Apparently my last post was quite popular! Thanks to everyone who stopped by! I had a few comments from some lovely people that had some suggestions for additions to the list of what not to say - perhaps there will have to be a revised version posted at some point in the coming months. Stay tuned!
I also had a comment from Spongeknuckle who brought up the question of what a person CAN say to people faced with infertility. In the name of fair play, I'm going to try to answer that now. To be honest, I had started this post in a totally different way and was going to be just as (hopefully) funny as I was in the previous post. I've changed my mind (I'm allowed! I'm a Gemini!) and I've decided to just write this one straight. Okay, maybe I'll throw in something a little funny here and there but I'm doing that for my fans. Naturally, I don't want anyone to think that because my previous post was written with a humorous bent, that I wasn't completely serious. I was and am. The truth is, if I didn't laugh about some of the comments that have been made to me regarding fertility, I would cry. And I have.
So, below is a breakdown of why the things I posted about previously should not be said to people with infertility issues:
1. ‘Just relax’ or suggestions of holidays or getting tipsy are fine suggestions to make to a friend if you’re hanging out or trying to think of something fun to do. To someone who struggles with infertility, these comments are dismissive and don’t show an appreciation for how difficult the person’s or couple’s situation is. People who have a known (or unknown) medical reason why it is difficult or near impossible for them to get pregnant on their own or with medical assistance would very much like to just relax and have it happen. Think of it this way, you would probably never think of telling someone with heart disease or cancer to ‘just relax’ and they’ll be cured. You would never suggest that a trip to the tropics and a couple of Mai Tais would have them right as rain.
2. Suggesting to someone with infertility that they should have more, or less, sex, or try a different position, or god forbid, that they’re doing it wrong (even if that is meant in jest) is insensitive and laughable. When people have reached the point that they become aware of their fertility issues, it’s probably a safe bet that they’ve tried every position they can think of, and might even have a few to share with people who don’t have an issue with getting pregnant. Chances are, people who are actively trying to have a baby and have been trying for a while, they’re probably having more sex than anyone (well, except maybe porn stars...).
3. Flippantly, or with the best of intentions, telling someone that they should try IVF or Surrogacy, or donor embryos or that they could ‘just adopt’ shows such a lack of thought. To even just figure out that a woman has infertility issues can take some very invasive testing. To actually reach the point of making a choice of what to do next - IUI (in-uterine insemination), IVF (in vitro fertilization) to name a couple of common ones, is terribly difficult. All of these procedures involve quite hefty costs which are often not covered by health insurance. Having to lay out thousands of dollars for procedures that give no guarantees is way beyond the reach of some people. If a couple is lucky enough to have the funds available, they still have a tough road ahead. As for adoption (which I think is one of the most amazing things people can do), despite how easy Madonna and other celebrities make it look, it is also a long and emotional process. You can’t just walk into an adoption agency and walk out with a baby. It takes years.
4. To tell someone who is having trouble getting pregnant that they should just put the thoughts aside for awhile and not think about it or stress about it, is like the old trick of telling someone not to think of a pink elephant. People who are trying really hard to get pregnant can’t help but think about it. It’s a constant that is with them all the time. For a woman who’s charting, it is the first thought on her mind when she wakes up because that’s when she has to take her temperature. Her life is broken up into two week increments (or there about, depending on the cycle) of waiting to ovulate and then, waiting to see if she and her partner were successful. And let’s not forget all the constant external reminders - such as the ad for pregnancy tests on my t.v. as I write this!
5. For people who are lucky enough to be pregnant, or who already have children, it’s not that people having problems with fertility hate all parents with a passion. It’s just that to hear people who have or are having children complain about any aspect of it is incredibly painful because infertile people would love to be in that position. Of course, pregnancy can be uncomfortable and children can sometimes make a person crazy. The key is to choose your audience. Complain to your friends who already have kids, or who are pregnant. If you won the lottery, you probably wouldn’t complain about how hard it is to decide what to buy to a friend who couldn’t pay their rent.
6. In my opinion, the most insensitive thing that can be said to someone struggling with infertility is that it’s ‘not meant to be’ or that it’s all ‘God’s plan’. There is no excuse for ever saying these things. There is no justification for why babies are being born to people who abuse drugs, or to people who will abuse their children, and not to people who desperately want children. As for God, not everyone believes in the same one, or in a god at all. While some people take great comfort in their faith, it doesn’t hold the same weight for everyone. Since I’m an atheist, the God comment doesn’t really bother me but I can imagine for someone who does believe and who does suffer with infertility, that must be incredibly painful to hear. If you’re going to make either of these comments to someone, you may as well just say ‘I think you’d be crap as a parent; you really don’t deserve it’. Go ahead and kick them since they’re already down.
I hope that makes things a little more clear as to why such comments can be so painful. If people (and I need to keep this in mind as well) would simply stop and think before saying the first thing that comes into their heads, that would go a long way. As the lovely Red, and another anonymous commenter mentioned, if you don’t know what to say, it’s probably best to not say anything at all.
With these posts I’ve pretty much thrown myself (and The Boy - sorry!) out of the infertility closet and into the open. I can say with absolute certainty that there are millions of couples like myself and my husband in the world. I’ve met a number of them. The odds are good that one or more of the couples you may know, who don’t have children, or even those that already do, are having issues with infertility. Some may be open to discussing it, others won’t. There’s no sure fire way to tell - we’re not marked for easy identification.
Some people have no intention of having children, others want nothing more. Whatever the case, the issue is an intensely private one and is nobody’s business but the people involved. If they’re willing to talk about it, and you’re privy to that, the best thing that could be said is ‘I’m here if you want to talk, and if you don’t, I understand.’