Lying about IVF treatments

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I’m going through IVF and I don’t want to keep it a secret.

Social convention dictates a code of silence when it comes to IVF. Women cover up or lie about the bruises and needle marks on their arms from all the blood tests.

When we cancel on our friends at the last minute because we have to dash off to the IVF clinic, we feel compelled to make up an excuse. And when someone asks why we’re looking so anxious/stressed/so enraged you want to rip their arms and legs off, we dare not tell them the truth.

As an IVF veteran, I’m well versed in the ways of IVF deception. But this time, I’ve decided not to hide it. While I’m not the kind to blab to everyone up to and including the guy who just called from Optus to ask if I want to switch my phone and broadband plan, when people ask what I’ve been up to, I tell them.

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And, I have to say, my new strategy of openness isn’t going as well as I thought it might.

Mostly when I tell someone that my husband and I are doing IVF, they look at me as if I’m the sort of person who broadcasts the gory details about her sex life (positions, number of orgasms and size of partner’s schlong) to her yoga class. Which I’m not. For starters, I don’t even do yoga.

But seriously, if people want to keep IVF a secret that's fine; some people prefer privacy when dealing with stressful life events.

Others want to keep their IVF journey private because it’s already so public anyway. When a couple conceives naturally, it’s just them (and possibly the neighbours) who are in on the act.

IVF, by contrast, is a public spectacle from day one. There are specialists, nurses, counselors, finance departments, insurance companies, Medicare, acupuncturists, pharmacists, and, in some states, police, involved in the whole saga. When I recently went to have my embryo transferred, there was about as much privacy as Facebook.

On the flip side, that quest for privacy comes at a cost. There’s already so much shame and guilt associated with infertility that silence just makes me feel even worse about it. The taboo on talking about IVF diminishes the significance of what we’re doing. It makes me feel like it’s either too trivial or too shameful to mention in polite society. 

One of the reasons IVF couples keep silent is because they fear the trauma of having to tell people that it didn’t work out. This is part of the reason why, when I tell people about IVF, I’m sure to manage their expectations — and my own — and clarify that there is a much greater chance of failure than of success.

If it doesn’t work I don’t want to have to hide my emotions, as if my sadness isn’t valid or that my grief isn’t significant enough to be shared by friends and family.

Instead I want the people in my life to give me a hug and say, ‘yep, that really sucks.’ It’s very therapeutic to have your emotions acknowledged by another person.

On the occasions when I’ve brought it up, I've been surprised how many people — both women and men — are eager to share their own experiences.

One woman said that she’s desperate to talk to somebody about her IVF journey but she doesn’t know of anybody else doing it. Given that she’s middle-class and 30-something she probably knows several people who are going through IVF.

In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of live births in Australia and New Zealand resulting from assisted reproductive technologies, which includes IVF and other treatments, increased by 74 per cent between 1989 and 2004. But because people feel like they can’t talk about it, many of them are going through it alone.

Given the increasing numbers of couples undergoing these treatments, we badly need to revise how we approach the whole issue of fertility. We already have inadequate rituals to deal with miscarriage and infertility grief. We don't need to add to the stigma and isolation by making the IVFprocess taboo as well. 

Kasey Edwards is the author of Thirty-Something and The Clock is Ticking: What Happens When You Can No Longer Ignore The Baby Issue (Random House) www.kaseyedwards.com

35 comments so far

  • On our first cycle of IVF many years ago I told all my family and friends. The cycle was a failure and on the day of the preg test I was left with telling everyone the bad news and dealing with the myriad of bizarre reactions from people. With our subsequent four cycles I told no one which has reduced the stress and pressure of keeping everyone updated. I don't lie, I just don't talk about it. Women undergoing IVF should do whatever they feel they need to to ease the burden and stress of IVF.

    Commenter
    RoseB
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    September 04, 2013, 9:20AM
    • Rose, my wife and I had the same views as you, the pressure particularly from my wives loving family, we knew they would want every detail and want to be involved in what we found to be a very intimate and emotionally challenging process, when our first 2 cycles did not work and we didn’t have to deal with all the sympathy and phone calls and could grieve and pick ourselves up and rare ourselves for the next cycle without the pressure of our families we knew we made the correct call. My wife did have the support of 1 of her work colleagues, who had been through IVF herself which she was able to confide and cry with when she needed it which was invaluable to her.

      Commenter
      Cam
      Location
      Port Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 9:42AM
  • Thank you Kasey.

    While I'm not at IVF stage yet, we're seeing a specialist and getting the ball rolling. I've started telling some people but other people look so uncomfortable with the topic that I've realised it's not worth it. I don't see it as something to hide or be ashamed about - so why do they seem like I should be branded with the letters IVF?

    Commenter
    Melb_Mandy
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    September 04, 2013, 9:21AM
    • don't you love it when they act like it's none of their business and you're a weirdo for discussing it, and the same people are the ones sharing breathing techniques and mummy central stuff on facebook? Grrrrr!

      Commenter
      katie
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 9:45AM
  • While I have not had IVF and cannot relate to your experiences I had a miscarriage last week and I feel exactly as you have described. No one talks about these things and for me, I can intellectualize the medical side of my experience and I already have one child so I still feel positive about having more children, but it's the silence that is so hard. I know lots of women who have had IVF and miscarriages but they only ever talk about them months after the births of their children, when the pain seems to have lessened. I feel ok now but I want to tell people, to get a hug and feel some sympathy but I can't seem to get the words out because I feel that I'm just not supposed to. I didn't even tell work why I had to take time off, even though I was in hospital for a day. In all other areas of my life I'm confident and outspoken and generally voice my opinions, but this silence is something I am not equipped to deal with, which I guess is why I feel the need to write into a news paper just to talk about it with anonymity. I agree with you that their is a social stigma attached and the more open we are about things that affect us so strongly, hopefully the more acceptable it will become. Good luck with your IVF, I hope your journey is made that little bit easier with the support of those around you.

    Commenter
    s
    Date and time
    September 04, 2013, 9:22AM
    • I would love to give you a hug 's'.
      Stay strong.

      Commenter
      TamvdK
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 11:54AM
    • 's' thank you so much for writing your comment. its meant so much to me as a fellow 'silent' sufferer/griever. i had a missed miscarriage very recently at 11.5 weeks of what we hoped after a long time of trying was going to be our first baby...just when we thought we were at the prized 'the world can know' mark your hopes and dreams are shattered. like you work doesn't know the real sickness i had for the 2 days i was off which in some ways has helped with trying to get on with life as normal as i don't know how i'd cope with the sympathy but on the other hand the silence which you're experiencing is very real and there's times i'd like them to know why at the moment i can be a little off. comes back to the stigma issue. do you share sad news when they weren't aware of the happy prospect? here's to your journey and the silence getting easier...also sending you a big hug.

      Commenter
      melbs81
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 1:16PM
    • Sending you much love and hugs xx

      Commenter
      Melb_Mandy
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 1:56PM
    • I would give you a hug too.

      Commenter
      Mormor
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 5:04PM
    • I'm very sorry to hear that, we went through the same thing a year ago. It seems to be one of the most common unspoken-about-but-grave events in our lives. It is truly gutting to the point where you can't imagine people how people keep it secret (except that telling people about it relives the pain and makes it new again), but because most people do you also feel like you're making a bit of a fuss over something that's not as "bad". I had to be completely emotionally un-involved in the second pregnancy just to protect myself and now we've had success I have breathing monitors on her with back up batteries at the ready. It's completely changed the way I view the process and made more real the possibility of losing her. You know at a level that the first several months are risky, but I don't think the stats are widely known and with people not talking about it it seems a lot rarer than it is. I certainly speak up about ti and try and help normalise it now we live in a fairly cotton wool society and are less likely to experience these things than our grand parents and great grandparents.

      Commenter
      andrewb
      Date and time
      September 05, 2013, 12:03PM

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