Dan says my title is mean. Perhaps a better title: “Things you don’t say to a person dealing with fertility issues… and how you might be able to help”. However, for the record, I still like mine better.
When it comes to fertility, I would say the world is divided into four groups of people.
Group 1 are the people that don’t know you’re going through fertility treatments and don’t care you’re going through fertility treatments.
Group 2 are the people that knew you’re going through fertility treatments but find it really awkward to talk about my useless reproductive organs. So they just pretend to be in Group 1.
Group 3 are my favourite. These are the people that know you’re going through fertility treatments and support you through it. They are there as the shoulder to cry on, a sounding board for ideas, and understanding that they, who are not going through the same issues, don’t completely understand it, but sympathize with you.
Group 4 … oh Group 4. These are the people who know what’s going on and try to say supportive things but they just end up putting their foot in the mouth. You know, the ones who offer the best advice but know nothing about the situation. Or worse, they try to empathize with you… but empathy, by definition, means that you know what it feels like to be me. Please, please, please…. Don’t get sympathy (acknowledging another’s hardships and providing comfort or assurance) and empathy confused.
Here are a few of my favourite quotes from members of the above Group 4*. If you happened to have said one of these to me, no worries. I know, in most cases anyways, that you probably didn’t mean to make me mad, you were trying to be encouraging. However, perhaps the bottom section will help you out for next time.
*Disclaimer: All of the below have actually been said… to my face.
· Have you tried just to relax? The minute you stop trying, you will get pregnant!
Listen, I hear you. Your cousin’s uncle’s step sister’s friend tried for 3 years to get pregnant. Then they decided to stop trying and she was pregnant literally the next day. However, our fertility issues are not just bad luck or bad timing. We have serious medical reasons that we are unable to get pregnant. While you’re optimism and hope are helpful, the suggestion that ‘giving up’ is the best answer… probably isn’t. If giving up would have worked- trust me, I would have saved my money.
· Have you ever considered that you might just not be meant to have children? (Another variation: Perhaps it wasn’t God’s plan for you to be a parent?)
Wow. Ummm… what does one say to this? Thanks? My fertility status doesn’t actually determine my ability to be, or not to be, a good parent! And unless you’re God, perhaps you also don’t know his plan… just sayin’.
· Everything happens for a reason!
Oh, okay. I guess I should be happy my uterus is useless? Thanks. I feel so much better.
· Don’t worry. I completely understand. It took my husband and I FIVE months to get pregnant.
I appreciate that trying for several months to conceive can be frustrating, however, having sex with your partner in no way compares to a medical diagnosis of infertility. Not to mention the daily tests, bills, emotional, and physical hell that fertility treatments entail. I get that you are probably trying to be helpful, but comparing situations isn’t always the best way to go about it.
· Have you tried (insert a variety of herbal remedies, old wives tales, and weird superstitious things here).
I promise, we’re giving this is the best shot possible. We have a team of Doctors, Nurses, Acupuncturists, Nutritionists, and Lab Technicians that specialize in fertility. I’m not just deciding to not take their advice. If it has been done and proven to assist, we’ve probably tried it!
· Thank Goodness you’re so young! You still have plenty of time.
Indeed, we’re young. However a medical diagnosis of infertility doesn’t make a difference if you’re 26 or 46. My reproductive system sucks. I guess we do have time on our side in the sense we found out early, but time unfortunately isn’t going to reverse this diagnosis.
· You’ve only been trying for a year and a half? That’s not that long.
Also true. It isn’t that long. But trust me, if it’s you and fertility has completely taken over your entire life for the past 1.5 years… and every decision you make is based on fertility, it seems like a lifetime. Sorry, can’t afford organic apples, we’re saving for fertility. Sorry, can’t go away for the long weekend, I have to go the clinic every morning. Sorry, didn’t answer the phone cause I’m currently in the fetal position in my bed crying from the physical symptoms of fertility medications. You get the picture.
· You’re STILL not pregnant?
Nope. Thanks for reminding me.
· Why don’t you just adopt?
Adoption is actually pretty awesome. However it also isn’t as easy as deciding to adopt and getting a baby. International adoption is an remarkable option for many couples. While it’s expensive, you can often have shorter wait times. The problem for us is that my history of mental illness excludes us from adopting from almost 90% of countries with mutual agreements with Canada. Then we move to adoption in Canada. Public isn’t easy and often times are not babies. Private is expensive and the majority of agreements are open adoptions- a big decision to make. So while it may be where we end up, it’s not an easy road either.
As you can imagine, most people have an opinion on fertility and fertility treatments. And that’s okay. However, I thought instead of ranting incessantly about what you shouldn’t say, perhaps it would be better to provide some helpful ways in which you can provide support to people struggling with fertility issues. I have read several posts from various writers, however, here are some that rang true for me.
1. Spend a little time understanding fertility
No one expects that you understand the world of fertility, because frankly, I didn’t know anything about it either. However, spending a little time reading up on the procedures that the couple may be going through and understanding the basics can go a long way. Knowledge is power- with it will mostly likely come compassion and understanding.
2. Respect our Decisions (Even if we change our minds!)
Very rarely are decisions surrounding fertility easy. The decisions often have complex emotional, physical, financial, and ethical implications. Trust me on this one, we have put countless hours into research, getting the proper medical opinions, and weighing heavily on our morals and values. We did not make these decisions lightly. Even though you may not understand, or agree with our decisions, please respect them.
3. Ask us!
Please don’t be afraid to ask us questions. If we have shared with you that we are going through this journey, chances are, we are ok answering some questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question- and this is a complex issue.
4. Please tell me that you’re going to keep us in your thoughts or prayers. Then do it!
A simple note, message, or text saying that you’re thinking about us are some of the most encouraging and supportive ways that people have reached out. I love to hear that others are wishing us well- it makes me feel like we have a support system surrounding us.
5. Acknowledge our struggles, courage and determination
As Tanya said in her blog ‘Fertile Healing’, “Acknowledge that infertility is really hard – and that you can not understand the depth of the grief if you haven’t been through it (because truly you can’t). Please do not try to compare the difficulty of infertility with the difficulty of raising children, that is just rubbing salt into the wound.”
6. Include me, but understand when I choose to opt out
Baby showers, christenings, children’s birthday parties, ‘baby’ talk, and children centred holidays such as Halloween can be some of the toughest social situations to participate in. There is the balance between being excited for someone on their exciting news or celebration, and it reminding you of everything that you can’t have.
7. Think twice before giving me your recommendations on our next steps
It’s easy to fall into the trap of coming up with countless resolutions to fix your friend’s problems- we are just trying to help! Remember, this is an extremely complex issue and we are doing all we can. Sometimes, the best thing you could ever offer is just to sit and listen.
8. Break your news to us privately
Just because we aren’t pregnant doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be. But know that it is really hard to see couples that are recently married popping out baby number 2 while we are still treading water not getting anywhere. Most times, I just need some time to digest. Please, please, don’t keep the news from me or let me hear it from someone else. I just need to take a minute to grieve for us before I can move forward and be excited for you.
Fertility is a very complex issue and because of the negative stigma that our society has created, most aren’t open to discussing it. Hopefully, the above will help you in the future when these complex and emotionally charged discussions take place!