream new site or magazine, DON’T read the comments unless you’re prepared to read ignorance at its lowest.

@Rachel: I purposely didn’t read the “Expectant Mother Parking” for that very reason… didn’t want to argue. As I walk from the back of the parking lot at Whole Foods to the door and I pass the 10, yes 10 spots, it feels like the empty spot sitting there is as empty as my arms. Silly, even though it doesn’t make much sense.

@Danielle: I never really thought about it that way… that what these women are spouting is a part of them that is absorbed into their being. Very, very good point.

Profile Pic Pain

Kim said…Since we’re venting about discussion threads on other boards, many of you won’t be surprised that I bring up the “Baby Pic” argument recently expressed on Inspire.

This argument made me so very sad. The discussion boards on Inspire are my safe place, a place where the world is cohesive and supportive. To see the arguing and disparity out there made my heart sad.

If anyone is unfamiliar with this thread, here’s a quick explanation. A member of the infertility community kicked off a discussion. It concerned many members who have “crossed over” either by pregnancy, by adoption, or due to secondary infertility. They have infants as their profile pics. Many members were bothered by this and gently expressed their concerns. To my heart’s pleasure, MANY women who had their infants as profile pics changed them, or hid them in private mode. However,  many others argued back and the conversation was heated. Heated so much so that some members left. Others started a new thread. They said if we wanted advice from all of their “experience” (as if they have all the answers, right?), we could contact them in other ways. They’d graciously accept us as friends.

Smugness

It was very dividing and colored my week a bit. My main thought is these women sounded so smug. Really, smug. I know that’s a bit mean, but that’s how it felt. Really, people, you are on an INFERTILITY forum. Who “needs” to have their photo be a child.

My photo is a pomegranate tree. It symbolizes my big fat juicy ovaries overflowing with eggs that go nowhere, but it could be a photo of Scooby Doo. I don’t care! Why is it so important to have an infant as your photo? I think it’s because they are insecure and having that photo means they are “different” than those infertiles on the other side. After all, I heard it said that they’ve “earned” their babies. That their baby photo was a “badge.” I can’t think of how “earning” and the word “badge” is anything but a source of identity that separates them from being infertile.

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How does one “earn” a baby or badge for that matter? Badge, my ass. *done venting*

NancyPants said…Kim, you said it for me. I almost brought that one up but then I decided not to because I just didn’t have the energy to vent. It was very sad. The one lady who called her baby her “badge of honor” made me wonder how she really perceives that child. A baby is not a thing. It is a person to be loved and accepted. It made me think of some of those parents who consider their children to be accessories – very sad. Nevertheless, there were many women who needed a gentle reminder and they took it as that by changing their photo or hiding it. I have vowed never to have infertility amnesia. I hope I can live up to that one day. Those other women that said we could befriend them if we wanted their advice – very smug and, who needs them!

Battle Scars

Courtney said…I for one am proud of my battle scars.  It’s sad to me to watch someone ‘move on’ and then just forget. It is such a waste. The lessons we have learned through our struggle, the strength that we didn’t know we had, the promise to ourselves that we would ALWAYS appreciate our blessings, the wisdom to support the ‘left behind’ in a way that no one else can. This journey has been awful, but I refuse to let it fade into the abyss. Would I prefer to be ignorant of it? ABSOLUTELY, but I am not. I suppose the only explanation I have for IF amnesia is that those women had ‘false sensitivity’ because I can’t make sense of it any other way.

NancyPants said…My good friend who has a 10-month-old from IVF has warned me that the hurt from being infertile never goes away even with success of a baby. She also told me that she felt tremendous guilt once she was pregnant and her IF friends were not even though she struggled for 7 years. She still gets sad when she sees pregnancy/birth announcements because she knows that there is a realistic chance that she may never have another baby. I guess that is why IF amnesia is so hard to understand for me and her.

Courtney said…Wounds heal, scars fade but they never go away completely. My mom shared this story with me yesterday and I’d like to share it with you all.

Lingering Sadness

A good friend of hers owns a boutique in our hometown. They sell fun, girly, chic things from jewelry and handbags to vintage t-shirts and wine glasses. Yesterday while my mom was visiting the store. A vendor came in to drop off a few new items. They happened to be handmade hair bows for kids. The conversation drifted from business to fun as they looked through the bin and picked out their favorites.

When the vendor left the store, it was just my mom and her friend (both in their late 50’s) and her friend suddenly began to cry. As my mom struggled to figure out why and what to do-her friend told her that she had tried for years and years to have a baby and eventually she and her husband made the difficult decision to remain childless. She said, “it just wasn’t meant to be I guess.” They hugged and cried together and eventually collected themselves and went back to their visit. It struck me on two levels when my mom told me this.

The first that it just goes to show that you NEVER know who has or is struggling with IF and secondly, that the sadness never truly goes away. It changes certainly but is always there. We are human (most of us anyway) and our life experiences mold who we are and become part of us.

More Silent Sorority Questions Percolating

Stephanie said…Wow! Ladies! I’m sorry for not posting earlier today but I am just blown over by the response to this question! I knew it was kind of a hot topic and because of the recent board stuff, it really resonated with me to read that excerpt.

Pamela: Thank you SO much for your advice! And Maria, yours was such a perfect follow-up answer too! It sounds like most of us will be better prepared should there be a next time. I also think the etiquette section is the ideal spot to encourage sensitivity. The authors of this board’s etiquette page did a really good job in part because of some not-so-pleasant experiences elsewhere. Thank you ALL again!! I am overflowing with more questions after staying up till 11 last night reading more of Silent Sorority. But I’ll let others have a shot at it first.

Jwesterk said…I really agree with Pamela in that you need to just step away. That is what I’ve had to do. I really don’t go on Inspire anymore or visit any of the blogs. This is the first IF blog I’ve really been on in a year. Moving toward living child free, I guess I’m still in denial/avoidance because I just stay away altogether. I don’t want to hear the insensitive comments, etc. so I avoid as much as possible the mothers out there. People that know our situation know to not ask questions and I pretty much avoid any talk about kids at all. I don’t know if this is the healthiest way to go about it but if I’m in a social situation, I don’t ask the ‘usual’ questions about kids so as not to encourage those same questions.

Pamela Tsigdinos

Writer, blogger and, oh, yeah, infertility survivor. My memoir, Silent Sorority, tells the whole story. There's a movie in there somewhere. Given the quirkiness needed to relate it all I'm thinking Jennifer Lawrence would be a good fit.

  1. Mali

    Congratulations on 10 years of inspiring others, Pamela!
    I wasn’t around on the blogosphere 10 years ago, so I really liked being able to read this discussion. It’s still (sadly) so relevant today. I’ve had discussions (arguments?) with some MABIs who refuse to even consider that maybe they’re not being sensitive. And you might have prompted me to write about this issue myself. I’m off to think some more. (Inpsired by you once again.)

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