Perhaps you’ve already jumped through every hoop known to man to try and get pregnant (fertility testing, seeing fertility specialists, natural medicine techniques, fertility supplements, IVF or other assisted reproductive treatments). It’s a lot! How do you even begin to explain the emotional and physical toll of infertility to others? Or why you burst into tears every time you see a newborn?
Girl, we are so sorry that you’re going through it. Lots of us in the Mumli community have battled fertility challenges. And in general, around 15 per cent of couples run into obstacles when trying to get pregnant. So you’re far from being alone on this journey. But it can sure feel lonely, huh?
Even in our *evolved* society talking about infertility openly can still be so difficult – in the workplace, amongst friends, and even sometimes with your own partner. (Maybe it’s left over from generations of women being considered ‘defective’ or ‘wrong’ if they couldn’t conceive male heirs to keep the family line going? I dunno.)
What I DO know is that it can sometimes be beneficial to open up about it. I get that talking about infertility can feel awkward and weird. (Even more so than talking about your vaginal environment with your doctors, which you probably do every few weeks.) So in this article, I’m going to offer some tips on how to talk about infertility with your partner, family, friends and work – the most important people in your life. If you want to.
Talking about infertility: Pros and cons
The choice of whether you want to talk about your fertility journey with others is entirely yours, but here are some things you might consider before jumping into those conversations.
Potential pros of talking about infertility
- It gets it off your chest – Infertility is a big deal. The World Health Organization says, “Individuals and couples have the right to decide the number, timing and spacing of their children. Infertility can negate the realisation of these essential human rights.” (It’s entirely unfair.) And studies have shown that couples living with it experience feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation and powerlessness. Talking about it can help! If you’re not ready to tell family and friends, a psychologist might be a good place to start.
- It can inspire empathy and understanding – Telling your friends, family or workplace about your fertility challenges can take the pressure off you to slap a smile on your face and keep acting normal. Perhaps if your bestie knows that you’re pumped full of weird hormones, for example, she won’t be so pissed that you don’t make it to her birthday party. Or maybe your boss will be more understanding about you taking personal leave when they know you’ve just experienced yet another unsuccessful IVF round.
- It invites others to share their experiences – A lot of women (and men) find that opening up about infertility actually inspires others to share their journey too. You may find that you’re surrounded by people going through a similar thing to you.
Potential cons of talking about infertility
- It can make things… awkward – You might be worried about how people will react to the news, and if it will make things weird. This is often the case when telling friends with kids about your fertility challenges. Will they avoid you out of fear of saying the wrong thing?
- It can become the primary topic of discussion – Once your news is out, some people might find it appropriate to talk about nothing else. Every conversation could turn into ‘how did your latest treatment go?’, ‘have you tried X?’, ‘I read this article about…”. Ugh.
- It can provoke mixed responses – You can’t control how people will react to this information. There might be people with unsolicited advice, people with unrelated stories they just need to share, people who brush it off as no big deal, or people who feel like they need to ‘fix’ it for you by finding solutions. And you don’t wanna deal with those people.
Talking about your infertility might be terrifying or even just exhausting to think about, but how you do it can make all the difference.
How to talk about infertility with different people
How to talk about infertility with your partner
Perhaps the two of you made the exciting decision to start trying together… and that was months (or even years) ago. Now you’re not sure what’s wrong and why it isn’t happening, and broaching the subject feels taboo.
Here’s what you can try:
- Create space – Don’t attack your partner with questions (and tears) out of nowhere. Instead, set a time to talk about it. Maybe make it a date night. Ensure you have their full attention.
- Approach it as a team – It’s not all on you to work out why you’re not falling pregnant. It could be due to a female fertility issue like PCOS or endometriosis, but it’s actually just as likely to be a male fertility issue. It’s no one’s fault, so don’t be blamin’. Discuss how you’ll investigate it together.
- Articulate your needs – Perhaps you’re knee-deep in IVF and it’s getting to you. Chat to your partner about how you can more evenly distribute household tasks so you can get a break. Or maybe you need to focus more on self-care so your body’s in a good place to fall pregnant. Communicate what you need, and listen to their needs too.
How to talk about infertility with your family
You know how it goes. Every family barbecue carries the question of, ‘so when are you having kids?’, or [insert other triggering comment about how you shouldn’t leave it too late]. Cringe.
Here are some tips for talking about infertility with family members:
- Choose WHO to tell – You’ll probably have a gauge on who will be helpful to tell and who won’t. (i.e. Maybe don’t share the details with your judgy, know-it-all Great-Aunt Jude who’ll make pointed remarks about how old you are.) Tell relatives who’ll be understanding and supportive, without overstepping.
- Decide how much you want to share – Sharing every detail might be too much, and it’s not your job to provide regular updates. Be clear about your boundaries and what you want them to know.
- Clearly communicate how they can help or what you need – You might ask for support in managing housework, attending appointments, or regular phone call check-ins. Most people will want to help. Tell them how they can.
How to talk about infertility with your friends
There are the happily childless friends who don’t understand your despair, your friends with kids who complain about them constantly, and (perhaps hardest of all) the friends who fall pregnant and expect you to share in their joy.
Here are some tips on talking to your friends about your infertility:
- Tell who it makes sense to tell – You’re not obligated to tell all your friends. Choose the ones that can provide support. And that will say the right things. (You know the ones.)
- Explain what you need from them – Friends can provide an excellent distraction from the fertility rollercoaster, or be wonderful sounding boards when you need to vent. And sometimes they just bring chocolate over. Tell them exactly how they can be there for you.
- Set boundaries – If your friends have kids or are pregnant, you might need to be upfront and explain that you need some distance right now. It can be hard to be around friends with families when you’re facing infertility, and they should respect your needs.
How to talk about infertility with your work
Talking about infertility at work can be a serious source of contention for women. Many stay silent about their struggles for fear of it affecting their career prospects (i.e. if your boss knows you’re trying to get pregnant, will they still put you forward for that promotion?).
Look. Things are slowly getting better for women in the workplace. Companies are introducing amazing new policies to support women and men who experience pregnancy loss – hats off to Linktree in particular for offering 20 days of paid leave to parents that experience miscarriage, and up to 18 weeks of paid leave after a stillbirth or pregnancy loss after 20 weeks. (Gold. Standard.) We hope to see similar positive change for women experiencing fertility challenges in future.
For now, you could:
- Confide in the right people – If your company has an HR department, it may be the best place to go, rather than your direct manager. Or you might feel like it’s the other way around for you. Whoever will show you compassion and stay unbiased is the best bet.
- Provide reassurance – We shouldn’t have to say this, but women can still do great work even though we have ovaries. Sometimes those ovaries malfunction, but you can reassure your workplace that trying to conceive doesn’t take away from your work ethic or performance.
- Be clear about your expectations – If you need flexibility to attend appointments, ask for it. If you want to scale your hours down, ask about it. If you want to work from home more, ask! You see where I’m going with this. Infertility is hard, but a good workplace will support you however they can.
How to talk about infertility with the world at large
We’re seeing a huge surge in women sharing their experiences with infertility and pregnancy loss publicly. It’s great for spreading awareness about what women go through and how we can support each other! But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s OK.
Some ways you could talk about infertility publicly include:
- Start a blog – Writing can be super cathartic, help you process your thoughts and feelings, and provide a platform to share your latest fertility developments. This is also a great way to provide support and encouragement to others going through the same thing.
- Share on social media – You might just want to get it all out in the open and share your journey on social media. That way everyone knows where you’re at, and you can continue being your authentic self without just sharing the highlights.
- Talk openly to anyone who’ll listen – If online platforms aren’t your thing, you might just adopt the mindset of talking openly about your journey in conversation. That means answering the water cooler question of ‘what did you do on the weekend’ honestly, with ‘I researched surrogacy and adoption because I’m struggling to fall pregnant’. Boom. Straight in.
Where to get support to talk about infertility
Your fertility doctor may be able to refer you to support services and counsellors to help you cope as you undergo treatments and explore your fertility options. Some may also have resources on how to connect with family, friends and your workplace throughout the journey to conceiving.
Qualified psychologists can help you out at many points of your journey to motherhood: when trying to conceive, during pregnancy, postpartum etc. Some specialise in reproductive health issues and can provide strategies to help you build confidence in talking about your infertility.
- Access Australia – Australia’s National Infertility Network
- Pink Elephants Support Network – Support for miscarriage and infertility
- Single Mothers By Choice – A community for mums trying to conceive on their own