What We (Don't) Talk About When We Talk About the Fertility Clinic

by Karen Jeffries, of Hilariously Infertile

Talking about what people don’t talk about, is probably my favorite thing to talk about.  I never quite understood why people don’t talk about certain things, when so many of us are going through them alone, and we are craving that connection to other people who are going through the same thing.

For example: What no one talks about when it comes to the fertility clinic.

No one tells you that no one talks in the waiting room of the fertility clinic.  No one smiles at each other, no small talk about the weather, or having to wait in line.  If you see the same patients again and again, you do not acknowledge them. You are not going to make friends at the fertility clinic, even though every single one of you is going through one of the hardest periods of your life, and you all have one massive thing in common:  You are all dealing with infertility.

I remember my first day at the fertility clinic as though it was this morning.  I had been devastated that I had to go through infertility treatments. I had so many questions.  I had no idea if any of this would work at all. That first morning, however, I maintained a low level of excitement at the possibility of perhaps making friends with someone at the clinic, and we could support each other through this slog.  

When I walked into the clinic, I was shocked to see all the different types of women.  I was young and dumb. I thought that infertility was just for older women. There were, of course, all types of women there.  There were women that looked like me — with pants from The GAP, and mediocre blow-dried hair. There were women who were more “The Devil Wears Prada” types — whom I imagined worked at a high-end magazine on 5th or Madison Avenues.  There were older women, younger women, pushy women; and kind, polite women.  This entire group of women, who may look so different on the streets of Manhattan, are brought together here by the same common denominator: infertility.

I once had a run in with a friend at the clinic. We both already knew that the other person was going through infertility, so neither of us felt awkward.  What was awkward about it was that I was graduating from the clinic — at the end of my trek — and my friend and her husband were at the beginning of theirs, on their second visit.  When we saw each other, we hugged and kissed and did all the typical New Yorker things that people do when they see each other. It was not weird for us, but at the same time, we could sense that it was very weird to everyone else.  People were staring, giving us that look like, “Are you fucking kidding me that you are exchanging pleasantries in this room?” We all (myself, my friend and her husband) noticed it very quickly and we simmered down our emphatic salutations in an attempt to be respectful of others in the waiting room.

I am around children all the time — I teach fourth grade — and I have never once heard a child say, “When I grow up, and can’t have children . . .”  Or, “When I grow up I am going to struggle to build the family that I want.” Children and young adults, who believe they want to have a family, take for granted that it will happen. They have no reason to doubt it will be hard, or that it won’t happen at all.  The atmosphere of the waiting room at the fertility clinic is very similar to that of a funeral service. Which makes sense to me because nearly every single person in the room is mourning the idea of what they thought their life was going to be like before the diagnosis of infertility.  For some people, they are mourning the spontaneous intercourse that they believed would lead to their child. For some, they are mourning the loss of the financial cushion of savings they had before infertility. The waiting room is a dark, somber place where smiles and happiness are rare.

The waiting room of the fertility clinic, sad and full of mourning as it is, is also a place of fierce respect. Females are inherently in tune with other women’s emotions. We help each other when we fall; we support each other when needed.  Many women that I have spoken to say that they wanted to make friendly talk to the person next to them in the clinic waiting room, but they couldn’t because they felt so badly for another stranger suffering a few chairs down, or they saw someone crying and they wanted to be respectful.  

What if we could take that quiet respect and say it aloud: “I can tell that you’re having a rough day, and I am here for you.” Or, “I’ve been there.” Or, “I can listen if you need to talk?”  Maybe, in articulating our mourning, and our respect, we could fully connect to one another in a satisfying, meaningful way. Maybe. And maybe — just throwing this out there — we could even go so far as to complement one other on each other’s shoes or hair, because, c’mon — that just makes anyone’s day a little bit brighter, right?


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Hilariously Infertile is a school teacher who underwent IUIs and IVF to conceive her children. She wrote a book about her experiences (available on Amazon.com) and blogs anonymously on the website Hilariously Infertile. You can follow her @hilariously_infertile.