Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let's talk about how infertility can affect women's experiences on social media.
After two years of struggling with infertility, I had my kid, and we have no plans for another one. During that (very difficult) time, it was incredible how frequently people would respond to anything I posted on Facebook with "Gasp! You're pregnant!" I'm feeling tired after a late night out? "You're pregnant, I bet!" Getting snippy with a pushy timeshare salesman? "I got bitchy like that when I was pregnant, maybe you are!" Hungry? "You must be eating for two!" Most horrifyingly, there were friends of mine who would write these comments, even though they KNEW I was dealing with infertility. Since then I have overtly stated "stop accusing me of being knocked up with a second child, I don't want a second child," and the comments have ceased. But what answers/replies do you recommend for women who, like me, are struggling with infertility and didn't want to explain this to acquaintances on social media who threw out pregnancy declarations left and right?
Great question, C., and I commend you on laying down the law regarding the new "second child" comments. The only thing more annoying than fielding constant remarks, jokes and advice about having your first kid is fielding the same comments about a hypothetical second kid. I don't know how many people have written to STFU, Parents over the years just to complain about their friends and family asking, "When's the next baby???" but the number is high. It's hard not to make comparisons by asking yourself, "Gee, what's more annoying: People assuming I'm pregnant when I'm not, people asking me when I'm due when I am, people insisting on being parenting experts as soon as the first baby is born or people asking me when I plan on having another kid when the first one isn't even sleeping through the night yet?"
All of these 'stages' are equally personal, yet people feel totally comfortable poking their noses into others' baby business with assured confidence. And not only do they ask questions or funnel unsolicited advice their way, but they expect to receive answers too, damn it! When will this person "finally" have a baby? They don't want to hear, "Soon, we hope!" or "We're actually not sure if we want to have kids." They want to hear a future date, a time and a baby name. It's overwhelming for women who have no hopes or plans of conceiving now or anytime soon, so I can only imagine how much harder those nosy questions are to hear (sometimes repeatedly) when couples are actively trying to conceive and struggling with infertility.
In a way, this is a form of passive bullying, but because that bullying is masked with pure intentions, it's not supposed to be interpreted as such. But what else can you call being asked the same questions over and over about something so intimate? Especially if you are trying to conceive, those questions can feel like boulders rolling down a hill on their way to crush you.
I'm very sorry that your friends were so inclined to make pregnancy assumptions when you were not, in fact, pregnant, and if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's never to ask a woman when or if she's going to have a baby twice. Once... well, OK, maybe. We live in a society that tells women to breed, and in many parts of the U.S., it's customary to have kids early and often, so the subject often gets brought up. Also, if some women out there are anything like me, they might bring up kids just to feel a sense of camaraderie with fellow women who don't want kids yet (or ever).
But that's completely separate from friends knowing about your fertility struggles and making pregnancy comments anyway. Maybe they thought they were "helping" by making light of your exhaustion/hunger/irritation and cracking pregnancy jokes. Maybe they don't know the sensation of trying and failing to conceive for months or years, and they're somehow unaware that those jokes are painful. If that's the case, they really ought to get a clue.
The thing is, infertility is so all-consuming, and women who struggle with it want so badly for it to be temporary that it shouldn't come as a surprise that most women don't want to come out publicly with their condition, nor should they feel a need to. Why should hundreds of Facebook friends get to know a couple's medical details just because they're endlessly curious about why they're not knocked up? Of course, it can be emotionally helpful for others to read, learn and share that kind of information and/or form support groups, but that doesn't mean every woman is comfortable being a poster child for infertility (...or miscarriage or stillbirth or SIDS, etc.). Telling a few close friends is one thing, but revealing something so private on social media isn't for everyone.
So here's what I would say to women who are going through infertility now and are dealing with nosy friends and acquaintances: If you want to set the record straight and stand up for women who share in the struggle or have in the past, it might make you feel good. If you feel pushed to the brink of frustration, sadness and anger by people who can't stop making pregnancy wisecracks on public forums, write a status update explaining in as little or as much detail what the status of your uterus is — and why it's really no one's business in the first place — and maybe you'll discover that you're less alone or that sympathy from friends feels good, or — God forbid — you'll teach people a lesson they need to learn about overstepping their bounds. If you're a person who can represent others by speaking out about infertility, it might be empowering or therapeutic. You might make new connections and be glad you opened up about it. Social media has a way of surprising us, and something tells me more people would relate than the average infertile woman might imagine.
But if you're not interested in telling the entire world or at least your social network about your infertility, then don't! What you can do, however, is privately message people who make unnecessary comments and help them to understand your position. If you can help prevent someone else from receiving this line of questioning during her difficult time, that'll be worth it.
Being an advocate doesn't have to mean wearing "I'm Infertile, So Fuck Off" T-shirts or giving out infertility awareness wristbands. It doesn't have to mean being an administrator in a support group or posting a status update informing everyone you've ever met that you're currently trying to have a baby and are having some complications. It can mean whatever you want. But doing or saying something to someone might actually have a ripple effect of positivity.
Some couples/women are so fortunate to be baby machines, they forget that nearly 12 percent of women have received infertility services or that two-thirds of couples over age 35 have problems conceiving. Maybe those people should be reminded more, because if they were, they'd reconsider posting some of those "lighthearted comments." (And if they knowingly post them anyway, they're not worth keeping as friends.)
What if the ripple effect from telling people they should mind their own business even stops them from asking incessant questions about baby No. 2 or baby No. 3? Could raising awareness of infertility in a meaningful way actually inspire people to STFU about their friends' conception rate altogether? I'm dubious, but hopeful. In the meantime, C., whenever someone pops up to harass you about the second baby you don't want and will likely never have, don't be shy about shutting them down (and it sounds like you're not!). Even if the question comes from well-intentioned older relatives who just love babies, it's none of their business, and they should know that right along with everyone else in your newsfeed.
Something tells me Angela has fielded this question before — and she handled it like a pro.
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