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Smiles Intact. Masks In Place.

Posted: August 2, 2013

As we walked back along the residential complex where my friend resided, she said something that touched a nerve, a part of me that still winced at reminders of my less than ideal fertility. When one friend asks another if she has children and her eyes glaze over as she quickly shakes her head and deflects, I feel something turn inside me.

Memories rush in. Of years of deflecting and wearing a mask. Of eyes that glaze over and look away. Of hastily changed topics and suppressed screams of “why me?”

Dealing with infertilityOver the years I have made peace with the fact that my body does not work the way it must. I have taken the time to mourn the loss of children I would never have. I have paused to reflect on a dream that would never be fulfilled and lit a mental candle for it to rest in peace. I have found closure over time.

So, when occasionally I see people at various points on the infertility spectrum, my heart aches. I know their pain. I have walked in those shoes. My eyes plead with theirs to stop and set the pain they are carrying around down. I wordlessly whisper the things I want to say to them in my head. I know too well the burden of unsolicited advice.

Like I do when I bottle something up, it finds deliverance in words sent floating in the ether. Words that I hope will give someone a companionable hand.

Grieve. Let it out. The more you hold it in, the heavier it is to mask. Scream. Vent. Cry. Do what you have to do to dissolve the knot in the pit of your stomach when you read the next birth announcement, receive a baby shower invite or pass by a newsstand boasting pictures of a pregnant celebrity.

Connect. Look around. Reach out. There are people in your midst walking in the same shoes you do. They have either clocked more miles are just beginning the journey. There is comfort in shared pain. If the idea of swapping personal stories with people you know mortifies you. Look online. Preserve anonymity while leveraging the comfort of community.

Reserve judgement. Not everyone ribbing about your future family is rubbing it in. Some people are truly clueless about how insensitive their normal conversation could be. Engage and educate. If they still do not get it. Ignore.

Prioritize. Now is as good a time as any to redefine boundaries. To be selective about the people you want in your life. Changes happen all the time. It happens when friends get married, start families and move away. Sometimes it is OK for you to initiate the change. To be the one who carves out space. To become part of new groups and follow newer interests.

Most importantly, recognize that life is inherently unfair. Smiling faces do not necessary mean happy faces.


Pic credit: Argyropoulos (Used under a Creative Commons license)

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  1. “Some people are truly clueless about how insensitive their normal conversation could be. ” And yet, should they be so easily excused? In our culture, it doesn’t seem to be some people but that these questions are culturally sanctioned as polite conversation, like the weather. As we become more aware of the many reasons a couple might not have children, some painful, some prosaic, maybe as a culture we need to take a stand against such questions.

    It’s my personal policy never to ask this question.

    • Its a sin to ask this question not only from yhe particular family who’s suffering but also her parents, family and friends. The insensitive people who ask know very well what they are talking about. They need a few classes on how to live in a society.

    • Deepti, I agree. In our society, it seems it is not just the woman but her extended family too who are guardians of her fertility. 🙂

    • The Bride, I understand where you are coming from and I agree. I was talking about the innocuous “Do you have children/kids?” that seems to be a standard conversation starter when talking to women of a particular age group across cultures. As someone struggling with infertility I used to take offense at this simple question. Now, as a mother when I meet people I find myself biting back words as the question almost pops out and I realize I do not mean to be nosy or intrusive. I have been there and know the pain yet it is the simplest of questions to mistake when you are struggling. So, all I mean to say is not all questions are meant to be hurtful or intrusive and it is good to have that perspective. If it is someone particularly close, I try to explain why that question may hurt me. With people I do not care about, I ignore it.

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