Infertility

To tell or not to tell

Whether or not to tell friends, family and work colleagues about their infertility and treatment was often a difficult and very personal decision. Here we discuss why some people chose to keep their treatment secret, were selective in who they told, or decided to be very open. We also discuss people’s thoughts about how they handled this issue, including some who felt they had not handled it well.
 
Sometimes people decided to keep their treatment a secret from the outset. Belinda, like many others, felt that it was, “A very private thing and is not necessarily something that you want to discuss with everybody”. 
The reasons people gave for not wanting to talk about their infertility and treatment varied. While some just wanted privacy, others were keen to protect their families from their disappointment or were concerned that friends would treat them differently and not want to tell them about their own pregnancies.
 
Some wanted to keep their treatment secret from work colleagues because they did not want the fact that they were either thinking about a family or seeking treatment to affect their work prospects (see ‘Balancing work and treatment’). Others just did not want to involve other people and feared having to deal with their emotions as well as their own.
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Treatment for infertility can last months and years. People may start off telling friends and family that they are having treatment but then decide that it is easier to continue without others knowing. Saskia and her partner let a few very close friends know, but kept very vague about their treatment schedule, “Because we didn’t want them phoning up on test day”.
 
Sometimes people started off keeping their treatment secret but then began to tell family and close friends. 
Sarah had also not told her parents in law until they almost finished treatment because her husband hadn’t wanted them either worrying or getting too involved. Sarah felt better that they knew the lengths to which she’d gone to get pregnant and appreciated their support.
Some of the people we talked to said that they had become very selective about who they told rather than have to deal with well–meaning advice and concern from other people – which can just feel like extra “baggage” to have to deal with. Lulu said that it was sometimes surprising which friends were supportive and which were not.
 
Brian didn’t tell anyone at work about his treatment until right at the end, but wished he had. Although his boss (a woman) wasn’t very sympathetic he found another work colleague who was “brilliant”. Talking to him made him realise that other people have similar problems and he felt less isolated. He wished that he and his wife had overcome their embarrassment and joined a support group so they could have met others in the same situation.
 Some of the other people we talked to said they thought it was important to be very open about their fertility problems and treatment. Of course it helps if both partners feel the same way about being open. Martin felt it was easier to tell people so they knew what was going on in their lives. He felt no shame in talking about it. His wife Naomi was also very open with her friends and family. She felt it was better to have other outlets to discuss their infertility in, outside of their relationship – “If all you’ve got is each other to talk to, it must build up so much pressure. Because you need other outlets. There needed to be times when I could go off and have a good cry to my Mum about it”.
 
However not everyone was pleased that they had been open about their treatment. Clare was very open about her first IVF cycle but regretted it. When the cycle failed she had to deal with the disappointment of her friends and family, as well as her own devastation. Second time around she hardly told anyone. She felt part of the problem was that IVF treatment is so complicated it is hard for those who haven’t been through it to really understand what it entails, physically and emotionally. Maggie wished she hadn’t told friends about her fertility treatment.
Martin and his wife were open about their treatment from the start. On the whole, this was a good idea for them although it did have consequences. Some friends were sensitive, others seemed to be bored. But being open sometimes meant that people who had also had treatment came out of the woodwork, which they found very supportive.
See ‘Information and support’ for more on support groups.

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