Coming Out

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?

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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”.

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6 thoughts on “Coming Out

  1. We are very “out” with our infertility, but it has been a long journey to get there. Years ago I couldn’t have imagined being as open as we are now, but, of course, years ago I also couldn’t have imagined that we’d still be fighting for a family. Live and learn.

    Oddly enough, the only place I’m not flag-waving, chant-leading, card-carrying “out” is on my blog. And, it regularly feels a little “odd” to keep that thin veil of anonymity raised there and there alone. But, open websites have legs and a legacy that I can’t even hope to control now or into the future. That’s just a thought I’m not comfortable with.

    Honestly, while everyone’s story is going to be different and unpredictable, I have to say that “outing” ourselves was as much of a learning experience for us than we ever anticipated it would be. We had steeled ourselves for all the inevitable questions, the well-meaning but ignorant tips, and that slippery slope down into being “that” couple in everyone’s pity-filled eyes. We were ready to be the face of infertility for our families and friends, but we definitely weren’t ready for the lessons that we learned *from* our family and friends in return.

    When we discussed coming “out” a certain subset of my husband’s family weighed heavily on our minds. We assumed from the start they would disagree with our openness and dislike our advocacy due to their religious and social beliefs. Lo and behold a female member of that side of the family was the first to call and offer her condolences and tell me of the two back-to-back ectopics she experienced between her two children (we used the occasion of our ectopic and pending personhood legislation as the jumping off point for our announcement). I was floored. Another lesson in don’t judge a book by it’s cover, I suppose.

  2. Interesting question…I am “out” with my infertility about as much as possible. I actually posted my status to Facebook and pretty much all of my friends, family, work, etc., know about it. And I’ve been very fortunate, they’ve been great about the whole thing.

    But just like notwhenbutif writes above, my blog is fairly anonymous. I mean, if my mother or a close friend/family member chanced across it, they might be able to identify me based on a number of things from my particular turns of phrase/writing style to certain events or certain details. But my blog is the one place where I feel I can write about the reality of infertility uncensored, and I’m not sure I could still do that if I went “public” with it.

    It’s so hard to know what to do with all the infertility stuff…

  3. My family is very aware of our infertility, well mine…Hubby has supersperm. His family does not know. They think we aren’t ready to have a baby and rather than have all of their judgement, we’d rather just not say anything. They’ll be nice when/if we get pregnant.

    I’m pretty open at work so it always shocks me when a new hire says something about “oh you’re sick, you knocked up?” or the insensitive “you don’t want kids…they’ll ruin your life.” Most of the time it’s that they just don’t know. And if it’s someone I plan on spending time with at work, like lunches or whatever, I usually say something. But if it’s someone I know I’ll never take a break with or have am intentional non-work related convo with, I don’t bother. I don’t want that pity sigh. I hate that.

    To be honest though, I wouldn’t say anything to anyone if I could avoid it. I only say things so people stop making insensitive comments around me. This kind of bothers me. I don’t feel like I should have to tell you that you should be careful saying you hate your kids. There are so many people with infertility, you never know who you just upset. It’s very much like coming out as gay. You shouldn’t have to. Why do we just assume people are hertro? There are enough people in the world who are not. Let’s just not assume anything about anyone.

    Sorry for the mini-blog response. Oops. Didn’t mean to ramble so much.

  4. Great post! I like the comparisons between coming out as gay and as infertile.

    I came out as infertile to help educate people and increase awareness about infertility, as you mentioned. I think a lot of people stereotype those with fertility problems as only much older women who “waited too long”, as women who “chased a career instead of having babies” (ah, the judgment!), as people with major health problems, and as people who just “shouldn’t reproduce”. It was important for me, especially when people assumed I was fertile and started asking about when to expect children from us, to let people know that, yes, you can have fertility problems at 31 (my age when I started trying), and that yes, you can be otherwise healthy and have fertility problems. I think people generally think I’m a nice person and know that my husband and I have a solid relationship, so that helped them to be compassionate and really think about what it must feel like to have the ability to be good parents yet have problems having children.

    Coming out as infertile can suck, though, too, so I don’t blame you for staying in the closet for now. The looks of pity and constant questions are hard. It’s also tough when people continue to be insensitive even when they know what’s going on with you. And you are SO right about the judgment that many people experience when they come out as infertile. On the other hand, some people are so compassionate that it’s heartwarming, you get more support, and most people have enough sense to not ram pregnancy and child stories down your throat! 🙂

  5. I feel the same way that you do – once I’m (very) pregnant I definitely want to share with the world how hard it was to get there and help educate people on infertility. Until then… not so much, I’ll stick with my little safe bubble of people who know. What if we never make it… Ugh, I don’t like that question, I hadn’t really thought about that. That’s just not an option… :-/

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