Reasons why you might not want to tell anyone about Infertility Issues and Treatment

Infertility is affecting an increasing number of people – latest reports say that 1 in 10 couples suffer from some form of subfertility and this rate is rising every year. But anyone suffering from the inability to have children without medical help knows that you feel as if you are the only person on earth suffering this fate and we often feel as if we can’t talk about what we are going through.

Once diagnosed, infertility often takes over a couple’s life. Hospital appointments, examinations, drugs and injections as well as the emotional roller coaster both partners embark upon would make it important to be able to share the worries with loved ones or even colleagues. But instead we keep the truth to ourselves, pretend that we are happy when we are silently crying and invest lies to explain each new required absence from work.

So why is infertility such a taboo when it affects so many of us and sharing would be so helpful for sufferers?

Well, there are a number of key reasons why we can talk about illnesses or personal problems but decide to keep infertility to ourselves. The main reason is a sense of being ashamed and embarrassed. Not being able to conceive a child naturally is still regarded as being ‘less of a man’ or ‘not a real woman’. Whilst these perceptions couldn’t be further from the truth there is still a stigma about infertility.

Another reason why infertility is one of the best kept secrets amongst illnesses is that the affected couples don’t want to put any additional external pressure on themselves. There is very little awareness of what a treatment like IVF actually consists of and what the couple has to go through to fulfil their dream of pregnancy. By telling people that you take advantage of medical help in order to conceive, you risk of being constantly asked if it worked yet and if you are pregnant yet.

Successful IVF can take months or even years and being regularly faced with well-meaning friends enquiries – especially if you just come out of a failed attempt – puts additional pressure and pain on the couple. By not saying anything you also avoid friends and family to worry for you. You might not want to talk about it or even feel guilty of disappointing friends and family with the announcement that it didn’t work yet again. So many couples rather keep the information and the burden to themselves and pretend that they ‘don’t want to have children yet’.

Another very strong reason not to tell anyone, in particular work colleagues, about your situation is the fear of discrimination. Whilst it is an unfair assumption, it is a common assumption that women in their late 20s or early 30s are likely to have children in the next few years. This causes a problem for employers as they have to contribute to maternity leave and recruit for maternity cover. Whilst discrimination against women in child-bearing age is illegal, a woman who fights infertility will be very careful to admit her situation at work. As infertility treatment can continue for years and does not always result in a healthy pregnancy, there is a concern to be discriminated against at the workplace if the treatment is common knowledge. Employers might be reluctant to give a female employee, who is actively trying to achieve pregnancy, a well-deserved promotion or project and training to assist her career development. As the woman cannot know if she will ever achieve her dream to be a mother, her career might become more important to her than ever. After all, it might be ‘all she can achieve in her life’ and the fear to not only lose the dream of motherhood, but also the chance of progressing ones career is reason enough for many to keep schtum.

The situation is not helped with infertility in the eyes of the law not being classed as an illness. Infertility treatment is considered as something you choose to do and has the same status as a nose job or breast enlargement. You won’t die if you don’t have treatment. You won’t have physical pain. Nobody can deny the emotional pain experienced but unlike depression it is not considered as serious enough to warrant medical treatment. In some countries or depending on your insurance company, a few treatment cycles might be covered by the health insurance. However, by law absence due to infertility treatment does not count as an illnesses and if an employer is aware of the treatment he can insist on holiday being used for appointments and recovery times after egg retrieval or embryo transfer. An employer – whilst he would be very unreasonable – also has the right to refuse leave if they believe the employee is needed at work on the day.

With treatment involving a large number of hospital visits and regular absences which are often very short-notice, patients might have concerns of not having enough holiday to cover all the treatment they need or exhausting the patience of their employer if treatment goes on for a long time. With couples today often waiting longer until they start trying for a family, many infertility patients are well aware of their biological clock ticking and are concerned of having to delay treatment due to a lack of holidays. Therefore we rather lie about bad headaches, stomach bugs and broken down cars than admitting the truth – that we go through painful and very emotionally draining medical treatment.

If you suffer of infertility the choice if you want to tell everyone, anyone or no one at all is completely yours. You and your partner should take some time to discuss the pro and cons and also consider the character of the people you consider to talk to. Are they understanding? Are they sensitive to other people’s feelings and will wait for you to decide if you want to talk about things or not? Can they keep a secret? And will you be able to deal with their attention?

It can be a good decision to tell some carefully chosen people about your infertility treatment as it helps you to bring things into perspective or just to offload some of your pain and worries on stronger shoulders. But you should always consider to whom you talk and what the potential risks of sharing your secret are.

Hopefully, over time infertility will become a more acceptable discussion topic with people being much more aware of the issues an infertile couple faces and the law will start considering it as a medical issue, however, until then infertility remains often to be discussed only behind closed doors.