PR strategy – others
The most frequent subjects of conversation are work, entertainment, and family. It’s only normal that people ask each other whether they have children, but this question can be a nightmare for people who don’t have children, whether by choice or not. Some people even consider such questions a form of harassment. Women are worse off than men: for one thing, family is a dominant subject in female conversation; for another, society views childless women differently than childless men.
Communication with parents and family can be even more difficult, because their desire for (your) children may be bigger than yours. (What is more, your parents are being bombarded by questions from their friends about when they are “finally going to be grandparents.”) Parents may also feel more entitled to ask you personal questions, and their questions are more difficult to keep within acceptable limits. Some people divide their friends and family into various groups: some they tell more, some they tell less. Of course, there is the danger that they will tell each other.
Just at philosophy consists of three basic questions (What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?) and country music has three basic subjects (booze, trucks, and women), so, too, childless couples are asked three basic questions: 1. “When?”, 2. “Whose fault is it?” and 3. “What are you going to do about it?” You are going to have to answer all these questions, even if you and your partner choose the “minimum information” strategy. And you need to answer these questions in a way that leaves as little room as possible for the questioner’s imagination. Otherwise, they will “fill in the blanks” and eventually be incapable of differentiating between what they learned from you and what they came up with on their own. But I can’t tell you what exactly to say, since the “ideal” answer will differ from person to person.
The second question (“Whose fault is it?”) is the worst and shouldn’t be asked at all. First of all, infertility is nobody’s fault – it is an illness like any other, and it is absolutely out of place to associate it with anyone’s fault. And secondly, whose business is it anyway to find out why someone is childless? Perhaps only your doctor’s. Some people have no problem discussing their spermiogram or the number of implanted embryos with the mailman, except that the other partner should be okay with that (so that he or she can continue the discussion with the garbage man – but be careful not to go against your PR strategy towards the child!!) By comparison, other people are more protective of their privacy. But even though it’s nobody’s business, you need to provide some kind of answer to question no. 2. Like I said before, if you don’t, people will invent their own answers. Usually, they will think that it is the guy who is infertile, since they assume that male infertility is a greater stigma and thus a greater reason for “secrecy.” A compromise answer might be “it’s a little bit both of us.” Another possibility is to say “they haven’t found anything,” but you run the risk of people thinking that the problem is “mental” (stress or some kind of psychological block) – although, to be honest, it’s nearly impossible to avoid these kinds of speculations. For more on psychogenic infertility, see our “Department of Disinformation.”
Your acquaintances will also offer all kinds of advice on “what to do” – in particular based on the widespread belief that infertility is psychological. Some suggestions are banal (go to the seaside), others simply ridiculous (tell your neighbor), and some are even funny (your spermiogram improves if you someone startles you – as if infertility were the hiccups). If a couple finds it hard to ignore such advice or even make fun of it, they will soon grow seriously allergic to any comments, no matter how innocent. Sometimes know-it-alls can be shut up by answering “We tried that for six months and nothing. Don’t you have any other ideas?” or “We tried that five years ago. Can’t you think of something with more guaranteed results?”
Know-it-alls can be found in any culture and any country. The American website www.spermtest.org recommends charging one dollar for every piece of advice so that you can pay for your IVF. Americans were always practical and business-minded people. Here is my attempt at collecting a list of guaranteed advice. You’ll find it in the Department of Disinformation, and I hope you will add your suggestions as well. But to be honest, it is more than likely that all of use behave similarly, meaning unwittingly insensitively, towards people in complicated situations...
There are two more reasons why to carefully consider how much information to make public. The first is protecting your future child (see PR strategy – child); the second is protecting yourself from additional mental anguish. It is important to realize that the path towards parenthood isn’t always easy. Even if you both are open towards your acquaintances when it comes to the causes and treatment of your infertility, this doesn’t mean that you will keep your composure if the IVF is unsuccessful (after you’ve told everyone about how many eggs the doctors took out, how many were fertilized, and what beautiful embryos you have). Or: the treatment is a success, but the pregnancy ends in miscarriage. Some people need to share their pain with others, but not everyone is that way. For many people, questions about their pregnancy are like scratching at an open wound, and for the next attempt they choose not to tell anyone or to provide only minimal information until the high-risk first trimester is over (or until the 25th week of pregnancy, when the fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb). Take good care to properly estimate in advance what both of you are capable of dealing with.