Our Facebook news feeds may be clogged with photos our friends' kids and status updates announcing the impending arrival of yet another bundle of joy, but what about infertility issues? According to a survey of couples seeking fertility treatment, the amount of information couples having trouble becoming pregnant decide to share with friends and family depends on whether a member of the couple feels stigmatized and isolated by reproductive difficulties—and whether this member of the couple is a man or a woman.
"When the woman is concerned about people's reactions to their infertility, both the husband and the wife disclose more to their social network. If the man is feeling stigmatized, both partners share less," finds the team of researchers from the University of Iowa and Penn State University who conducted the survey.
Why is this? "For women, there's an expectation that women want children, and sometimes those who are voluntarily childless are labeled as selfish or too career-driven," says study author Keli Ryan Steuber, assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa. When infertility affects a woman, Steuber thinks she may feel compelled to clarify: 'We're not choosing to not have children. We can't have children.'"
When information is not shared about male infertility or a man's negative feelings about the couple's fertility struggles, "it aligns with the idea that couples do more work to maintain the husband's public persona," Steuber believes.
Have a lot to say about your fertility? This latest study didn't ask couples whether they preferred sharing fertility information in person, over the phone or online, so the next step for researchers will be to specifically examine how couples use online support networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and message boards to seek support for infertility.
"We know that these communities can be helpful in terms of social support," Steuber says. "People will post something and get a reassuring response by other people going through a similar experience. Or, they might not get a response at all, and feel turned off by that. We're curious about the benefits and disadvantages of online forums."