Some weeks ago, a few readers asked me to discuss the topic of disclosure in infertility treatment. This is an extremely important topic, and yet I have found myself procrastinating in terms of writing about it. I think this is because I myself have struggled with the decision of how much, and to whom, to reveal about my infertility treatments and decisions. With both disclosure and secrecy, problems arise, making a clear-cut choice between the two options difficult at best.
As I have written about previously here, I was actively involved infertility treatment for several years before we adopted our older daughter, and then again a few years later.
When I was first diagnosed with infertility, I was fairly open with my friends and coworkers about my situation. The decision to do so was concordant with my personality and outlook on life in general—I have always lived my life as an “open book”. At first, it was great, as I could talk about my infertility whenever I wanted to, and I had lots of support from the people around me. However, as things began to drag on, and treatment cycle after treatment cycle failed, I started to regret my decision to be open. It felt like it was my responsibility to inform the many interested parties that my cycle had failed—again. Each time it happened, I dreaded this process of going down the list and making those calls (no Twitter back in those days!) more and more. After my first miscarriage, these calls were downright excruciating. Further, as my friends and coworkers were predominantly women in their late twenties and early thirties, they were all starting to get pregnant. Consequently, many worries and discussions about how to tell “poor Lisa” the news ensued. Sometimes I would hear about their pregnancies through the grapevine, sometimes I would guess, and sometimes I would be told directly--occasionally with kindness and finesse, but often not. As you would probably expect, after a certain point, I had difficulty coping with this situation, and I withdrew from many people who were otherwise lovely friends and acquaintances.
Years later, when after adopting, I decided to return to infertility treatment, I knew I had to do things differently. So this time, I decided to consciously limit the number of people I told about my plans to two close friends, and my parents, and my brother and his wife. If I didn’t absolutely need the emotional support and/or instrumental help of the person involved, I didn’t tell them. I thought that this would protect me from having to provide disappointing news again. In addition, I wouldn’t have to hear others' opinions, informed or not, about my treatment decisions. As I already had an adopted daughter, no one suspected that I would be crazy enough to try infertility treatment again—so I didn’t get many questions, either.
I was surprised to find that not disclosing what was going on with me was more difficult than I had anticipated. To prepare for my treatment, I had to do a two-month course of Lupron Depot, which threw my body into sudden and severe menopause. I was sweating, forgetful, and miserable, but I couldn’t really tell anyone that—so I had to make creative excuses about why I kept turning red all the time. On occasion, I found myself telling lies about where I had been, or why I couldn’t do certain activities. But perhaps more significantly, I found that if I wasn’t able to talk about what was really going on with me, I basically felt I had nothing to say to people about myself. I didn’t feel good about lying to people, and I didn’t trust myself not to slip some detail into the conversation that would only make sense if you knew the whole story. I felt tongue-tied and I’m sure others noticed my awkwardness. Thus, I became somewhat withdrawn again, from an equally lovely group of friends and acquaintances.
This reticence continued into my pregnancy, when well into the second trimester I found it difficult to disclose that I finally was pregnant. When my precocious young daughter figured out what was going on, she had no such qualms though, and her first step was to share the news at her preschool’s Show and Tell day—and thus I was “outed”. Of course it didn’t help that no one believed that it was possible, so both my daughter and I were met with shock and incredulity at these disclosures. One colleague of mine heard that I was pregnant through a mutual client, and refused to believe him, instead calling me in a panic because he was concerned that our client had suddenly become psychotic.
My withdrawal and reticence began to have a negative impact on my relationships. Several people were hurt that I hadn’t told them what I was going through, or informed them sooner about my pregnancy. I am fortunate that after I explained to them what had happened to me regarding disclosure in my first years of infertility treatment, they all forgave me. To be honest though, one of those friendships really never did recover, and I still feel sad about this.
In sum, I am not sure which was the best approach—telling, or not telling. I don’t think there is a “right answer” when it comes to disclosure. Rather, I think you have to pick your poison—is it more important to you to feel like you can be honest with those in your lives? Or does it feel more important to protect yourself from the reactions and emotions of others regarding your infertility treatment? If you don’t tell people what is going on, will you have other ways of getting the emotional support you need to survive the stress of infertility treatment? If you do, and they don’t handle this information well, will your relationships be able to weather the storm?
As you can see, I’m afraid I have more questions than answers when it comes to the issue of disclosure in infertility treatment. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, and as always, if you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know. Thank you for reading!