To Tell or Not To Tell

A few weeks ago, I got an email from an old friend of ours when we lived in the town before this one.  I knew her through her husband who I knew through Mr. X.  We probably wouldn’t have been friends if we had met otherwise.  We were just different.  But, she has faithfully kept up the correspondence, even when they moved away and I have (half-heartedly) kept up my end.

As an unspoken policy, we had not previously told any of our ‘old town’ friends about our current difficulty in reproducing.  It’s not something you just drop in a once in every six-months’ conversation.  But, at the same time, I found myself becoming resentful that they were prattling on about this and that and I couldn’t share that huge portion of my life that was consuming so much time and energy.

So, when she sent me an email last year after my miscarriage – when I was still raw and unapologetically sharing it with everyone – I knew I could not keep silent.  I couldn’t talk about unimportant things like my job or Mr. X’s job or the kitties.  It was infertility and miscarriage talk or she wasn’t getting a reply.  I was like a geyser – I had to tell or I would burst from the sheer effort of containing it all.  I was very diplomatic about how I told her, though.  No frowny faces, no woe-is-me my life sucks (even though I’m sure I said that at least ten times a day), just the straightforward, we’ve been having difficulty conceiving, sought treatment, had a miscarriage. So sad, blah, blah, blah.

She wrote a lovely note back and was genuinely sorry to hear of our misfortune, which was like balm on my raw wound.  So few people acknowledged what had happened and I was always so mollified when someone who we weren’t particularly close to was so giving. 

But now, we’ve had a second miscarriage, this time after IVF, do I give the sob story again? It is a huge part of my history, but not the only part. Would I feel as if I was betraying myself and our little phoenix if I didn’t tell her? Can I really let her believe that all is well in my world? I think that’s what it comes down to – this unabashed desire to be nakedly honest with her, put it all out there and let her pick and choose what she will respond to.  At least I know that I have told her and she now has the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

This plan has back-fired on me before, though.  After our first miscarriage, I wrote to Mr. X’s great-aunt, a woman I love and admire.  She’s feisty, loving, caring and just plain neat – all the qualities that I wish to have, particularly when I get older.  I told her of our miscarriage in my email and was waiting for her special brand of soothing.  A day passed, then a few, then some more.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I was heartbroken.  She has never said a word about it and it still breaks my heart. 

There were others who I told who never responded or acknowledged it: Mr. X’s cousin who I had to tell after she asked how our baby-making was coming along (not so well, my dear, not so well); our friends who had a baby last year – she called me recently after receiving my email and I could tell that she wanted to bring it up but didn’t have the heart (or the nerve). I can’t say I blame her.  But, still.  I knew she had read the email and still there was nothing.  And, of course, there was John*.

Am I committing some huge faux-pas here telling people that our life is not a bed of roses and shitty things happen to good people? Am I harshing on someone else’s day by sharing this? Am I being totally selfish by wanting to share EVERYTHING – the good, the bad, the ugly? Or, am I making it more acceptable to talk about these things, even if they are met with silence, so that if any of these women (the great-aunt notwithstanding) has the unfortuate luck to have a miscarriage, she knows at least one other person who has had one?  Why don’t more people share this information with each other? Are we all so ashamed of what happened as if it was somehow our fault (to which the resounding answer would be NO) that we can’t even begin to mention it until someone else has one?

After my first miscarriage, I seriously considered getting a t-shirt made that told the whole world what had happened.  I was hurting so much that I wanted everyone to know.  I never did it because the mere thought of it was comforting enough, but I still feel that stigma of being Debbie Downer whenever I tell someone what has happened – as if my bad news would taint the rest of their day. 

The bottom line is this: I had two miscarriages, both after infertility treatments and I am not ashamed of that.  I am still sad about it (and some days angry) but they are events in my life just like getting G or learning to sew and equally worthy of being shared.  For, they have to be shared, people need to know that this stuff happens and it happens to people they know and love.  I will still tell people in the hopes of meeting those few enlightened souls who ‘get it’ and educate those who don’t.

image: scottwills (used through Creative Commons)

9 thoughts on “To Tell or Not To Tell

  1. In my experience, silence is not an unusual response, especially as time passes, & especially from older people, who were basically told to “get over it” & swallowed that message hook, line & sinker. Our culture does not generally deal with death, loss & grief very well at all… also, the fact that you were pregnant means you had to have had SEX (gasp!!) — a personal & private subject — & that makes people uncomfortable too. I think there is also a lot of guilt & sometimes incomprehension on the part of some people for whom babymaking comes easily. The fact that you’ve been mentioning it openly to people, to me, means you are willing (in fact, eager) to talk about it. I’m sorry nobody seems to be taking you up on that. You have a great attitude!

  2. It’s a hard decision to tell or not to tell anyone about this infertility stuff. It’s hard, and both you and MR.X need to be on the same page about it, I learn that the hard way. Mr. Duck wants to tell no one, and I feel that it’s fine to tell certain friends…

    We will eventually have to come out of the closet, when we tell people we’re expecting a baby and I’m not growing – people will figure it out!

    In terms of misscarriage, I learned of a cousins on facebook (who writes that on facebook) and sent her a heart felt note – I got no response at all from her.

  3. I think in the face of other’s personal tragedies, most people simply do not know what to do or say. So they say nothing. In general I don’t think we are very empathetic. It’s sad because we all have hurts that need to be shared & we all need comfort.

    I say tell her. Good, Bad, Ugly, Indifferent. Tell her about your phoenix, about G, about the beautiful quilts you have made, about your blissful time in Paris. Infertility is a part of who you are, but it isn’t who you are entirely.

  4. I shared our ‘medical adventures’ with just about all of my friends who I come into contact with in person, but I did find it hard to tell good friends who we don’t see regularly because it was hard to gauge their response over the phone or e-mail. My theory was that they couldn’t possibly offer us support if they didn’t know what was going on. And if they chose to ignore the situation, well, that wasn’t so much worse for us than keeping up a facade that nothing was going on. And I was pleasantly surprised how many people who knew nothing about the process at all were interested and supportive, and the few who seemed to have a good deal of knowledge about it reminded me that just because not everyone shares doesn’t mean they are not affected by it (ie. we have 3 good single friends who are all dealing with a sibling’s infertility treatments, which was really surprising).

  5. It is very difficult to know whether or not to tell people. On the one hand, infertility and miscarriage has become – for better or for worse – a major part of my identity, and I feel I am somehow being less than honest with those I am close to if I do not admit that. On the other hand, sharing such news does open you up to a lot of insensitive comments. I think many people feel so uncomfortable that they find it easier simply to pretend that it never happened – I’m sure that you are wise enough, dear Mrs X, to know that this says far more about them than it does about you.

    I think that you’re very brave to be so honest and open with those you know and love, and hope that your news of your losses is treated with the tenderness it deserves.

  6. With my family, I was silent for a long time. They knew we started trying again (back in 2005) so the subject DID come up, but I downplayed it at first. I don’t think I told anyone about the 2nd m/c except my mother.

    I realized later was a tremendous mistake that was, and after my 3rd miscarriage I started to open up. I was surprised at how many of my friends/family were so comforting, but again my plan backfired because some of those same people started to drift away after m/c #4 and beyond… unable to connect with me because ???

    I am still working on that…. figuring out the ???

    It’s such a huge part of me now, infertility.

  7. I find people want to hear the happy ending story and if there is not happy ending, then it’s just plain awkward. Miscarriage and infertility fall into those categories of things that people are really uncomfortable about. You should just be yourself and try not to be so concerned about how people will respond to the news. I know how difficult it can be to be truly heard and acknowledged.

  8. i don’t know if you should follow my don’t tell anyone policy. very few people know about our IF — although i think it would be very easy to figure out. i keep on thinking that i would feel better if i told more people, but i feel like if i told more people that i would have to answer more questions and thus feel sad so much more often.

    my coping strategy is to pretend that i’m on the fence about having kids — it’s easier to justify that someone that spends ten months out of the year with a classroom full of kids doesn’t really want kids at home. it’s not exactly truthful, but it’s easier than crying every time someone asks me when i’m going to have my own kids.

  9. I think it’s ok to tell her. I struggle myself with whom to tell and when, but I get tired of acting, as you said, as if life is a bed of roses and hunky dory when it most certainly is not. I think it is uncomfortable for others to be reminded that life is not great or has not-so-great moments for others, but ultimately, it is necessary. I think that pretending otherwise marginalizes what you have experienced. These losses and your situation are real, and you should be able to share them if you want and screw it if it makes others uncomfortable. A dash of empathy or at least sympathy would be a good thing.

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