the fertility advocate

Talking, writing, educating, and change making in the field of fertility for more than twenty years

Miss Manners For The Fertility Challenged

I stumbled over a fertility blog that I had not read before with a very cute title “Baby Smiling In The Back Seat: or that’s the goal anyway!”  where the author (couldn’t find her name in the “about me” section”) was discussing the proper etiquette of discussing infertility and babies with a person experiencing infertility. She had picked up on a dialog in Melissa Ford’s blog on Blogher “What To Say to Those Experiencing Infertility” – and was continuing the conversation and offering her own thoughts.  I loved these two blogs – and I have nothing more to add on the subject except some true confessions of my own and a bit of historical memory.

When it was me going through infertility – there was nothing anyone could say that worked. I was one raw, overly sensitive, emotional time bomb waiting to go off. It wasn’t pretty. And yes – it would have been good if my doctor hadn’t commented on how puffy I looked after my Pergonal Cycle (Just mentioning Pergonal as a fertility drug let’s you know how old I am – I bet you have never even heard of it).  And yes – it would have been wonderful if my mother in law had not suggested that I create and run the baby shower for my sister in law (I did it) – and if my pharmacist hadn’t said to me when I picked up the seventh refill of my fertility medication prescription, “I guess this isn’t working for you….”  (I cried after that one for about a week).  Yeah – if all of that hadn’t happened – it would have been nice!

What has not been talked about is that some of the rules of the road when it comes to “infertility manners” have changed. Now remember – I have been at this a long time. I was a mere child of 24 when I jumped on the infertility roller coaster – and started volunteering for RESOLVE NYC. Let’s say (just to be kind) that this was about 20 years ago.  Back then – and until fairly recently – we infertile people had lots of rules about what was acceptable behavior and what was not.

There was no pregnancy after infertility groups. Once you were pregnant – we wanted you OUT.  Now this behavior of pushing newly pregnant members of our own clan into the waters of the fertile without a life vest started to go out the window as fertility treatments became more successful.  But for the longest time as a species - we infertile folks  were what I would call “rainy day friends”.

We didn’t want anyone around the table with good news. It is sad – but it is honest. There were actual  discussions at board meetings that “adopted children were okay to attend meetings – but children by birth were not”. I am not making this stuff up. These conversations really happened – with straight faces.

You should know the scary ancient history of our people! We were tough! And not at all politically correct – and we didn’t care.  So much has changed. Let’s take images of pregnant women and babies on fertility websites. They were not  allowed and considered to be in poor taste. Everyone knew that an image of a pregnant woman or a baby would put an infertile woman in such a state of depression that she would have to be admitted to a psych ward.  Instead fertility centers and infertility support groups stuck to images of very sad looking couples taking walks on the ocean – looking longingly into the sea.  You would NEVER have seen a picture of a pregant woman, babies or children on any type of advertisng directed to the infertile. The offenders would have been burnt at the stake by a large group of women bearing long needles! Picture a scene out of “Children of The Corn”. 

Now – this is something that has also changed a great deal.  I am not sure if it is an evolution of our species or that marketers have decided that pictures of babies and pregnant women in the long run attract us – like cupcakes to a dieter. We can’t have it without big planning - but we are attracted to the pictures!

There is old school on this – check out RESOLVE’swebsite – for instance. Often their pictures are of a couple holding hands – or a woman looking visibly depressed on a couch – or a group of women actively engaged in conversation. Never a picture of a baby or baby bump.  Next go to The American Fertility Association where pictures of babies and children abound.  You see – the patients groups struggle with what is best too – do they go left or right when it comes to showing happy people or people in pain? Should there be pictures of smiling babies or simply adult hands grasping onto each other? Oh my Gawd! It is not easy to have fertility manners!

And I am a dinosaur when it comes to all of this. I have the historical memory – of what has come before – and like a person released from jail after 20 years – sometimes I gasp at the changes in our society.  “We” would never have allowed babies to attend an infertility conference as “Fertility Ties” did over the weekend. And they had a pregnant person greet people when they registered! I remember when I was pregnant and the Vice President of RESOLVE NYC – there was a huge discussion about where or not I could attend.  I tried not to look seven months pregnant – it didn’t work.

The fertility centers seemed to have moved on.  I visited a bunch of them this morning to see if I could find one that didn’t show pictures of babies and children. And I couldn’t find one! I did come across a beautiful video on Dave Kreiner’s website of their family union party.  I loved seeing these families. I loved seeing the babies at the Fertility Ties Meet Up in NYC…..and yet I know – that some where – there is an infertile woman who will not find seeing babies – or pregnant women helpful. Seeing the cup cakes that they can’t eat too painful for words, instead of finding it encouraging.

It is the paradox of our community.

And 20 years later – we are still talking about it, and struggling with it all.  And that is us! The people who have lived it – and who write about fertility – who support the infertile – and who care for our community.

What do we really expect from the tourists?  I think that many people do not know what to say or do around people who are in pain. Books have been written on the subject – because pain is not unique to the infertile.

It’s not that people mean to be unkind or insensitive – it’s just that they don’t know how to make it better.  The aforementioned blogs have some good suggestions for getting off of infertile people’s toes – and I encourage you to read it, and pass them on to your friends and family.

Just remember that sometimes – our toes are really big and we don’t wear shoes - and there is glass on the floor – and no matter what you say, it is very likely that we will shout “OUCH”!

About Pam Madsen
Talking, writing, educating and change making in the field of fertility for more than twenty years
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Hi Pamela,
    Thanks for the nod!

    I enjoyed hearing about how etiquette has changed within the infertile community over the past two decades.

    By the way, it’s Baby Smiling In Back Seat (no “the” in the title) — it’s a lyric from a Radiohead song.

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