I’m in Austin on a work trip with my boss and a coworker. Both men, both older than me. We’re having dinner at a casual outdoor place and they’re as laid back as these characters ever get. They’re both lovely people – very nice. Both consummate professionals, these two. There’s very little personal talk. It’s all business or politics or history – very safe.
So we decide to have a second round of drinks (the workshop we’re running is going very smoothly) and the conversation turns to productivity. My coworker mentions how his productivity has declined due to the never-ending piles of laundry that the kids generate. I agree. We talk about how we spend our time and somehow (for the life of me I can’t remember how) I mention that I sometimes blog. They politely ask what I blog about. There’s the uncomfortable pregnant pause and, two drinks in, I say “Fuck it” in my head and blurt out – “I blog about infertility”.
There’s a long pause. My coworker says something like “From your own personal experience or in general?” and I take a long sip of my drink and tell him that it’s from personal experience. That my babies are the result of extensive fertility treatments, and that it was very difficult for me and that I found a lot of comfort from my online community.
There’s another long pause. Then he looks at me and says “My sister can’t have children. She suffered quietly for years and I never knew. It’s one of the greatest regrets of my life that I didn’t know she was hurting. I wish I could have done something to help her, I wish she could have confided in me.” And then my boss clears his throat and we both look over at him and he has tears in his eyes and he says “That’s why I don’t have children. We tried for years and years. We did infertility treatments and nothing worked. Eventually you accept it and move on, as much as you can, but it was really hard for us.”
It’s hard for me to put in to words what I’m feeling right now. There we were, three random people sitting a table, all of us deeply touched by infertility. I’m struck by how willing people are to talk about their personal stories when given the opportunity. I’m struck by how open and vulnerable people are willing to be when presented with an authentic opportunity for honest discussion. I’m struck by the sheer number of people who have been touched by infertility. I’m especially struck by the fact that I underestimated these two particular people. I had arrogantly assumed that infertility was my own personal pain and they would have no understanding or concept of what that was like. Shame on me! It just goes to show that everyone is fighting their own personal battles and dealing with their own inner demons. We can see people every day and never know what’s under the surface.
Infertility is so pervasive and yet still so hidden. It’s so intensely personal and that makes it hard to talk about. But we NEED to talk about it. We need to take the shame and failure and the secrecy out of infertility. We need to open up about the struggles and heartache, because there are so many of us out there suffering silently and alone. So I am going to start talking about it. I’m going to put it out there. I may not be able to do much, but I can do something.
Wow. Tears in MY eyes reading this and recognizing this experience. I am blown away more often than I would ever have expected by the number and diversity of people who have struggled to have children. And perhaps even more so by how our lives come to intersect. Thank you so much for sharing this poignant tale.
Thank you for reading it. It’s a good lesson for me about practicing non-judgement. You really never know what battles others have fought.
Jane Allen said:
Wow. when I started reading this post, I could sense that one of these two older men would say something insensitive, but how wrong was I. I’m glad you opened the dialogue
Me too. It’s really changed my perspective. That old saying “Be kind to every one you meet – they are all fighting a battle you know nothing about” is really the truth!
My first thought: discussing politics is safe?! But I digress. What a poignant moment, thank you for sharing. I might have burst into tears and tried to awkwardly hug my coworker, so it sounds like you handled it better than I would have.
I know right?! Especially in this political climate. 🙂 But it really was quite moving. I did manage to save my tears for the hotel, but they definitely came.
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This is powerful. I have chills.
A Few Goods Eggs said:
Wow. How brave of you to speak up and I bet your co-workers felt relieved to share their burden and learn more about you. And I feel so sad for your co-worker who never was able to have children.
Me too. He would have made such a wonderful father. On a bittersweet side note – he is actually a grandfather. His wife gave up a baby for adoption when she was very young (years before they met) and she and her son have recently reconnected, so they have grandchildren in their lives.