We have been telling.  I break out in a cold sweat once in a while about it.  I’m 8 1/2 weeks right about now, and waiting until the official end of the first trimester is starting to seem like an artificial amount of time to wait.  On one hand, it seems like the longer we wait to tell, the “safer” we would be.  But now that we’ve seen the heartbeat twice, there doesn’t seem to be any developmental milestone around the end of the first trimester that would make me feel “safer.”  I’m air-quoting “safer” because there is no safe.  There is always something inexpressibly sad and horrible that can happen to my baby that will be difficult to recover from, for the rest of my life.

Are you cheered up? I am.

Anyway, we’re telling.  Over the weekend we worked our way through some distant family members, which includes a relative who just had a baby after a terrible loss, and her sister who has been trying for maybe two years with no result yet.  We went through some gyrations to try and tell these folks in a way that was considerate to the less-fertile sister and it wasn’t easy.  I wanted to leave the news on her home voicemail so she could get it in private, without someone in her face saying “Isn’t that great!  Huh?  Aren’t you happy?”

The mother of these girls is one of those “I-knew-it-first” gossipy types.  She relayed the news to us, through an 88-year old grandmother, that the husband of the infertile couple has low sperm count.  Nice, I’m sure he would love the idea of that getting literally hollered across the table as one does with this very deaf grandma.

Trying to make this grandma understand why we were leaving our news on the infertile girl’s voicemail instead of getting her on her cell (at work), because she might not enjoy hearing our news, was hard.  “She hasn’t said anything to me…” Grandma insisted.  As if we run to our grandma with our infertility grief.  Not that some grandmas aren’t wonderful, but this particular grandma then wrinkled her nose and said “She’s fine! She’s got plenty of time.”  Uh, yeah.

“Plenty of time” is about the only annoying remark I haven’t heard.  A younger friend who was suffering through back-to-back-to-back IUIs once enlightened me on the “plenty of time” angle.  “Oh, wonderful!” she said.  “Plenty of time for more of THIS.”

My point, and I do have one, is we infertiles need to TELL SOMEBODY.  Everybody already thinks you’re “fine” with infertility, “trying,” whatever, going on for year after year.  They won’t be wise and assume that it might really, really suck.  They will assume you’re “fine.”  This is tragic but you see it all the time when there is a death.  “How is so-and-so?” someone will ask, in hushed tones, three months later.  “She seems fine,” comes the response

Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that is idiotic.  How should she be?

I think we like the idea of our loved ones being “fine.”  She’s bouncing back, we think.  I can stop bringing over casseroles and not knowing what to say.  My friend will be her old self again soon, and we can pretend this difficult thing didn’t happen.  Which means I can go back to pretending that nothing like that will ever happen to me.  Obviously this is all fantasy but it’s what we do.  Until we learn otherwise

Depressing, isn’t it?  Human nature = not pretty.

It’s appropriate to seem fine, even when we’re not  We need to fake “fine” in the workplace and just to survive. In the last few weeks several friends have volunteered to me “So and so is fine with it, don’t you think?”  As though my inkling that they may not be “fine” is insulting.

This is so sad, to me.  Apparently we’re expected to neatly box off our own infertility grief, or we’re expected to not have any, and when someone else gets pregnant (even at an incredibly advanced age), we’re supposed to be “fine” with it.  But why wouldn’t people expect this – if no one admits to anything different?

Of course some people really are fine, or are at least in a season of feeling okay about whatever their struggles.  I’m all for that – the good seasons get us through the bad ones.  But I’m sure not going to make assumptions based on appearances

When we’re not fine, and we don’t tell, we’re making it harder.  Not just for ourselves but for every other infertile who comes along.  We’re expected to go to showers, we might be expected to host them.  We’re expected to sit through all kinds of painful conversations.

We’ve got to tell.  Something.  It doesn’t have to be a blow-by-blow of every IVF; it can be as simple as “we’ve actually been wanting to have a family for x years.”  I don’t always like to use the word “trying” because of the “wink wink” responses you get sometimes – “practice practice practice!” isn’t funny when you’ve practically ruined your marriage with timed intercourse.  Sometimes I say “we’ve had some disappointments,” which is a ridiculous way to describe a miscarriage or an ectopic.  But it puts my toe in the water and gives me some feedback about whether the person will be sympathetic or not

Once we make a little tentative stab at telling someone about infertility, we may be barraged with questions we don’t want to answer, and we don’t have to answer them.  We can say “It’s a long story,” or “I’m not going to go into detail right now.”  Sometimes, rather than telling how many embryos we have frozen or how promising our new protocol is, I would say “We still have plenty of reason to hope,” or “we still have insurance coverage,” or “we’re hanging in there.”  That aggressively cheerful remark often was an effective conversation-ender, when a conversation had run its course

Sometimes when we make that first remark we get something horrible and negative said back to us, and so we can move on and look for somebody else to say something to.  But even that horrible negative person might pass the nugget of fact that you’re “having trouble” on to someone who can actually do something good with the information

I know it is shameful to talk about.  But shame grows in the dark, like mold.  The more we don’t talk about something bad, the more it starts to feel like it’s our fault. The less talked about something is, the more likely the general public is to maintain its ignorance that it is our fault.  In the end it may seem harder, but it is less shameful to tell

The younger woman I mention above, she of the back-to-back IUIs, was a very pulled-together woman I thought I knew, a mental health professional who I didn’t think wanted kids.  I showed up at an event after a night of no sleep.  It was the first night my husband looked me in the eye and said he didn’t want to adopt, ever.  I felt raw and dead at the same time, and I blurted something to this woman at our lunch break because I looked so bad that I couldn’t hide.  She told me then and there about her own infertility, which I never would have dreamed.  She had “fine” perfected to an art but it wasn’t helping her at all.  She was just as unhappy as I was.

That conversation on the day after the horrible night strengthened me, when I had no idea that strengthening and support were so close.  You never know what telling will bring, you never know who will step out of the closet and say “me too.”  It’s hard for us to find the support we need if we don’t ask for it.

Now that I am in this amazing season of telling that I am pregnant, I do feel guilty about those who still suffer.  But I also take comfort in the fact that my friends and family know how much we suffered (and may again).  They have a clue how much this pregnancy means, how much it cost us.  The friends I have who aren’t “fine” know that I wasn’t, either, not for a long time, and I hope that the first telling, the infertility telling – helps them with the second.

It definitely helped me.