It’s National Infertility Awareness Week and because infertility is such a personal subject to me, I’m going to do two blog posts this week. This first one is for friends and family members of those struggling with infertility. Later in the week, I’ll talk a little bit about my own journey through infertility for those struggling themselves.
Today, I’m not really going to get into the nitty gritty details of our own infertility journey with all of the doctor appointments, hormones, tests, etc. What I really want to focus on is how we all need to be a little bit more aware of the things we say to each other, or the questions we ask. I want this blog post to be primarily for those of you who know someone who is currently struggling with infertility. Or, maybe even for those who aren’t aware that you know someone. 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility so, most likely, you do know someone. If you know someone who has recently just gotten married or has been married for a while, there’s a good chance that maybe you’ve asked “So, when are you guys going to have kids?” Or, “Isn’t it about time to starting popping out some babies?” Now, I know that it just seems like the most logical, innocent question or topic of conversation to bring up to married couples and I know, in the past, I’ve been guilty of the same thing. But, in reality, you never know what someone is going through. Maybe they’ve been trying for a very long time with no success. Maybe they just experienced a miscarriage. Maybe they physically can’t have a baby. We had been trying for SO LONG and those questions stung every time. They seriously NEVER got easier to answer. I always tried to shrug it off and give a decent answer like “oh, soon we hope” or “oh, you never know”. But, I wonder how you would feel if you asked those questions and were met with honest answers like “we are infertile” or “we’ve been trying to get pregnant for five years now” or “we are unable to have children” or “we have two children in heaven”? I’m guessing it would probably make some of you pretty uncomfortable. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s time for a little more awareness, even if that means it makes some people uncomfortable. I think it’s great that there’s a week devoted to infertility awareness, because until I personally struggled with infertility, I never really gave it much thought. And, honestly, I was guilty of asking those same kinds of questions and saying some of the same things I’m going to ask you not to say below. But when it happens to you, holy cow. And that is why I’m trying to share this information today, to let you know what hurts. Because if you’ve never been there, there’s no way you could know.
On Knowing what to say: If you know of a friend or family member struggling with infertility, I know it is hard to know what to say or do and what not to say or do. I know. I know it can also be an uncomfortable subject to talk about. But what I also know is how hurtful it is when you don’t say or do anything at all. When you all-together ignore the deep pain and struggle that your friend or loved one is going through. I’m sure I was guilty of that as well, until I understood the pain myself. What your friend or loved one needs is your support, not your pretending that her (or his) hurt doesn’t exist. And, take a deep breath, you don’t have to try to find the “right thing to say”, you can simply just say that you’re really sorry that they are having to go through it and how much it must suck. If you are a praying person, you can let them know that you will be praying for them. As much as I know you want to try to make it better or make it go away by finding “the right thing to say”, you can’t, so don’t try to put that pressure on yourself.
On Pregnancy Announcements and Baby Showers: One of the things that’s really hard to deal with when you are struggling with infertility is how it seems like everyone else around you is pregnant. Everywhere you turn, there’s another lady with a big ole baby bump. Now, just because it stings really bad every time someone struggling with infertility hears of yet another pregnancy or sees another sonogram picture, that doesn’t mean they aren’t also genuinely happy for the other person. They are just also deeply sad regarding their own situation. So, yes, it does hurt when someone announces their pregnancy but the infertile person can also be happy for that person. There are a lot of emotions going at once. Honestly, what hurts the most is when a pregnancy is kept secret from the person struggling with infertility, especially when everyone else knows. That happened to me a few times and it really hurt. Like, really bad. I get it. You find out you are pregnant and you are so excited to shout it from the roof tops or put it out there for all of social media land to see but you are also so terrified of hurting your friend or sister or cousin or whoever is having a hard time getting pregnant. So you decide not to tell them. And then, eventually they find out either through social media or another person and they also find out that they were the last to know. It totally sucks. Don’t do it. So what should you do? Talk to your loved one, one-on-one. Acknowledge their struggle and share your exciting news with them. Will your news sting? Maybe. But I promise it stings more if you keep it from her. And for heaven’s sake, invite her to your baby shower. Don’t not include her. But also give her grace should she choose not to attend. Sometimes there are seasons when it’s
easy not as hard to attend baby showers and other times it’s just not something that’s possible. Please don’t take it personally if your friend or loved one doesn’t show up. Something else to be mindful about is how much you complain about your pregnancy to your infertile friend/family member. I get it. Pregnancy can be painful and miserable at times, especially if you are one of the ones who is sick pretty much everyday for the whole 9 months. I get that your back aches and your ankles are slowly morphing into cankles. And your friend does too, but please be sensitive to the fact that your friend would give anything to be in your shoes. So, if you must complain, maybe do so to your significant other or anyone else in your circle who isn’t struggling.
Advice not to give or things not to say:
- Maybe if you would just relax, and stop trying so hard, you’d get pregnant. This is just not helpful. Ever.
- If you would just adopt, then you’d get pregnant, it happened to so and so’s aunt’s sister’s best-friend’s daughter’s niece’s daughter. There are so many things wrong with this statement. First of all, though it does happen, it’s very rare. Also, at this time, your friend wants to be pregnant, wants to feel baby kicks, wants to experience child birth. Adoption is a beautiful way to grow a family but it isn’t always for everybody. Also, I’m thinking the motive to adopt shouldn’t be so you get pregnant. You should probably really want to adopt.
- Maybe if you try this position, it will work. Trust me, your friend has tried every position. Infertility is a medical condition, not the cause of incorrect positioning.
- Your husband should wear boxers or go commando. Maybe it has nothing to do with the husband. Maybe it does. Either way, guaranteed they’ve already tried it.
- Maybe if you drink a glass of wine and take a bubble bath. Again, chill on the whole “relax and it will happen” thing.
- Maybe it’s for the best. Would you tell this to someone with any other medical condition or disease? Just so not helpful.
- Maybe you should just enjoy this time with no children and do whatever you want. What they want is to start enjoying life with the children they’ve been dreaming of.
- I love being pregnant! I could be your surrogate! This is an extremely honorable thing to think or do. However, unless you know for 100% that your friend is starting down that path, don’t offer it. She wants to be pregnant and carry her baby.
- Maybe you should lose weight and eat healthier. Oh boy. Just don’t.
- You should get this iPhone app that helped us conceive within a month of trying. Chances are, she’s already been using various iPhone apps in addition to her monthly ovulation prediction kits and who knows what else. Also, an iPhone app doesn’t cure infertility.
- If you just go on vacation it might happen. Right, because we have all of this extra money floating around to go on vacation after paying for numerous tests, blood work, procedures, etc. And because a different bed or geographical location will probably contain magical baby making powers. Again, the whole “relax and it will just happen” isn’t helpful.
- You want my kids? I get that you’re just trying to be funny. But nothing about your friends struggle with infertility is funny and this “joke” is just inappropriate.
Ways to Support your friends/loved ones:
- Research – If you know someone who’s currently struggling with infertility, do some research so you can better empathize. RESOLVE is the National Infertility Association and there’s a ton of great information on their website and a section devoted solely to family and friends. Start there.
- Pray – Pray for their marriage (infertility is stressful), their physical healing, their finances (all those tests and procedures can get expensive and insurance typically doesn’t cover infertility related stuff), their doctors and specialists (for wisdom and knowledge)
- Encourage – send a card, a text, or pick up the phone and call them just to let them know you are thinking of them and wishing them well
Thank you for taking the time to read this and become more aware of how to help your loved ones who are facing infertility. It’s hard to put into words the deep pain that comes with infertility and I hope this has been somewhat helpful in knowing how to be supportive of those who are struggling. Again, if you are guilty of doing or saying some of the things mentioned above, it’s okay! Just be sure to remember this post in the future. 🙂
One Last Note – Mother’s Day: I find it interesting that this week is National Infertility Awareness Week with Mother’s Day right around the corner. If you know of someone struggling with infertility, let her know you are thinking of her on Mother’s Day. You could send flowers, or a card, or even a text. Mother’s day is one of the hardest days of the year when you are so longing to be a mother but never knowing if that longing will be fulfilled.