Almost everyone knows someone who is struggling with infertility whether they realize it or not. For several years I wasn't public with the fact that we were having problems, sure those who knew me well knew that we were, but I wasn't writing about it for all to read. :) We all know people who may be open about their infertility and others may be struggling and we have no clue. This post is for those couples...I told my husband if I can't help those around me understand how HARD infertility is and to help them to be more sensitive to the people they know with infertility, then we've gone through all this and missed it. Failed at a big part of how we can make a difference.
Infertility Etiquette (Part One)
I am going to steal a little portion from www.resolve.org because I think it sums up what I'm wanting to say better than I can write it.
Infertility is, indeed, a very painful struggle. The pain is similar to the grief over losing a loved one, but it is unique because it is a recurring grief. When a loved one dies, he isn't coming back. There is no hope that he will come back from the dead. You must work through the stages of grief, accept that you will never see this person again, and move on with your life.
The grief of infertility is not so cut and dry. Infertile people grieve the loss of the baby that they may never know. They grieve the loss of that baby who would have had mommy's nose and daddy's eyes. But, each month, there is the hope that maybe that baby will be conceived after all. No matter how hard they try to prepare themselves for bad news, they still hope that this month will be different. Then, the bad news comes again, and the grief washes over the infertile couple anew. This process happens month after month, year after year. It is like having a deep cut that keeps getting opened right when it starts to heal.
As the couple moves into infertility treatments, the pain increases while the bank account depletes. The tests are invasive and embarrassing to both parties and for all of this discomfort, you pay a lot of money.
A couple will eventually resolve the infertility problem in one of three ways:
- They will eventually conceive a baby.
- They will stop the infertility treatments and choose to live without children.
- They will find an alternative way to parent, such as by adopting a child or becoming a foster parent.
Reaching a resolution can take years, so your infertile loved ones need your emotional support during this journey. Most people don't know what to say, so they wind up saying the wrong thing, which only makes the journey so much harder for their loved ones. Knowing what not to say is half of the battle to providing support.
I will say that all of these things that I'm going to go over haven't happened to me. Some have, and others have happened to people I know.
- Don't tell them to relax and it will happen. I've touched on this before in another post. Infertility is most commonly a medical condition. Just like relaxing doesn't cure cancer, it also doesn't cure infertility. I know there are those few people who are just too high strung and maybe that is their issue, but find ways to help them relax instead of telling them to relax. Telling them will only stress them out more.
- Don't talk or complain about how fertile you are. Some of you would never dream of saying this to someone you know with infertility, but I've heard it many times. And again, what about those who aren't open about their infertility? You may not know if someone around you has infertility issues so please be mindful of what you say and to who you say it to. We are happy for you that you are so fertile and while we're sure you're just trying to make conversation, please don't say this. It's like those people who complain that they're too skinny and can eat whatever they want and just CAN'T seem to gain weight. If that girl wants to complain to her fellow "so skinny, can't gain weight" friends then I say good for her, but other people just don't love hearing about it. It's the same way with infertility, we are happy you're so fertile, but its kinda a painful reminder that we aren't.
- Don't minimize the problem. I can't tell you how many well-intentioned people have said things like "oh it's no big deal, it will happen eventually" or "be glad you can sleep in, don't have stretch marks etc" or "you can take my kid for the day, you might change your mind." I know people often don't know what to say so they say things like this, but these comments are anything but comforting. That's what this post is for..to help you know what every infertile couple thinks, but is often afraid to say. These comments make an infertile couple feel like their struggles aren't a big deal. That isn't what a person needs. They need your support and encouragement and they need to know you see this as a valid issue. Oftentimes it's a health problem that affects more than just fertility and it should be taken seriously.
- Don't say they aren't meant to be parents. Just don't. It's like you're implying there's some secret criteria to be qualified to be a parent. I have wanted to be a mom since I was young as I'm sure others have too so saying we weren't meant to be parents is hurtful. I believe the Lord has perfect timing and I also believe He gave me a desire to be a mom.
- Don't complain about your pregnancy to them. I know pregnancy is hard on a woman's body and it can be uncomfortable. If you want to talk about the many woes of pregnancy, go ahead. Just don't do it to a friend who can't get pregnant. I can assure you they would do anything (and have probably endured many things) to be in your shoes. They would gladly be throwing up if it meant they had a baby on the way. My friend is expecting and she told me she was privately complaining to her husband about something pregnancy related and he told her something to the effect of "I bet Ashley would love to have that!" (obviously I don't want whatever the issue was, but the baby that caused it!") My friend said she started crying because she knew he was right and that she needed to just be thankful.
- Don't suggest adoption or giving up. It is a very personal thing to decide to give up on having your own children. It takes time for a couple to reach that point and not everyone reaches it at the same time. We are not to that point yet, but I've heard many people say its a grieving process and I'm sure that's true. When people start mentioning adoption or giving up before you are at that point it is very discouraging. I have been there. You know that is others' way of saying THEY don't think it's going to happen. Please don't do that to a person, let them reach that point on their own. It's hard to continue on when you feel like others have given up. Support and encouragement is vital. I will never, ever forget those people who have told me that they are praying and they know we are going to have kids. If I could hug those people a hundred times I would! Someone going through infertility needs more people like that. They have their own doubts and concerns weighing them down, please don't add yours to it. I will say once a couple has reached the point of adoption/quitting that is the time to step in and show your support in this area.