by Cassie Destino, Fertility Doula and Founder of IVF Support UAE
IVF is one of the most personal things a couple can go through and the decision to tell or not to tell those around you that you’re going through fertility treatment is a deeply personal decision that only you and your partner can make. When I was going through my IVF cycles, I only told a very few close friends, and I chose people who were either going through it themselves or whom I knew I couldn’t keep this kind of secret from. The majority of other people I knew, including my family and co-workers, had no idea that I was trying (and failing!) to get pregnant. I had my reasons for choosing to keep it to myself, but now after several years of reflection, I think now I would do it very differently and let me explain why.
Today even still there is a stigma surrounding fertility treatment. Women often believe that their inability to get pregnant naturally is somehow an indictment of their womanhood and their overall worth. As women we are sent so many messages by our culture that our job is to make babies and that if we can’t do it on our own then we are somehow “less than” other women. A common boast that I have heard is women saying that they got pregnant “without even trying” as if that is an accomplishment to be congratulated. It suggests that trying to get pregnant is not as desirable as simply being so fertile (read: better) that they need not even attempt it to be successful. With all these societal messages, it’s no wonder that if a woman is not getting pregnant, despite her best efforts, that she could feel as though she was not as capable, worthy or valuable. And so, this is how the stigma develops. Not to mention the stigma also attached to miscarriage. So, many women blame themselves for the unintentional end of a pregnancy when, most of the time, there is absolutely nothing that they did wrong.
So, do I think we should be ashamed of going through fertility treatment? Absolutely not! Yet, still many people are reluctant to share their struggles to get pregnant and have a family of their own.
Fast forward to now and I run a group for women dealing with infertility and I am very often asked to guarantee that their participation in the group remains anonymous and private and I totally get it. One of the reasons I am so happy to provide this service is because I wish it had been around when I was going through my own treatment and that there was a safe, understanding and informative group to be part of.
If you had told me when I was having my own IVF treatments that one day I would be talking so openly about it I would have also thought you were crazy! I had zero plans to ever publicly share my infertility struggle, but a funny thing happened after I had my babies as I became really proud of what I went through to have them. I realized how much I wanted to share my story because the more I did, the more I discovered what excellent company I was in. So many more of my friends and acquaintances had undergone fertility treatment than I had ever imagined and I only realized this once I started opening up. Once we started talking about it there was a sense of camaraderie and relief to have our experience recognized and ultimately something nice in not being alone.
Now I really do feel that the stigma around infertility is beginning to lift and as more and more celebrities and those in the public eye start sharing their experiences with IVF, the more normal it will begin to seem. Thank you, Michelle Obama! The more the concept of fertility treatment is discussed in the media, in popular culture, and on social media, the more normalized it becomes. I have been asked if I think that celebrities who have had fertility treatment have an obligation to share the means with which it took for them to have babies and I always say that they do not. Ultimately, everybody must decide for themselves whether or not to disclose their fertility status. However, I am always glad when they do and I wish more would, as the more we talk about this as a whole, the more the stigma gets chipped away and we all benefit ultimately.
I would never pressure anybody into sharing anything that makes them uncomfortable. That is the point of the group I run. If you want private support, then I am 100% committed to providing that to you. Likewise, if you want to talk and share, then we have a safe platform for you to do so in too. Infertility is something that is happening inside of your body. It is a private, medical situation that you go though together with your partner. It makes sense that you may want to keep it to yourself. But I do believe that there is true power in sharing our struggles with each other. By learning that we are not alone we will feel less alone. Infertility is such an isolating experience, but it really doesn’t need to be as when we share with each other, we learn from each other and we create a new space to “be” in.
I didn’t share my infertility for a lot of the reasons I mentioned earlier. I thought it made me seem weak. What I have since learned is that the several years of surviving and persisting after so much disappointment and heartbreak only made me stronger. Now I will be proud to tell my children that their mommy loved them so much that she was willing to endure pain, spend money, see doctors and remain focused just so she could. have them in her life. They are the best thing I have ever worked for.