I’m going through IVF and I don’t want to keep it a secret.
Social convention dictates a code of silence when it comes to IVF. Women cover up or lie about the bruises and needle marks on their arms from all the blood tests.
When we cancel on our friends at the last minute because we have to dash off to the IVF clinic, we feel compelled to make up an excuse. And when someone asks why we’re looking so anxious/stressed/so enraged you want to rip their arms and legs off, we dare not tell them the truth.
As an IVF veteran, I’m well versed in the ways of IVF deception. But this time, I’ve decided not to hide it. While I’m not the kind to blab to everyone up to and including the guy who just called from Optus to ask if I want to switch my phone and broadband plan, when people ask what I’ve been up to, I tell them.
And, I have to say, my new strategy of openness isn’t going as well as I thought it might.
Mostly when I tell someone that my husband and I are doing IVF, they look at me as if I’m the sort of person who broadcasts the gory details about her sex life (positions, number of orgasms and size of partner’s schlong) to her yoga class. Which I’m not. For starters, I don’t even do yoga.
But seriously, if people want to keep IVF a secret that’s fine; some people prefer privacy when dealing with stressful life events.
Others want to keep their IVF journey private because it’s already so public anyway. When a couple conceives naturally, it’s just them (and possibly the neighbours) who are in on the act.
IVF, by contrast, is a public spectacle from day one. There are specialists, nurses, counselors, finance departments, insurance companies, Medicare, acupuncturists, pharmacists, and, in some states, police, involved in the whole saga. When I recently went to have my embryo transferred, there was about as much privacy as Facebook.
On the flip side, that quest for privacy comes at a cost. There’s already so much shame and guilt associated with infertility that silence just makes me feel even worse about it. The taboo on talking about IVF diminishes the significance of what we’re doing. It makes me feel like it’s either too trivial or too shameful to mention in polite society.
One of the reasons IVF couples keep silent is because they fear the trauma of having to tell people that it didn’t work out. This is part of the reason why, when I tell people about IVF, I’m sure to manage their expectations — and my own — and clarify that there is a much greater chance of failure than of success.
If it doesn’t work I don’t want to have to hide my emotions, as if my sadness isn’t valid or that my grief isn’t significant enough to be shared by friends and family.
Instead I want the people in my life to give me a hug and say, ‘yep, that really sucks.’ It’s very therapeutic to have your emotions acknowledged by another person.
On the occasions when I’ve brought it up, I’ve been surprised how many people — both women and men — are eager to share their own experiences.
One woman said that she’s desperate to talk to somebody about her IVF journey but she doesn’t know of anybody else doing it. Given that she’s middle-class and 30-something she probably knows several people who are going through IVF.
In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of live births in Australia and New Zealand resulting from assisted reproductive technologies, which includes IVF and other treatments, increased by 74 per cent between 1989 and 2004. But because people feel like they can’t talk about it, many of them are going through it alone.
Given the increasing numbers of couples undergoing these treatments, we badly need to revise how we approach the whole issue of fertility. We already have inadequate rituals to deal with miscarriage and infertility grief. We don’t need to add to the stigma and isolation by making the IVFprocess taboo as well.