It’s National Infertility Awareness Week. I understand that most people won’t post about it or share advocacy pictures, which is fine. But if you take anything away from this week, I hope it’s the info I’m about to share.
Dealing with infertility is awful. It wreaks havoc on your emotions, your body, your relationships, and your bank account. While there often isn’t a lot that others can do to make it better, there are definitely things people do to make it worse. 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.
With help from resolve.org and other bloggers, here are a few things you should never say to a childless couple.
“When are you two going to start having kids?” and EVERY.SINGLE.VARIATION of this question.
This is rage inducing for so many reasons. Not only have you created this awkward situation of me either A. informing you that I am infertile and watching you squirm as you now don’t know what to say B. Informing you that this is a highly inappropriate question and risk offending you or C. Me simply smiling and saying ‘I'm not sure’ while later silently kicking myself about how I could have used it as a learning experience for someone who didn’t know any better.
I have no clue when we’re going to have kids. If it was up to me, it would have started 3 years ago. We’ve paid highly qualified doctors thousands of dollars to help us answer that question and still no luck. Not to mention the couples that don’t want kids and now they’re left with trying to decide how to answer so you don’t judge them.
I understand this question is usually asked with the best of intentions but just don’t ask this question. EVER.
Don't Tell Them to Relax
Couples who are able to conceive after a few months of "relaxing" are not infertile. By definition, a couple is not diagnosed as "infertile" until they have tried unsuccessfully to become pregnant for a full year. In fact, most infertility specialists will not treat a couple for infertility until they have tried to become pregnant for a year. This year weeds out the people who aren't infertile but truly just need to "relax." Those that remain are truly infertile.
Comments such as "just relax" or "try going on vacation" create even more stress for the infertile couple, particularly the woman. The woman feels like she is doing something wrong when, in fact, there is a good chance that there is a physical problem preventing her from becoming pregnant.
Infertility is a diagnosable medical problem that must be treated by a doctor, and even with treatment, many couples will NEVER successfully conceive a child. Would you tell someone with cancer to ‘just relax’ and they’ll be cured?
Don’t complain to me about your pregnancy.
I get it. You’re nauseous. Your ankles are swollen, your back hurts, and you’re tired all the time. But to someone who wants to be pregnant and have a child more than anything in the entire world, she would gladly welcome those symptoms. You’re entitled to complain, pregnancy is hard, just don’t do it to anyone that is struggling to conceive.
Everything Happens for a Reason
I agree with this statement…to an extent. Tell me what the reason is that I have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the CHANCE of starting a family while the 16 year-old down the street has sex for the first time and winds up pregnant. Or the drug-addict who has no business procreating yet they keep popping out one after another that they don’t or can’t care for. Or the reason that so many one-night-stands result in unwanted children but my husband and I have tried relentlessly for three years and nothing. Tell me the reason my body is broken but yours is fine.
So while you may believe “everything happens for a reason”, it is not a helpful phrase to use when it comes to infertility. We want you to be angry with us and to agree about how unfair this is.
Why Don’t You Just Adopt?
There is nothing ‘just’ about adoption. Yes, it’s a great way for infertile people to become parents, but it’s not for everyone. There is a grieving process that you must go through, grieving the loss of the baby with Daddy’s eyes and Mommy’s nose. You must decide if you can love a “stranger’s baby”. You must decide how or if you can come up with the large amount of money most adoptions cost. You have to answer questions about what race you’re willing to accept or what medical problems you will be able to handle, things you would never have had to consider if you conceived on your own.
And if we do start talking about adoption? Don’t suggest that we foster, instead, because it’s free and there are so many unwanted children. Fostering is completely different than adoption, which is completely different than pregnancy. All are wonderful, but different. Remember that.
Trying to protect my feelings when it comes to your pregnancy.
I completely understand your thinking on this one of trying to protect me, but there are a few things that all women suffering from infertility want you to understand. When you keep the announcement of your pregnancy from me, you’re excluding me because of this thing I can’t control. You’ve automatically put me in one more club that I don’t want to be apart of all because of my inability to have a baby, and I didn’t even have a say in it. If we’re good enough friends that I cross your mind not to tell, we’re probably good enough friends that you can tell me 1:1 or shoot me a quick text or Facebook message to tell me that you’re pregnant, you wanted me to know, and you understand if your news causes me mixed emotions. I promise it’s completely possible to be extremely excited for someone else while being extremely sad for yourself. You may not get that, but anyone who has struggled with infertility knows that’s a very real and common occurrence.
A few extras…
-Why don’t you try IVF?
-Is it him or you?
-Maybe it’s not meant to be.
-It could be worse.
-I know a friend who adopted, and then got pregnant! Maybe that’s all it takes!
-I know how you feel! We tried for 4 (5, 6, 7…) months to get pregnant!
-You can have my kids if you want!
-You’ll understand when you’re a mom.
-It’ll happen once you stop trying.
-Enjoy this extra time you have for traveling, your career, etc.
-Have you tried ‘this vitamin’, ‘eating this’, ‘this procedure’?
So what do you say?
-Let them know that you care.
-Do your research. Read up about infertility so you don’t stick your foot in your mouth.
-Ask them what they need.
-Support their decision to stop treatment. No couple can endure infertility treatments forever. At some point, they will stop. This is an agonizing decision to make, and it involves even more grief.
-Remember them on Mother's and Father’s Day. With all of the activity on Mother's Day and Father’s Day, people tend to forget about those who cannot become mothers and fathers. Remember your infertile friends on these days; they will appreciate knowing that you haven't forgotten them.
-Support us but don’t offer advice unless you've been there. We've heard it all and already tried most of it.
We understand that 99% of the time, those questions are asked with the best of intentions, not meaning to cause harm. But they do. And the only way we can eliminate the unnecessary pain is by starting the conversation and bringing the topic of infertility out into the open. It shouldn’t be something that’s hidden away or anything to feel shameful about. Check out infertilityawareness.org or resolve.org for more info on how to handle infertility. Good ol' Google can be very helpful as well...