Thursday, August 7, 2014

7 things you shouldn't say to people struggling with infertility. (as told by my memory) (and also my friends)

See this cute couple snuggling on the Goonies beach? They were only 2 years into their 7+ years of infertility. They had quite the road ahead of them and couldn't have made it out to the other side without their community. But it also wasn't without the deflecting of hearing the wrong things on the regular. Here's a cheat sheet for those of you with friends on that same journey. Hope it helps.


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1. "Oh my gosh, this pregnancy was a total surprise! Can you believe it? We totally weren't even trying!" (other variations include: "every time he looks at me we get pregnant!")

This might be the worst one. I know that I know that I know that you're trying to say "I didn't do it on purpose, I didn't get your dream before you on purpose" but that's not what we hear. We hear "Why is this so hard for you? it's really not that hard."

What to say instead: "Yep, we're pregnant! Due in ____. How are you guys doing?" Move along. Nothing to see here, folks.

2. "Please come to my baby shower?"

For the majority of women I know who struggle with infertility, other people's baby showers are the worst. The worst. It's not that we're not happy for you, it's the extreme isolation that comes from those events. It's impossible to compartmentalize our trauma. Even though we're no longer in the thick of it, I still try to avoid them. That may seem harsh but it's one of the worst triggers. Even after we adopted Eliot, I thought "I'm a mom now, I can handle baby showers!" but no. So uncomfortable with all the conversations about birthing plans and breastfeeding and how pregnancy affects your body. I just kinda check out.

What to say instead: "Ball is totally in your court on this one. If you want to come, please do, we'd love to have you but we understand if you wanna skip this one. If you don't come, let's go out to lunch this week instead."

3. "Sorry I didn't tell you earlier, I was scared you'd be mad."

Finding out someone (that you're somewhat close to) is pregnant in a big group announcement is rough. We can't hide our reaction. There were times I was legitimately happy for a friend but that happened to be the day we found out we *weren't* pregnant. There's no way to hide that. I never wanted to take away from their joy of that moment. We're never mad at you for getting pregnant. We're suffering and struggling with our own pain.

What to do instead: Opinions vary on this but I always told friends that an email was the best way to tell me. An email before the public announcement. That gives me space to receive the news and compose myself in private so I can join in the joy when the public moment happens. You rarely know where the friend is in their fertility steps and springing the news on them can often fall during a rough patch.

4. "It'll happen. Hang in there."

Um…no. That's 100% not true. You don't know what you're talking about. You probably don't know what else to say so you're just trying to make it better. A bandaid to make the bleeding stop even though the wound calls for something so much stronger.

What to say instead: "That sweater looks great on you!" Just kidding, but maybe don't worry about what to say as much as just listen. We're often nervous that people are weary of hearing our same ol' sob story. Especially after years of it. The wounds get deeper as the months pass and we just want to be listened to sometimes. A good ol' fashioned "That really sucks, I'm sorry you're going through this. What do you need right now? A night out for drinks? A hard run? A ridiculous chick flick? Say the word and I'm there."

5. "Want my kids? Jeez, they're getting on my nerves."

That's really not comforting. I know you're frustrated with your kids, that's the nature of them. Maybe vent to another mom about that, not someone spending all their money, time, emotions and strength desperately trying to even just get one. Downplaying the joys of motherhood for you doesn't take away the extreme desire to experience it for us.

What to say instead: "You look so tiny! Have you lost weight?"

6. "You should totally adopt."

Again, no. Not everyone should adopt. NOT EVERYONE SHOULD ADOPT. That's another post for a different day, just know it's not the answer to everyone's infertility problems. Adoption is complex and too many couples get into it as the solution to their problems. It makes the adoption about them, not about the child. The years of hard work trying to get pregnant can create a sense of entitlement once the adoption process starts. It's not healthy for anyone involved. We struggled with it and seen so many other couples struggle with it.

What to say instead: "I'm so sorry this is all happening. What can I do for you?" Stop solving. Start listening.

7. "You're still young, you have plenty of time!"

Every doctor visit, every month charted, every shot given, pill taken, our soul gets more deeply invested in becoming pregnant. Every month it doesn't happen feels hopeless. It is a constant roller coaster of deep feelings. This comment seems comforting, seems to offer perspective but really it's just dismissive of the legitimate pain we're experiencing. If we buy into that? Guess what happens every birthday that passes?

What to say instead: "I'm so sorry. Do you want to talk about it more?"


Some people don't get it, don't get social cues, etc. But most of these honestly came from people who truly care for us and just want to help. I don't fault them for their intent. No one ever intended to cause pain. Hence, the reason for the post. Hopefully educating and preventing further use of these common responses.

I hope you're noticing a theme. Stop defaulting to phrases that try to solve or dismiss or take away our pain. We can be hard to love, I get that. My needs from you changed daily, sometimes hourly. You're always safest to just say "That sucks, I'm sorry it's happening to you guys, what can I do? Here's some ice cream, you've gotten too skinny."

5 comments:

Wynne Elder said...

thanks for posting this, friend. it's most definitely true.

Caroline said...

I always laugh when people tell us to go on vacation - we travel ALL the time!!!! There is so much grace to be offered when we hear these comments though - people have no idea!

Samara said...

I was going to write a post just like this one but you did such a great job, I might just send people over to here. Seriously, every one of these points is spot on.

Nora said...

I think another frustrating comment is "You're so young, you have plenty of time to sort it out and have kids."

I am 28 and sure, it may be young in the grand scheme of things, but I am NOT that young and I want a baby now and my inability to conceive a child is not going to improve through the years thankyouverymuch. Normally I just smile and nod when I hear this.
Also, I dread the day when my sister tells me she is pregnant.

Emily said...

Can we please also add... "well, trying is the fun part" and "Maybe you'd get pregnant if you'd stop doing so much for others/stressing/etc." Both of which were just said to me...