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When I first heard about this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week theme, I admit I was a bit confused. Who exactly is supposed to “Start Asking”? Is it the fertile people who already don’t have a clue how to talk about infertility, and often ask the wrong questions anyway?
Turns out, it’s us, the infertile community, that should be asking the questions, according to RESOLVE, the organization behind NIAW 2016, April 24-30. We should be asking for better insurance coverage of fertility treatments. We should be asking the media to cover infertility in a real way, instead of a sensationalized one. We should be asking our family and friends to support us.
This is all so important, and I applaud RESOLVE for putting forth these questions. But going back to my original presumption—what about the fertile people? I would argue that instead of putting the onus on the infertility community to promote awareness, we extend that to fertile people as well. What about that annoying aunt who asks when you’re going to have children? What about those clueless friends who wonder why you won’t come to their baby shower? These people don’t understand what to ask, or how.
I wrote on this blog about the most ignorant question, and later posted it on The Huffington Post as well. The piece, “It’s None of Your Business How Many Children I’m Having,” got over 300 comments on the site. People argued about whether or not this guy, a stranger who asked across a table full of people whether and when I would be trying for a baseball team, was in the right or the wrong. “Can’t people ask about anything anymore without offending someone?” people lamented.
The thing is, there are times and places for everything. In fact, in that very same piece I discuss how a similar question had been asked by the colorist at my hair salon. But because she asked gently—”Do you think you’ll have more children?”—in the relative privacy of the hairdresser’s chair, my hackles didn’t get raised, and I felt comfortable revealing that I’d love another, but we’d had trouble getting pregnant.
So it’s really not about whether you should ask but rather about how you should ask. And when you do ask, don’t ever assume. Don’t assume a woman isn’t currently pregnant and just not ready to reveal it. Don’t assume a woman isn’t currently going through a miscarriage. Don’t assume that people can have babies and want to try the reproductive feat of achieving a sports team. Don’t assume a couple even wants children in the first place.
I would argue that the criticism against my HuffPo piece—that we live in a culture where no one is allowed to talk about anything—is the exact opposite of how I feel. In fact, I feel like maybe a better theme for NIAW might have been “Start Talking.” Because that’s the real problem: No one talks about infertility. People don’t even really realize it exists. It’s something that happens to others, so people assume those they know and talk to can actually have children. True, people generally can have kids. But that’s the point of “awareness:” People become “aware” that infertility exists for one in eight couples. Maybe it exists for your sister or your coworker or your friend or your neighbor. Or the person you just met sitting across from you at a crowded table.
Infertility awareness can be about inspiring infertiles to make a difference. But it can, and should, be about getting others to understand and to promote it as well. Wouldn’t it be great if fertile people joined in the cause too? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they also posted on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and hashtag #NIAW and #StartAsking? That’s where we should be headed. After all, not everyone who wears a red ribbon has AIDS or who does a run/walk for breast cancer has it themselves. The people who do those things maybe know someone affected (a mom, sister or friend who had breast cancer), or maybe they are just recognizing the importance of a cause and are jumping on board.
That’s what we should want. That’s what I’m going to #StartAsking for.
How aware are you of infertility among your family and friends? If you are infertile yourself, do you wish you had more support from fertiles?
Dear ones (that’s how Elizabeth Gilbert addresses her Facebook posts, and I have a bit of a writer’s crush on her right now),
My book signing for Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It went really well. As my last post indicated, I was super nervous. I used up so much emotional energy that the next day I crashed, unable to do much of anything or even get out of my pajamas.
What’s the big deal, you ask? It was only a fifteen minute speech and a few questions afterward. It wasn’t like I was giving a day-long presentation at a medical conference or presenting at the Oscars.
You’re right, dear ones. Maybe it wasn’t really that big a deal. But why it was so difficult for me is that I am an introvert. Some people might be surprised to hear this. I am, generally, pretty friendly. And as the book event shows, I am not bad at public speaking.
But it’s all a lie.
In middle school, I was painfully shy. It was incredibly hard for me to make friends. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in at everyone else having a good time, flirting with boys and feeling part of a group. Although I wasn’t friendless and I generally wasn’t picked on, I was something possibly even worse: I was invisible.
Gradually I worked through my insecurities. Even as an adult, though, making friends remains a challenge. I am not one of those people who talks to people sitting next to them on airplanes. I do not make friends easily wherever I go. I often still feel awkward, uncomfortable, unsure of what to say. But I’ve gotten really good at faking it, at putting on the friendly mask of an extrovert. This has helped me make a lot of very good mom friends.
I don’t mean to say that I’m fake. I am genuine in my emotions, the stories I tell and the interest I show in others. It’s just that it doesn’t come naturally to express those things. I have to force myself to come out of my shell and relate to others directly instead of through words on the page, at which I am infinitely better.
Maybe all my years of being an outside observer served to make me a better writer. But they didn’t help me feel like I was participating in life instead of watching it. So now, I’m trying to forget my fears and insecurities and to take that wall down between my internal self and my outward expression.
To quote Forgetting Sarah Marshall: “Dude, get out of your head, it’s really nice out here!”
How am I doing?
Are you an introvert? How do you deal with making mom friends? How do you deal with professional presentations or other work-related speaking?
Some photos from my book signing for Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: