When Ijeoma* got married, it was with the understanding (make that conviction), that she would soon get pregnant and have a baby, preferably twins, as multiple births ran in her family. But after six months and no show, she was a bit concerned…but not so much. A year passed and there wasn’t even a hint of a pregnancy, not even a miscarriage. Her husband was concerned as well.
But they were not about to broadcast to everyone that they had been trying to get pregnant for a while, and had not succeeded. In fact, in their circles, it was unheard of that a couple would come out to admit they were trying, but not succeeding. Everyone can already guess that they were trying and had not yet succeeded, but it was like the proverbial elephant in the room.
At the one year mark, it had become glaring that they needed to see a doctor. Their GP referred them to a fertility clinic, and, dissatisfied, they decided to seek more help abroad. All of these were shrouded in secrecy, not just because it was their personal business, which they did not feel like sharing with other people, but because of the inevitable raised eyebrows and gossip, from family and friends.
They would go off on trips with no one the wiser; not even their close family members knew about their fertility journey. Their frequent trips to the clinic in Cyprus, where they had chosen to seek treatment, made their close ones wonder just how many business trips and holidays the couple could possibly go on! And when Ijeoma eventually got pregnant, people were told that she was on a 1-year post-graduate course, while she was, in fact, minding her pregnancy in a rented apartment in Athens.
It was not until the couple came back home with a two month old baby, did anyone know they were even pregnant. Save for a few grumbles from some quarters, everyone seemed to accept their secrecy, and the couple also made no attempt to placate or pacify anybody. It was their business after all!
Ijeoma and her husband are not alone in this secret baby dance. There are so many people who would rather die in silence than own up to the fact that they have fertility challenges.
There are so many people who do not mind sharing every other detail of their lives with others, but when fertility comes into the equation, they clam up like shells, and become incredibly secretive. Infertility can cause a couple to isolate themselves, which just reinforces the silence surrounding infertility.
We live in a society where a woman is defined by her ability to conceive and have babies; a woman’s pride is her children, not even her husband. Truth be told, almost no woman trying to conceive would have ever thought that she would be unable to get pregnant, not after spending years trying not to get pregnant. But that is the irony of life. Globally, infertility is misunderstood, even demonised, and women are often prime suspects when a couple is not getting pregnant fast enough.
The taboo status of infertility is not only felt in our clime, even westernized societies, which one would have thought would be more tolerant of couples dealing with infertility, are barely dealing with the matter. Given the fact that they are more careful not to intrude into other people’s privacy than we are, there is also sometimes a silence surrounding infertility. They might talk about it generally, but might not be as willing to admit they are TTC. Although Guiliana Rancic was upfront about her battle with infertility and struggle with breast cancer, and subsequent use of a surrogate mom to birth her son, Duke, Jimmy Fallon waited until two weeks after the birth of his daughter to announce it, and to tell the world they had infertility challenges and had to use a surrogate.
Like Ijeoma and her husband, like the celebs, many people keep their feelings and struggles with infertility under wraps. Everyone has the right to privacy, but that secrecy means many people cope alone with the pain, and are often uninformed about their challenges, and choices. So we should really thank God that The Fertile Chick is giving us that much need voice.
In one survey of couples having difficulty conceiving, 61 per cent said they hid their infertility from family and friends, and nearly half didn’t even tell their mothers. It can get that bad. The study also added that 7 in 10 women admitted that being infertile made them feel flawed and half of men reported feeling inadequate. That is what infertility can do to you.
Infertility is a complex phenomenon and a number of issues are involved for the people living with it, as it spans the biological, emotional, physical, social, financial and psychological aspects of lives and relationships. And because our society has placed a taboo status on it, a couple or an individual bear all these alone and we expect the very best from that person. We expect them to act normal, to be ecstatic at the frequent birth and pregnancy news from their friends and family. Indeed, that is asking a lot but thankfully, TTC moms have long learnt how to navigate that treacherous terrain with grace.
As I said earlier, the voice that this forum gives to couples dealing with infertility cannot be underestimated. Even if most people talk here on an anonymous basis, which is absolutely fine, at least we have a platform of expression. But it is another pointer to the fact that infertility is still long way from becoming mainstream topic of discussion.
Regardless of the well known fact that infertility affects 1 in six couples worldwide, and that is not such a wide margin. Meaning it is closer to us, more than we care to talk about it. They need help, not to be stigmatized or discriminated against, which is what obtains. Even the World Health Organization recognizes infertility as a physical illness that requires treatment, but society doesn’t.
And if the situations remain the same, Ijeoma would not be telling anyone when she goes abroad once more to provide her daughter with a sibling or two, if her twinning gene becomes active then.
Let’s keep talking about infertility; it helps more than we think.
Join the conversation with any of our TTC and Pregnancy Groups here.