Despite the onslaught of celebs who have come clean about infertility, including Hollywood A-listers Courteney Cox and Julia Roberts, the issue remains highly stigmatized. Both men and women feel the pressure to have kids, but, as with most things, the genders deal with and communicate about the problem differently. Talk about Mars and Venus.
A recent study of 50 heterosexual, married couples coping with infertility conducted by the University of Iowa and Penn State University shows that couples who have trouble getting pregnant share the information differently, depending on whether the husband or wife feels more stigmatized by the inability to have kids. When the woman is concerned about people's reactions to the couple's infertility, both the husband and wife disclose more to their peers. When it's the man who feels stigmatized, both partners share less.
Keli Ryan Steuber, assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa, speculates that women respond to the pressure they feel to pursue motherhood, while men concern themselves more with saving face. "It aligns with the idea that couples do more work to maintain the husband's public persona," said Steuber.
Steuber considers a conflicting stigma: the childless woman. If women feel insecure about being childless, why are they compelled to share their childlessness with their social network? "We wonder if that stigma overrides the stigma of infertility, to the point that women and their husbands feel compelled to clarify: 'We're not choosing to not have children. We can't have children,'" she says.
The trick is for couples to discuss how much to share and with whom. Otherwise, they risk offending or humiliating each other. Of course, with approximately 15 percent, or 4.3 million of the 28 million, married couples in the Unites States struggling to conceive, the pervading stigma associated with infertility has got to go.
"I've had women say things like, 'My whole life, if I worked hard enough at something, I've eventually gotten it … . This is the first time where, no matter how hard we work at this, we don't know what the result is going to be,'" Steuber said.
What do you think? Would you tell your friends if you were infertile, or would you keep your lips sealed to protect your partner's pride?
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