After reading this article about whether celebrities should “come clean” about their infertility treatments, I then made the mistake of looking at the comments. Despite my usual motto when it comes to the touchy (and for me, very personal) subject of infertility – don’t read the comments – I was curious to know what the general population thought about the piece.
Not surprisingly, most bashed the story, saying, “Why should anyone be forced to share something so personal?”
While I generally agree with this, the problem is that infertility is still so surrounded by shame and secrecy. It is, in many ways, still in the closet. The general public does not understand infertility treatments, thinks they’re weird or icky or that they go against “God’s plan,” and can’t comprehend why infertile people don’t “just adopt.” There is so little understanding, not to mention compassion, about what it’s really like to go through this particular struggle.
I might compare the question of whether celebrities should open up about infertility to the question, “Should celebrities reveal that they are gay?” I could argue that their sexual orientation is no one’s business, which is true; but would they deny being heterosexual? Of course not, because it’s the cultural norm. But celebrities who’ve come out of the closet have, no doubt, helped thousands of other gay people to feel that they are not alone, that if so-and-so can open up about it, so can they. By throwing off the cloak off shame and fear of rejection, gay celebrities have helped it to be much more accepted than it was in years past.
Infertility is in many ways the same. We hide it under the heading of “it’s personal,” but the real reason we are so hesitant to talk about it is because we are ashamed and fearful of what others might think. Would we hide the fact that we had cancer? Probably not, since there is no real stigma attached to cancer. So why should infertility, also a medical condition, be any different?
Celebrities are of course under no obligation to talk about their private life. Maybe they don’t want their children to suffer in any way from revelations about how they were conceived. Maybe if their children were conceived with donor eggs, which, let’s face it, is the most likely way so many celebrities have had babies well into their late forties – it’s just not statistically very likely that they would be able to conceive otherwise – celebs are especially wary about making it public because of how it may eventually affect their child. (Although child psychology experts tell us that children conceived through donor eggs, like children of adoption, should be told early and often in age-appropriate ways so that they don’t remember a time when they didn’t know. It just becomes part of their identity.) But children learn what they live, so if no one gives them the impression they need to be ashamed about how they were conceived, they won’t be.
There’s no question that opening up about something that society deems weird or strange requires bravery, and maybe celebs don’t want to deal with that. This is understandable, but it also keeps the circle of shame and fear going.
Plus, so many middle-aged celebrities having babies perpetuates the notion that it’s easy. It’s not. It’s not impossible – but it’s just very, very unlikely. Many commenters to the article I read responded with anecdotes about people they knew who had a baby late in life, but anecdotes are just that. Knowing one person who had a baby in their forties has no bearing on the fact that most women didn’t have babies in their forties.
But female celebs need to appear young. Telling the world that you needed help conceiving because you’re peri-menopausal could negatively affect your career. Our youth-worshipping culture has made it difficult for women to feel valued past their child-bearing years.
So, whatever celebs’ reasons for keeping quiet, those of us that used IVF feel betrayed by these famous IVF-deniers, like they could have had our back but chose not to. It leaves us feeling even more isolated than we already do. In contrast, those celebs who are open about it make us feel that we are not alone, raise awareness and put a human face on infertility.
Celebrities are in a unique position to influence public opinion, like it or not. So when they do “come out of the closet,” they further societal acceptance of whatever it is that they are opening up about. Should they do it? That’s a loaded question. But it would be great if they did.
Do you think it would help others if celebrities opened up about the personal issues they’re dealing with, like infertility?