In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, I wanted to chat a little bit about coming out. I know this is a big topic of discussion among the infertility community: Do you talk about it openly? Completely in the closet? Only tell a few specific friends? What about telling your family? What about work, does your boss know? What do you tell work when you have to take off? If you’re reading this, you probably have a blog, but most of them are anonymous or semi-anonymous.
I have a lot of experience with the coming out process. You see, when you’re gay, coming out is not one big “here I am, world!” moment (although that’s often part of it). It’s a decision you have to make every day, sometimes multiple times a day. It can be as small as when the woman ringing up my groceries asking “how do I like that vegan cheese?” and I have to make the instant decision: do I say “oh, I have no idea. My wife is the vegan” or do I say “I haven’t tried it yet”, and move on?
It can be a bigger deal, of course. In a job interview, do you mention your wife? Will that have an impact on getting hired? What about colleagues you don’t work with very often. When they ask you about your plans for the weekend, do you mention her? Or do you say something non-committal about chores and weekends never being long enough? I’ve been at my job for over three years now, and I hate that I still have to have these thoughts (it’s a fairly large office). And do you correct people when they say something about my “husband”?
Being openly gay and being openly infertile is not a perfect comparison, of course. But there are similarities.
1) Judgment. If you tell, are they going to judge you? Say it was your choice (i.e. the gay “lifestyle” or promiscuity or putting your career first or waiting too long, blah blah blah)? I’ve gotten judgment about being gay, mostly from Tammy’s family, but also from former “friends” from high school (there’s a damn good reason I left that hick town) and strangers. I haven’t had the joy of experiencing much infertility judgment directly. The “best” example I can think of is Tammy’s brother, a year before we started trying, telling us that he didn’t support infertility treatment, because if you cannot have kids “naturally”, then “nature” is trying to tell you something and you shouldn’t reproduce. Sanctimonious ass. I think he might change his tune if he and his wife had any trouble getting pregnant (they didn’t. Tammy’s family is disgustingly fertile. Fertile and sanctimonious).
2) Which leads me to my next point, unhelpful comments. I think everyone in the infertility community has experienced this. We have a “once burned, twice shy” mentality about telling, because so many people we’ve told have been complete idiots with their response. They’re trying, bless their hearts*, but so often fail miserably. I’ve experienced way too many of these:
“why don’t you just adopt?”
“I’d NEVER do IVF. I don’t believe in playing God”
“Maybe God doesn’t want you to be parents”
“It was a blessing the miscarriage happened when it did”
“Want to borrow mine?”
“Be glad you don’t have kids – you can sleep in, enjoy “you” time, and you have money to spend on yourself!”
Etc. etc., ad nauseum.
Gay people also experience their fair share of unhelpful comments. I’ve also experienced way too many of these:
“Are you sure it’s not just a phase?”
“Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy yet”
“Can I watch?”
“So who’s the man?”
“Hate the sin, love the sinner”
“God has a plan for your life, and it doesn’t include being gay”
Etc. etc., ad nauseum.
So, have I come out? (Gosh, don’t I make it sound GREAT to be out?) I’m pretty much as far out as a person can be with my sexual orientation. I’m very hopeful that at some point in my life I’ll stop caring about the judgment from random people at the grocery store, and I’m also hopeful that as our society advances, judgment that matters (in terms of employment, housing, etc.) will lessen. As will the shit comments.
Am I out with my infertility? Not really. My immediate family knows, and I talk about it a lot with my parents. Many of my aunts and uncles know as well. Most of Tammy’s family does NOT know, due to their shaky status on their sister/daughter/etc. being married to a woman (THE HORROR). The poor dears might lose their damn minds if I threw GAY BABIES into the mix. I did tell two of my sisters in law after my miscarriage, and regretted it immediately. SIL #1 kept saying things like “well, you’re getting closer. It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen”, and SIL #2 asks me about it every. damn. time. we see each other, while eyeing my stomach suspiciously. Damn, I wish I hadn’t told them. Seeing them this weekend for a family wedding (remind me to bitch at/tell you about this damn wedding).
I DID, however, tell my boss on Friday. I had to let him know I needed 2+ days off in early May, but I didn’t know the exact dates. I have taken a lot of time off over the past year, and he’s been very/mostly good about it. I had a monthly meeting with him, and he asked me, very concerned like, if everything was OK. And it just tumbled out of my mouth. He looked VERY surprised (now I’m curious as to what he thinks was going on) but quickly pulled himself together. He really knew almost nothing about infertility and treatement, but he asked decent, semi-intelligent questions, and wished me luck. When I told him about my miscarriage, he said his wife had had one. She was 11 weeks. Now of course, they have one and another on the way. He said I could take off all the time I need for appointments, treatment, etc. Yay! One non-shit response from the big bad world.
I know the value in coming out. The gay community has benefitted immensely from people coming out. Studies show that people change their mind about gay rights when they find out they know someone who is gay. If you trust the statistics, there are roughly the same number of gay people as there are infertile people (and then you have fabulous crossovers, like yours truly!). What would happen if we all came out? All posted our blogs on our Facebook page, or just started casually dropping appointments and bloodwork and all that jazz into conversation?
I’m not brave enough. I wish I was, but I’m not. I feel too raw to open myself up to the judgment and critisism that I’m sure will follow. I’ve told myself that once I have a baby, I’ll start being open about how hard it was to get him/her. But what if I never get there? Will I be in the closet forever?
*Where I come from, “bless your heart” is the perfect insult. It blends sugary southern sweetness with absolute biting criticism. You can almost always follow “bless your heart” with, “you fucking idiot”.