Hannah Bunker »

Waiting for Grace: The Dos and Don’ts of Dealing with a Fertility Challenged Friend

First off, I want to tell you…please don’t be afraid to talk to me. That sounded weird. Okay, what I mean is I know people don’t handle other people’s grief well. If a friend’s loved one passes away it’s so awkward to know what to say because you know there’s nothing to say to make it better. The tendency is to ignore their grief or ignore the person completely. My friend Barbie recently wrote about grief after losing her dad and having a miscarriage. You can read that here.

I know nobody here has died but my point is, yes, I’m hurt and I’m grieving and I know that may be awkward for you. Please don’t let it be. Of course there’s nothing you can say to make the hurt go away but there are definitely things to say that could make me hurt even more or could make me feel encouraged. There are things you should and shouldn’t say to someone who is struggling with infertility.

Imagine this: You have a friend or acquaintance. Somehow the subject of having babies comes up. Maybe they share that they’re dying to be parents and have been trying to conceive for a while now. Or maybe you opened the door with a few questions. You don’t know or realize what you should say to someone going through a fertility struggle because you’ve never been in that situation. You have two choices. You can either choose to say something from the spine-shivering DON’T list or you can follow up with an encouraging word from the DO list. You might say the wrong thing because you don’t know what to say. If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay. That’s why I’m here to help you a little bit.

I’ve had these come at me from both lists and I prefer hearing the ones on the DO list. Here is what every couple struggling with infertility is thinking if they hear these things come out of your mouth.

DON’T

  • Never, ever, ever, ever ask a person when they are having kids. Or its ruder cousin, “Isn’t it about time you’re knocked up?”  (Oh yeah, I’ve gotten that one). Never. It’s not considered ‘small talk.’ It’s none of your business. Period. That conversation stays between a couple and does not include you. There are other options however if you’re in a social situation where the subject might come up. I was in that situation once where everyone around was either pregnant or had kids and that’s all they were talking about. The person who asked me did a splendid job of not alienating me or making me feel crappy about our fertility situation. She asked, “Do you and Aaron want kids?” That’s a general, “life” kind of question and perfectly acceptable, in my opinion. I responded, “Yes, we do.” Oooo…now this may turn into a tricky conversation. Because you may get the urge to ask, “Well, when?” But that’s a no-no. She had the perfect response; “Well, they’re a lot of work but so worth it.” Perfect. High five, mystery person. Or you could say, “Well, you guys will make great parents.” Moral of the story-You never know someone’s situation and what questions might kick them in the gut. Don’t ever assume that because someone’s not pregnant or talking about getting pregnant that they aren’t planning on having kids. And it’s none of your business to find out when that will happen.
  • Give a solution to the problem. After going through my fertility treatments and seeing my reproductive endocrinologist (RE) so often that I plan on sending them a Christmas card, I could more than likely give you the Reader’s Digest version of the specific details of conception to implantation including details you’d probably rather not know about cervical fluid and the science behind basal body temperatures. So you telling me to stand on my head after sex is a little insulting. I’m paying someone good money to give me better advice.
  • Suggest giving up and making adoption the only choice. OR (Oooo…OR) say that someone is being selfish for pursuing fertility treatments when there are orphans in this world needing a good home. I think I heard you all gasp in front of your computers at that one. I’ve never had one that bad but I have heard, “You should start filing for adoption then you won’t be as stressed and you’ll be able to get pregnant.” WHAT?! At this point stress isn’t my issue and if it were, adoption definitely wouldn’t be the solution. Not that I know from experience but it’s just as stressful and agonizing as trying to conceive. Plus, for anyone who wants to be a parent and is struggling, adoption is an option at some point in their lives.
  • Follow up with telling me how your third cousin’s friend’s wife struggled with infertility for years and still doesn’t have a baby. First because that’s sad and not encouraging. Second, because you would forever be considered a “thunder stealer” in my book. By telling me how bad her situation is you’re lessening and demeaning my struggle.
  • Give some sort of religious, mythical answer to why we are struggling getting pregnant. I don’t even have an answer as to why this is happening to us…I only have control over how I react to what is happening to us and make the best of it in the meantime. Whether you think it’s God’s will or fate or that there’s some reason the universe has decided an infertile couple should have these issues, kindly keep it to yourself. Trying to apply logic to an inexplicable or illogical situation is simply not helpful. Even the most religious infertile couples will tell you that sometimes things happen when you’re going through this journey that don’t make sense. You just have to do your best and accept the outcome. Plus, when someone struggles with infertility, they often blame themselves. You trying to provide a reason as to why it might be their fault, only makes it worse. Thank you to The Two Week Wait blog for allowing us to borrow your words. This point was so good I copied it word for word.
  • If you are a parent or are pregnant, please don’t complain about the downside in front of me. I’d give everything to vomit in line at the DPS or to get no sleep because I was up all night nursing. I understand if you’re just making conversation and telling me about life. I’m cool with that and genuinely feel sorry for you. I just don’t want to hear you complain about it. Please don’t complain about it incessantly like it’s a huge burden. I’ll carry that “burden” any day.
  • If you are pregnant please don’t ever say “…wait until you’re pregnant.” I’ve been waiting for a while and I’m not so…there. This could apply to several conversations (ie: “my boobs hurt.” “I’m so tired.” “I feel sick.” etc). The specific example I’m talking about is the subject of modesty. I was talking to someone about modesty and they go, “You have no idea, just wait until you’re pregnant. All modesty goes out the window.” FYI: I have an idea alright. Anyone who is undergoing fertility treatments has a huge head start over every woman who got pregnant immediately and never went through a single fertility treatment. Fertility challenged friends are experts in getting naked and spreading them in a doctor’s office.
  • If male infertility is the issue don’t ever EVER joke about him “shooting blanks” or whatever joke you may think of. Male infertility is already a humongous blow to a man’s ego and should never be a joke. If I ever hear someone joke about that they’ll definitely get a piece of my mind.
  • I know you may think that I have the same kind of bank account as Juliana Ranic, but I don’t. So please don’t mention to me all the fertility treatments a celebrity went through to have a baby. I don’t have the same means as they do.
  • Tell someone to relax. Have you ever been so livid and then someone passively says, “Calm down?” That never goes over well.

DO

  • Offer to be there for them and pray for them. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
  • Ask every once in a while how things are going. Not all the time, but every once in a while. Some people might disagree with this but personally, I really appreciate it when someone says, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about you. How are things going lately?” Then, be all ears and give them your full attention. This isn’t just an in-passing question.
  • Say, “I have no idea what you’re going through but I’m here for you.” The truth is, unless you’ve been through this then you have no idea what it’s like.
  • Say, “That sucks.” Because it does.
  • Say, “You’re going to make awesome parents.” Someone recently said to me, “It would be a crime in this world for a woman like you to not be a mom because you are going to make an awesome mother.” Wow. Talk about tears. That meant so much to me to hear someone say and believe that about me.
  • Understand if you are pregnant that I may need some space. Especially if it happened so quickly and you can’t empathize with what I’m going through. It’s nothing against you personally, it’s just hard for me to be around you a lot right now because you’re a constant reminder that I don’t have what I would give anything for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so incredibly happy for you that you are on your path to motherhood and I wish you nothing but the best but the constant pregnancy talk and growing belly is a painful reminder that I’m not there yet.
  • Always say “WHEN you get pregnant.” Not “if.”
  • Remind me that God loves me and that he cares…because sometimes during this struggle I tend to forget that.

Those are just a few ideas. Is there anyone out there who has been through this that could add to these lists? What has hurt or helped you?

  • Kyla - Yup. The second thing I've learned from traveling a different sort of road is that people say the most HORRIBLE things with the best of intentions…or without thinking altogether…sometimes it is hard to figure out which! LOL. There was a time I fantasized about throttling anyone who offered up certain platitudes (ie. "God is in control." Yes, He is…but crappy things still happen and my kid is still sick!). However, I'm a big fan of "That sucks."

    In any sort of difficult situation, I keep that in mind and try to not pour salt in other people's wounds. It is harder to know what to say/what not to say in situations I haven't personally been through and I'm sure I've put my foot in my mouth before, so thanks for writing this up. ReplyCancel

  • Vanessa - Thank you so much Hannah for the past two posts, I know you know about Guy and I's trouble ttc for the past two years, my least favorite advice from people is "just relax and it will happen… Don't think about it, just enjoy sex with your hubby" Are you kidding me??? First of all how the hell is it possible not to think about it? Second don't insult my sex life like that!

    I also think it's good advice for Fertile Mertyls to privately let their struggling friends know about a pregnancy before a huge FB announcement, for some reason when I see a post on FB it's like a kick in the gut… But I have had several friends who right before sent me a quick message just telling me the news and saying that they know I'm struggling, that this news Might hurt but they are believing with me that my announcement is coming… It meant SOOO much to me. ReplyCancel

  • Allison - I don't like hearing, "I understand what you're going through" just because the other person is going through some kind of trial completely unrelated to fertility. I can offer you support about the mountain you are climbing, but it's a different mountain from mine. I'm not saying infertility is a bigger mountain, it's just not comparable. Infertility really hurts. I can't even explain why it hurts half the time, or identify what emotion I'm experiencing. Envy, jealousy, blame, guilt, disappointment, anger, sadness, despair…

    I really appreciate when others talk to me about it and ask me how things are going. That shows me you support me, care about my struggle and haven't forgotten. I don't want others to walk around on eggshells and avoid talking about babies/parenting, just include me and be kind and consider that I do want to be a parent. I may not have a child yet, but allow me to be a part of your conversation. ReplyCancel

  • Steele - Hannah, I feel wierd that I am the only male commenting here but I feel like you need to know this. I read your paragraph about adoption. Katey & I also went through years of fertility issues. During this time she tried to get me to talk about adoption. I was totally closed to the idea but that was only due to my ignorance about adoption. Finally I agreed to attend an adoption orientation meeting. After being educated and obatining the facts on adoption, I was totally on-board. The Reader's Digest version of our adoption experience is "What an awesome experience!" If there was ever a time where we absolutely knew we were in the palm of His hand, this was it. Maybe sometime you & Katey can talk about what a great experience adoption was for us. In short, from application to placement was a short 6 month process. An adoptive child is special because they are chosen. They are chosen by God & us. Katey & I are asked many times to speak on panels for new adoptive parents. I can't tell you how many times we have heard that after a couple adopted, they got pregnant shortly after. In short, just be open to the possibilities of adoption. ReplyCancel

  • Hannah - Steele,

    Don't feel weird about being the only guy. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this.

    About adoption, Yes…we have considered adoption. In my heart, it's no a matter of "if" but a matter of "when." Adoption has an incredibly special place in my heart and hopefully someday we can be able to go down that path.

    My excerpt about adoption was not meant to dismiss that option but rather to say that that's not the answer to fertility issues. Every situation is different and because one couple adopted and got pregnant doesn't meant that it works that way with everyone. That has seemed to be the attitude that I have come across.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I'd love to talk with you and Katey sometime since it is something very much on our hearts. ReplyCancel

  • Maddy - Sometime you just don't realize that you could be triggering someone with your comments or actions. I went through a very difficult time in my life a few years ago, and like you, I appreciated when friends checked in with me every now and then to see how I was doing. I still appreciate when they ask me about it now too. I think what hurt me the most during that time is that some folks, knowing that I was struggling, would just evade the subject altogether. I guess they were uncomfortable to talk about it, but I just saw it as a sign that they didn't care. I know better now, but it was rough for a while. And I agree…don't ask unless you're present and willing to listen. ReplyCancel

  • Barbie - Love love love. Because the pain of fertility challenges is a kind of grief, I love how similar our posts are! People need to understand that just because you don't have the baby YET, it doesn't mean your heart isn't aching. Often you might feel that grief of losing the 'what might have beens' during times that are especially discouraging. I cannot WAIT to tell you Congratulations, Mama! because I truly believe that you and AB will be parents very, very soon, just as you will quit that job sooner than you think. Love you both so much…save your fork, cuz the best is about to come!

    Thanks for the link-up, too, doll! ReplyCancel

  • Rachael - Thank you for this piece Hannah… I'm eighteen years old, love my God and have just been diagnosed with PCOS (poly cystic ovary syndrome) to a fairly significant degree. I believe God has promised me children, but it doesn't look like an earthly/physical possibility right now. You are a great encouragement to me! I really appreciated this because this road is and will be hard, and I want to do it right. I want to get to the end of it and hold a beautiful baby in my arms and go "Wow!". I don't know if it will really look like that but it might, and I pray God willing, it will. Thanks for teaching me what to say, what not to say, and how to respond when it's me.

    Blessings,

    Rachael ReplyCancel

  • Christine - Great post Hannah! Thanks so much for sharing your heart. I've been praying for you and Lesli since I read that y'all are teaming up on Dancing Upon Barren Land.

    I would probably add to the "DON'T" list about how NOT to tell an infertile couple that you're expecting…Being told in person is incredibly difficult for me to process because I feel a social obligation to act happy for them in the moment when often I just need some time to myself to grieve that it's not yet my time.

    Likewise for the "DO" list, telling an infertile couple that you're expecting via email/letter is the most considerate thing friends have done for us. It shows me that they really care about my feelings, took the time to type me a special note letting me know their "news" before I had a chance to hear it shared in a big-group or social network setting. ReplyCancel

  • Kara Moseby - This is so amazing! Thank you for posting this. I have several friends going through this and I only want to be encouraging. I tend to want to say stuff like "that really sucks." So, I'm glad that is on the approved list of things to say! ReplyCancel

  • Amy - Hannah, your so funny! Thank you, whata way to lighten it up for a gal! You had me at Hillarious when you commented about going to RE so much you could send them a Christmas card, HA! Blessings girl. God is on your side. ReplyCancel

  • Rebecca - Anytime you are suffering people can say hurtful things, but it’s also important to give people grace! I know I’ve been that person who has said something hurtful, inappropriate, unhelpful, intrusive, etc. We have all been that person and probably didn’t know it and never intended to be. What has helped me is when someone has been gentle and lovingly let me know that what I said was insensitive. Then I can grow! But when someone pulls away because they got hurt or decides not to love me anymore, then no one benefits.ReplyCancel

    • Hannah - Absolutely, Rebecca! You bring up a perfect point; Grace should be given because that speaks so much louder and shows love.ReplyCancel

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