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The Invisibleness of Infertility: To Pass or Not to Pass?

Posted Oct 25 2012 12:00pm

Welcome to Day 4 of the “To Mom or Not to Mom” Open Salon with yours truly and Pamela of Silent Sorority . We created this dialogue to discuss both sides of the motherhood debate from our unique perspectives. Why? To parse out the concerns and vulnerabilities of transition within the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community without tripping over political correctness and delicate sensibilities.

We hope you’ll join us every day this week and will be inspired to add your own responses in the comments here and at Pamela’s blog or by writing your own blog posts. If you do write a post inspired by this salon, please link up in the Linky Tools widget at the bottom of this post!

Today, we’re talking about what it means to “pass” in the infertility community – and whether or not we should, when given the opportunity.

Passing, as defined by Wikipedia, is as follows:

Racial passing refers to a person classified as a member of one racial group attempting to be accepted as a member of a different racial group. The term was used especially in the U.S. to describe a person of mixed-race heritage assimilating into the white majority during times when legal and social conventions of hypodescent classified the person as a minority, subject to racial segregation and discrimination.

As a biracial woman, I have often “passed” for white in my lifetime. I don’t look as Asian as I used to when I was younger (I don’t think so, anyway) but my first name: Keiko – is often the clue to my half-Japanese ethnicity.

And then people get really confused when I tell them I’m Jewish.

Photo via Flickr by johnwilliamsphd.

When I see women with double-strollers, a pair of smiling twins in tow, I always wonder: “Did she do infertility treatments?”

This is what three and a half years of infertility struggles do to your narrative. It makes people watching very interesting, in that sense.

I mean, it’s not any of my business. I could care less how those kids came into the world and I would never ask a stranger on the street that question. But when it’s just me and my inner monologue, I get nosy as hell.

. . .

When I was at BlogHer Entrepreneurs this past March, I went wearing my Infertility Voice hat. As I handed out business cards, I would watch faces light up as they read the word “INFERTILITY” printed in all hot pink capital letters on the front of my card.

We might not have a secret handshake, but the silent sorority of the infertile is but a knowing glance and a sympathetic nod of the head.

“I went through infertility, too,” I heard at the conference. I get that a lot wherever I go now because I can’t seem to shut the hell up about infertility in public. That’s the lot in life I’ve chosen to accept. And honestly, that drive to talk publicly started well before my What IF video . In fact, I was “out” about my infertility a full year before that video.

I’m a big proponent of infertility patients sharing their stories, because I believe all stories matter. Even the extreme ones: be they Michelle Duggar and her pregnancy loss or Jenelle, the opening guest on Ricki Lake’s abomination of a talk show on infertility yesterday. These stories are just as much a part of the community dialogue as mine or yours. They belong, they are worthy and they have a place here, too.

But should infertility disclosure be an obligation for members of this community?

. . .

Infertility amnesia: it happens. And I get it. Like moving beyond any traumatic life experience, I completely understand why, when someone sees two pink lines or welcomes their child into their arms – it’s like shakin’ the Etch-A-Sketch: shka-shka-shka what infertility? For some people, this is how they cope. This is how they move on.

By “forgetting” their infertility, already a silent, invisible scar, can safely remain silent and invisible. But can you really forget this experience? Or do you simply just start hiding it instead?

To answer my question regarding obligatory disclosure, I suppose it depends on how the individual regards their decision not to disclose about infertility struggles: is it a decision to remain private or to keep a secret?

Ellen Glazer, a mental health professional working with the infertility community in the Boston area, has this brilliant quote: “There’s a difference between secrecy and privacy. Secrets imply shame.” I love that quote. It speaks to how we plan to disclose to our children about their donor conceived origins and even how I choose not to identify our egg donor here on this blog, despite her being known to us.

Amnesia aside, if infertility is hidden as a secret, out of shame – then I believe in a gentle prodding to put it out there. To name it. To own it.

Because, as I have always believed: you have nothing to be ashamed of if you have infertility.

But when you’ve got an onslaught of cultural messaging that infertility IS something to be ashamed of, I can understand how hard it can be to make that switch internally.

. . .

Not everyone is cut out to be an advocate. Not everyone is comfortable with airing their bedroom business in public. Quite simply, by sheer circumstance, not everyone is even ABLE to take such verbal liberty with their infertility journey. I understand the need and value of the anonymous infertility blog. I should know: I wrote under the guise of my Hebrew name for over a year and to this day, there are still things that will never be discussed or named here on this blog.

And there are so many bloggers out there , both public and anonymous. The blogs are growing and the chorus of this community grows louder and more diverse. Personally, I think our community is helped when our members choose to put their name and face to their stories. It makes our community more real and less what the media would have you believe about us.

But at the same time, I’m happy to have any and all stories we can, anonymous or otherwise: keep ‘em coming.

. . .

Do you or will you pass? Do you or will you disclose? And what do you think about the idea of “passing,” infertility amnesia and disclosure? Sound off below. And be sure to head over to Pamela’s blog and leave comments on her excellent post today.

Thanks again to Pamela for continuing this necessary and thought-provoking dialogue with me this week. Join us tomorrow at 12:30mp EDT for our #ALIMomSalon Twitter chat . (Join us via that Tweet Chat for all the goodness.) We’ll round out summary posts for the week after the Twitter chat.

And! If you’ve been inspired to write your posts by this salon, please link up in the LinkyTools below and check out the other blogs and bloggers talking about “To Mom or Not to Mom” this week. The conversations are amazing, so go read and chime in over at their blogs, too!

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