Keeping our mouths shut?

July 13, 2007

So, as promised: I do know two African American women who have struggled with infertility issues. (By the way, this may turn out to be an epically long post. I can feel the words crowding up in there, ready to cover the page in a chaotic jumble. I’ll try to keep them under control, but you’ve been warned)

One of these women, whom I’ll call Dr. Poise (I cannot imagine a more poised, gracious person than this woman), I know in a quasi-professional, quasi-personal capacity. We met in an academic setting as graduate students and have run into each other in similar settings many times over the past ten years or so, always super-friendly but never really getting beyond surface stuff. Then once recently we somehow got into a conversation about TTC–perhaps I was in my complain-to-everyone phase–and I found out she dealt with endo and that she and her husband had been undergoing various medical interventions trying to conceive.

The other woman, whom I’ll call Ms. Wisdom (I’ve always gotten such a wise, peaceful vibe from her) is the wife of a close friend of mine from college, Mr. Fun. They are an awesome couple, but she and I never became super-close friends on our own, probably because we both already had our own settled group of friends before we met. Once, though, a couple of years ago while the four of us were out together, she and I also ended up in a conversation about TTC. At that time G and I weren’t yet trying, but it turns out Ms. Wisdom and Mr. Fun had suffered a miscarriage early on in their efforts and were trying again, without success.

These conversations were such a relief–if not for Ms. Wisdom or Dr. Poise, at least for me. There’s a whole history of African American women’s silence about sexuality issues**, and so silence about infertility, while not unique to black women, becomes a part of that other, historical silence that is unique to us. Maybe this is why I don’t know how to bring the topic up again now that some time has passed.

When I last saw Dr. Poise, several months ago, she was starting an out-of-pocket IVF cycle that sounded like the final effort to conceive a biological child with her husband. But when we exchanged emails about a professional issue last week, her warm note contained no news, and I couldn’t figure out how to ask what the outcome was. I sent an open-ended “how have you been/ what have you been up to?” follow-up, but got no response. So now I wonder–did it work? Is she a few months pregnant? Or was the cycle unsuccessful? Are they frustrated and disappointed, not to mention out many thousands of dollars? There seems to be no way to ask these questions outright.

At least in the case of Dr. Poise, I’ll probably see her again soon enough at another professional event–maybe it’ll be easier to broach the issue in person. Or maybe she’ll be pregnant and showing. In the case of Ms. Wisdom, it’s more complicated.

Like I said, Ms. Wisdom told me about her miscarriage before G and I were trying. And so she doesn’t know that G and I have struggled to conceive. I haven’t had a chance to tell her, either, because she and Mr. Fun have been avoiding us. Every time we call, they sound glad to hear from us, but never follow up with concrete plans to hang out. Or they just don’t return our calls. They decline invitations to our occasional parties. Occasionally we’ll chat with one or the other of them on the phone, and they tell us about their extensive traveling, their heavy work schedules, how busy-busy-busy they are. This has been going on for over a year.

Some of you are saying to yourselves, “Why doesn’t she just get the hint? They obviously DON’T LIKE YOU!” You’re probably right, but the thing is, they don’t *seem* to dislike us, as they are always so warm and sincere-sounding when we do talk to them. And there’s no clear event that I can pinpoint that marks a point when our relationship changed. We used to hang out all the time, really!

Of course, I’m terrified that I unintentionally said something rude or insensitive about TTC or pregnancy or children or miscarriage at some point, and Ms. Wisdom has put me into the category of “insensitive fertile friend” without my even realizing it. If only she knew. If only I had the chance to tell her! But again, I don’t know how to bring it up. The few times we have talked, I haven’t known how to raise the kids issue with them at all. I don’t know whether they’ve decided to adopt, or to remain childfree, or even if she’s been doing IVF cycles all this time.

Okay, I’m cutting this here and putting the rest in another post.

**My inner academic is forcing me to pause here and direct you to some further reading on black women, sexuality, and silence. This article is one place to start. Or you might try this book. And I might need this film for my own collection.

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One Response to “Keeping our mouths shut?”

  1. MN Says:

    This is very interesting. I know a few couples also experiencing this problem. One couple (the female partner) was very open about seeking treatment after they found out it worked. She later suffered a miscarriage and since then has been unusually silent about it. Like you, I don’t know how to bring it up with her. The other couple has been open about their decision not to seek treatment. However, they haven’t been very willing to talk about how 5 years of infertility has affected them. In terms of how I communicate with her — I am the one who holds back on the treatment I am receiving. In fact, we have essentially been silent about seeking treatment, testing, etc. with just about everyone. I think there is a sense of shame to face the possibility of never having a biological child. I feel less than a women — different than the strong southern women in my family that had no problems becoming pregnant. I am finding that this silence is taking a toll — I feel I am internalizing so much of my negative experiences with treatment and there is no one to talk to. I know that others are suffering with this as well. How do you open up? How do you let go of he shame?

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