When do you make the decision “to come out” with your infertility?
This is a difficult and risky decision that is never made lightly.
Reflecting back on my own grappling with this question, it has dawned on me that while I feel rather “out” with my infertile identity — I am still forced to think about this question on a daily basis.
In fact, I continually find myself in new situations where I need to quickly assess if, how, and when I share with others my infertile identity.
Common examples include:
• A student of mine notices that I’m married and asks, “Ms. NJ, do you have any kids of your own?”
• When a new neighbor moves in down the street and comments, “We love the idea of raising a family in this neighborhood. Do you guys have any kids?”
Over the years, I have tried to be more honest when asked such questions and invite a conversation with others about the realities, struggles, and even funny moments one experiences with infertility. But it is still hard to wear my infertility on my sleeve.
This brings me to why I love #NIAW. This is a week where not only am I reminded that I am not alone in these experiences but that there is power in sharing your story. When we share our stories of infertility, we disrupt commonly held beliefs that it is easy to get pregnant, that women can always control their fertility, and that infertility impacts many, many lives.
When we share our infertility stories with others, we increase general awareness and better inform the greater population about the realities of (in)fertility. In coming together as a community and telling our stories, we break the bubble on many commonly held assumptions. We ask others to no longer:
• Assume that our degree of femininity can be measured by our fertility;
• Assume that infertility can always be fixed through medical treatments and/or adoption;
• Assume that infertility only effects women ages 35+;
• Assume that infertility is only a white, middle-class issue;
• And (most importantly) assume that the decision to share your story is not a ploy to elicit pity but a decision made because infertility is an identity you deeply live everyday.
Moreover, while telling our stories can be difficult, it can bring healing and even laughter. And we can tell our stories in many different forms – through poetry, artwork, even a conversation at the grocery store. That is the wonderful fact about stories, they are accessible and can be communicated and represented in many different forms.
Take the image generated below.
This is one of the many ways that I tell my infertility story. Playing with the genre of the pregnancy announcement, I disrupt commonly held expectations about my body and my marriage. The image is intended to trigger feelings of disorientation to those who do not live with infertility on a daily-basis. And what I love most about this image, is that not only does it generate a message but it elicits an emotional response. It stops people. It makes people rethink the impact a pregnancy or baby announcement may have on an infertile woman. In many ways, it invites those who aren’t infertile to experience the disorientation, silence, and sadness often accompanied with infertility.
And so, as #NIAW comes to a close, I invite you to ponder how your infertility story can contribute to spreading awareness to others about the realities of infertility. And even if you do not feel comfortable or able to share your story with others, I invite you to take a moment this week and try to create a piece of art, a line of poetry, or a even a short story that documents your own infertility journey. Infertility can often be described as hopeless, isolating, and frustrating – but in crafting your story you can also find moments of laughter and moments of personal growth. By representing and reflecting on your infertility story, I hope you may find a path to healing and most of all a path to laughter.