It was during this week in 2010 that I first opened up about my infertility. My husband and I "came out of the closet" so to speak, as one of the 1 in 8 couples in the U.S. experiencing infertility and as one of the 1 in 6 that suffer a pregnancy loss. Taking that plunge was terrifying. I had carried so much guilt and shame about my infertility diagnoses for so long. But once we went public, we were astonished by the love and support we received. What surprised us even more were the friends and family that came forward to let us know that they faced it too and that we were not alone. The more I reached out, the less isolated and ashamed I felt. My first NIAW was a turning point and the first time I felt as if I had taken charge of infertility story instead of letting it control me. I broke the silence and in the process helped others facing similar struggles, engendered compassion in those that didn't, and opened up a whole new world of support and empowerment for myself that would help me through some of my toughest moments.
This year I have been as enthusiastic about NIAW as ever. Infertility advocacy has been transforming for me from something I didn't know how to approach to a passion that I can't seem to do enough of. I am thrilled to be attending RESOLVE's Advocacy Day next month for the first time. I can't wait to speak to my senators and representatives about how vital The Family Act is to me and the other 7.3 million people facing infertility in the U.S. In an attempt to reach out even more, I have also begun blogging for Fertility Authority and this summer I have plans to begin another exciting position with them as well. And perhaps the scariest, most exciting advocacy experience of all- I have agreed to CHAIR the first ever Walk of Hope in Southern California this fall. (sidenote-if you're in SoCal and want to get involved- please message me!) But as exhilarating as all of this involvement in the movement and the community is, it is still the quietest of exchanges, the simplest acts of providing support to someone that needs it or speaking up for those who are struggling that matter to me most.
One of the things I cherish most about NIAW is the opportunity to learn more but the movement, the community and myself. This year I have discovered that while NIAW provides hope and support for many, that is not true for all. There are wonderful women and men suffering from infertility that feel pain and loss during NIAW rather than support. Let's face it, the infertility community and our supporters in the fertile world are obsessed with "success stories" and by success we mean people who are infertile, but in some way became parents. We don't know how to celebrate the success of those who resolve their infertility by living a child-free life. I readily admit, that while supporting those in the community that have reached a child-free resolution matters to me very much, I am not always sure of the best way to do it. These stories don't touch my heart any less than the tales of IVF or adoption, but I have heard from so many that without the constant chatter of cycles and homestudies, those in the child-free camp often feel left out of the conversation and even the infertility community as a whole. This breaks my heart because we not only need to support EVERYONE that faces infertility and celebrate every victory, every resolution, we need these stories, these voices to make our community and our movement whole and complete.
Equally heartbreaking, is that there are those who don't see the value in raising awareness about the issue because, while NIAW and speaking out may provide you with personal comfort and release from shame, it does nothing to actually cure infertility itself or that "forcing" awareness down the throats of those not facing infertility is fruitless and self-indulgent. To that I say, you are missing the point. No, posting a link to a blog post about how to best support friends and family struggling with infertility won't resolve their infertility. Sharing information about deciding to see a specialist and how to find one won't guarantee that treatments will be successful. Educating co-workers that 7.3 million people face infertility won't decrease that number. Awareness on it's own won't make infertility go away but it WILL make a difference.
One thing everyone struggling with infertility seems to agree on is that it really is a STRUGGLE. Not only because our hearts break month after month, year after year with our inability to become parents, but because the navigating the world of fertility doctors, adoption lawyers, uninformed friends, unaware politicians and unconcerned insurance providers is one of the most challenging things we have ever had to do. Only through awareness can we begin to change all of that. Educating the public about the pervasiveness and realities of infertility will increase understanding of infertility as a disease deserving of compassion. Advocating by writing to your congressional representatives or by attending Advocacy Day will increase political presence and help pass important legislation like The Family Act, which would reduce the financial burden of fertility treatments for millions of Americans. Showing support and compassion for friends and family facing this disease, whether or not you face it yourself, makes a difference in your loved ones lives in ways big and small. Writing, talking and sharing the realities of IVF, domestic and international adoption or living child-free will ensure that every voice, every experience with infertility is represented, heard and supported. Taking the time to truly listen and support everyone devastated by this disease, no matter how much their circumstances and choices may differ from our own, will make this movement even richer and more complete.
With all of the obstacles facing those with infertility, it is easy to forget how far this movement has already come. The women and men of our parent's and grandparent's generation did not have RESOLVE support groups or online communities available for them to seek a compassionate, understanding ear. Adoptions were often done under a shroud of secrecy with little to no support for any involved. Adults without children were feared or ridiculed as "old-maids". Education about what really does and does not work when trying to have a baby was limited to what was passed on between friends and family members, rarely with sufficient access to additional information or medical assistance. Infertility simply wasn't often talked about. It often still isn't. I know it seems so small, so insignificant to just talk about infertility because how can that possibly make a difference? But speaking out is the first step of any movement. No, it is not a cure for infertility but if we keep it up, it WILL cure many of the challenges that currently accompany it. So make your voice heard and support others who are doing the same. This community is powerful and strong, we CAN make a difference.
"Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have." ~ Margaret Mead
To learn more about infertility and National Infertility Awareness Week please visit:
- http://www.resolve.org/infertility101 (Basic understanding of the disease of infertility.)