Since opening up about my struggles with infertility on this blog a week ago, I have been inundated with the most heartfelt well wishes from friends, family, and strangers. There has not been a single response that didn't have kindness and compassion at it's core, and for that I am extremely thankful.
However, even the most well-meaning of responses often misses the mark. Infertility is still one of those taboo subjects that we just don't seem to know how to respond to. People find out that I am infertile, they get a crazy look on their face, open their mouths, and complete bollocksology starts pouring out. We're talking complete nonsense. Even friends who are normally very eloquent struggle with what to say, and ultimately seem to miss the mark completely. So! I thought I would write a little 'What Not to Say to a Friend Who is Coping with Infertility' Guide.
Here's the good news:
1. What's wrong with you?
We understand what you are going for here. You're trying to find out more information about the details behind our infertility. You want to know what exactly is the cause of it. Here's the problem with that question: It's none of your business.
When you ask a person about their infertility you are, by association, also asking about their sex life, their genitals, their medical records, and their sexual history. You are also indirectly asking about their partner's sex life/genitals/medical records and sexual history. Oh, and due to the expensive nature of Fertility Treatments, you are likely also asking about their finances as well.
In a nut shell-- Infertility is incredibly personal and incredibly complicated. If we haven't offered the details of our infertility out to you, it's likely that we just don't feel comfortable discussing it with you.
2. Well, at least there's IVF?
This statement is hurtful on a few different levels:
* Some people, due to the complicated and intensely personal (see above) nature of their infertility are not candidates for IVF. They may not want to get into the details of it with you (again, see above).
* Many people, despite being a candidate, do not consider IVF an option. IVF is incredibly expensive-- prohibitively so, for many people. IVF is also extremely hard on a woman's body-- many women opt not to put themselves through it. Not to mention, IVF is emotionally taxing on a relationship. And with all of that, IVF is not even a guarantee.
For all of those reasons, many many many people do not consider IVF to be an option that they are willing to explore.
In short, making a comment as flippant as "at least there's IVF" not only goes to assume that a couple is able & willing to pursue IVF, but it also goes to minimize the person's/couple's infertility as a whole.
3. Well, at least there's adoption?
Similar to the IVF response, this response is hurtful for a few reasons:
* Adoption, both international and local, is a surprisingly complicated, expensive, time consuming, and difficult process. In Canada, it can cost $20,000 to adopt a local, Canadian baby. International adoption costs can exceed $30,000+. That is not to mention the emotional toll, the waiting, the complicated paperwork & legal process, and the stress of the whole experience. That is why for many people, adoption simply is NOT a viable option.
* For other people carrying, giving birth to, and perhaps breast-feeding their own child is an extremely important part of the child-rearing process. Adoption is a wonderful thing, absolutely.. But many women (myself included) desperately want to know what it feels like to feel a child toss and turn inside the womb, we want to experience child birth, we want to breast feed our own child.... We want the incredible experience of creating life.
In short, making a comment as flippant as "at least there is adoption" goes to ignore how prohibitively expensive & complicated the adoption process is, and it also goes to really trivialize how important pregnancy, birth, & breastfeeding may be to a person.
4. My cousin's best-friend's neighbour tried for 10 years, 3 IVF cycles, and then got pregnant the day after they adopted!
Oh dear. How often have I heard this one? Here's the thing-- we get that you are trying to 'comfort' us. We get that you're trying to offer hope and keep our spirits up. And that's sweet of you, really. But the delivery is really just all wrong. Here's why:
The fact of the matter is that for every ONE freak success story like this, there are 1,000+ other couples who tried and tried and tried for years and just never ever got pregnant. Maybe they had success eventually with IVF. Maybe they didn't. The end. We don't hear about those 1,000+ other couples because their stories are boring, and a bit of a bummer really.
The truth is that we have just about as much of a chance as winning a small lottery as we do of "trying for 10 years, doing 3 IVF cycles and then getting pregnant after we sign adoption paper work." Your words of comfort aren't really comforting at all.
5. Just stop "trying". Then it will happen!
This is a hard one. Hearing these words out of the mouths of friends who get pregnant when their spouses so much as look at them makes me want to spit fire. All I can say is, "easier said than done".
6. God/The Universe has a plan. Maybe you aren't 'meant' to be a parent.
Listen up. That's a lovely sentiment, and I know it is coming from a good place in your heart... but, wow. Infertility is a terrible, unfortunate, painful thing. Brushing it off as something that the Universe just pre-ordained for a certain person so that, instead, they could travel a bit more & buy better gifts for their friend's kids is terrible. We understand that you're just trying to stay upbeat, and trying to seem cool & casual in the face of news that is really pretty devastating.... but perhaps just a hug would be better.
By now you're probably feeling like there is nothing that you can say to a loved one who is dealing with Infertility. And you know something? You're kind of right. There really is nothing that anyone can say that can make this better. But here's the good news:: We don't expect you to "make this better" for us! We understand that you're only human, and you don't have a magic wand, and you can't 'fix' this for us. You're already off the hook, so chill out a bit.
Here's what you can say/do:
- Ask us how we are FEELING.
- Give us a hug.
- Tell us that you love us, and we're fabulous, & then pour us another glass of wine.
- Advocate for us. If you hear people inquiring about our reproductive plans behind our backs, tell them to mind their business. Explain that our reproductive plans are ours, and ours alone. And that we are valuable, important, worthwhile, complete human beings even without offspring.
- Forgive us. Forgive us for being a bit sensitive & emotional sometimes. Forgive us for not attending your cousin's baby shower. Forgive us for maybe needing to take an hour to respond to your text message telling us that you're pregnant with your 3rd baby (We are happy for you, really! But we need time to digest the info.)
- Include us. Sometimes we may pull away from
child-focused events because we'd rather stay home and lick our wounds, but please don't let that stop you from inviting us. One of the worst parts of being Infertile, is feeling excluded from the child-rearing community as a whole. We may not come out to every event, but your invitation means everything
People find out that I am infertile,