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Flip the Script and Banish the Closets Beyond NIAW 2018

By Tracey Minella

May 4th, 2018 at 10:44 am

image: shutterstock

How do heterosexuals and LGBT members experience infertility? There are two different “scripts” for those suffering from infertility. One for heterosexual couples and the other for the LGBT community. Both can play out like horror movies for those unfortunate enough to be cast.

National Infertility Awareness Week (“NIAW”) was the brainchild of Resolve, The National Infertility Association. Each year the week– generally celebrated during the last week of April–has a different theme. The theme for 2018 was #FlipTheScript. As its name suggests, NIAW was created to recognize and support people suffering from infertility and to raise awareness of a disease that affects 1 in 8 couples.

In addition to raising awareness of infertility and supporting those suffering, NIAW is designed to mobilize forces to advocate for change and to get people talking—beyond just one week each year– so that the stigma associated with infertility can disappear and those suffering don’t need to add shame to the list of other emotions and fears that infertility already brings.

The International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ICMART) defines infertility as “a disease characterized by the failure to establish a clinical pregnancy after 12 months of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse or due to an impairment of a person’s capacity to reproduce either as an individual or with his/her partner,” (emphasis added), according to the Resolve website*. The latter part of the definition was added only after years of advocacy by the LGBT community and its allies to expand the definition so it would be relevant, beneficial, and inclusive of the LGBT community which sought medical coverage for infertility treatment.

So, if infertility is defined differently for LGBTs and heterosexuals, how is the NIAW experience similar or different for both groups?

When infertility statistics are cited, the phrase “1 in 8” is a likely reference to heterosexual couples. For the vast majority of the LGBT community—including all lesbians and all gay men– it would be “8 in 8”. That’s because they (and many transsexuals) cannot get pregnant or get someone pregnant without the use of assisted reproductive technologies like intrauterine inseminations (IUIs), in-vitro fertilization (IVF), donor sperm, donor eggs, and/or gestational carriers.

For heterosexuals, the painful infertility stigma they experience is often born from feelings of failure and inadequacy upon learning that one partner or the other (or both) has a medical condition, problem, or disease that makes them unable to achieve or maintain a pregnancy as a couple. Society expects a heterosexual couple to be able to produce a baby the “old-fashioned way” so when they can’t, they often feel shame.

Looking at it that way, LGBT couples should be free of the stigma. Society doesn’t yet place the same expectation on LGBT couples to reproduce. For most, their infertility is simply due to a need to obtain the missing biological piece – – eggs or sperm – – to create a baby within the LGBT union. Not the same shame here. Society recognizes that LGBT couples are infertile by biological necessity. So, for those LGBT couples not further burdened with a specific infertility-causing disease or condition (like male factor infertility or poor egg quality or uterine fibroids) or an unexplained infertility diagnosis, society doesn’t place the same expectation of procreation on the union or the same stigma of shame and failure.

In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. Some haters oppose the LGBT’s pursuit of biological parenthood. Instead of fighting a social stigma of shame like heterosexuals, the LGBT community fights ignorance, intolerance, and prejudice of those who fail to recognize that all people regardless of sexual orientation have the right to become parents.

Social stigmas drive guilt, shame, fear, anger, and frustration. If we truly want to “flip the script” as National Infertility Awareness Week’s theme encourages us to do in 2018, we need to acknowledge the words, emotions, and actions that have been written into our “scripts” to date and change them.

To the heterosexuals, society’s harsh script (including certain religious influences) reads that you have what it takes as a couple to make a baby. We expect you to procreate. You should be able to do this without help. What kind of a man can’t get his wife pregnant? What is your worth as a woman if you can’t be a mother? So, when you can’t get pregnant, the message is “What’s wrong with you? We don’t understand you or support you or sympathize with you.” Couples who can’t procreate often feel like failures and feel shame or guilt. So, they don’t speak. They keep their struggles secret and suffer in silence due to this stigma.

To the LGBT community, the horrible script is a different version of the cold shoulder. It sometimes reads, (including certain religious influences) that even though you have the legal right to marry, we don’t recognize your union as one meant for procreation or parenthood. Your union isn’t “natural” so you can’t and shouldn’t become biological parents. Kids need a mommy and a daddy. “What’s wrong with you? We don’t understand you, support you or sympathize with you.”  LGBT couples, accustomed to haters and frankly tired from fighting for the right to everything, just want what most people want–the same rights to have a biological child if they so choose.

To this, we say #FlipTheScript.

To this we say, banish the closets. The LGBT community didn’t come out of the closet to go back inside…and they’re not going to leave their suffering heterosexual friends in there alone.  They haven’t fought so many battles for so long just to stop now. They have the right to marry. They’ve changed the definition of infertility to include the LGBT community. And armed with a definition that includes all people, the LGBT community and its heterosexual friends will continue the fight for compassionate, quality, accessible, affordable healthcare and insurance coverage for the assisted reproductive technologies necessary to overcome this barrier to parenthood.

In order to banish closets in which infertile LGBT and heterosexuals hide, we all need to step up the advocacy efforts and show society we’re loud, we’re proud, we all have a right to be parents and we all have a right to affordably access the medical technology to get us there. That’s when acceptance may eventually happen and stigmas may end. That’s when the only thing hiding in closets will be those clothes you swear you’re going to fit in again someday.

If you are interested in LGBT family-building, Long Island IVF has decades of experience helping the community become parents.  Please contact us today for more information or to schedule an initial consultation.

We are proud to partner with the LGBT Network to provide information, education, support, and access to the most advanced traditional and holistic assisted reproductive technologies. All while understanding, respecting, and being sensitive to the unique needs of the LGBT community.

And we are excited to again be a major sponsor of Pridefest this June!

In addition to Pridefest festivities, Long Island IVF and the LGBT Network will be offering our popular Building Families in the LGBT Community seminar on Thursday June 21, 2018 from 6:00-8:00pm at the Long Island IVF Melville office. It’s a free, casual, and informative session that addresses everything you would ever need to know about how you can become a parent through assisted reproductive technologies. All are welcome. No need to be a patient. Just click the link above to preregister now.

This year, Long Island IVF is celebrating a milestone–our 30th anniversary. If you are ready for parenthood, we would love the opportunity to assist you with your own milestone. Please follow us on Facebook or Twitter for info on our upcoming free events.

 

* https://resolve.org/infertility-101/what-is-infertility/

 

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