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.
- 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.
- 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?