I saw a great link on Facebook the other day, “The 8 biggest misconceptions about infertility” (oh my gosh, number 7 in droves – I can’t emphasise that point enough and definitely can’t write it better myself!). There are quite a few of these kinds of posts floating around, a never-ending attempt to get fertiles to understand the many intricacies of being infertile, but this was one of the best I’ve seen so far so I thought I’d share it and add a few of my own observations to boot.
For a while now I’ve had friends and family requesting I write a blog post about what they can do to help – what to say, what not to say, how things look from my perspective – and until now (despite a few attempts at starting posts) I’ve held off doing it. There really are so many out there it always seemed a bit unnecessary for me to add to the pile. However, I’ve decided to go ahead and contribute. One, because if this reaches even just one more person and aids in their understanding then it’s worth it; two, because of the post mentioned above; and three because of a line in an email I received that, while intended in the best possible way, has really stuck with me and made me realise that some people still just don’t get it. So here we go:
From my own experiences these are some things you should never say to an infertile:
“You guys just need to relax” / “You just need a holiday”
Uh, no. Believe me, we’ve tried relaxing, we’ve tried having a holiday and we’re still not pregnant. Funnily enough because our infertility is not related to any level of stress or busyness in our lives. I have a/various medical issues that are stopping us from having children. I have endometriosis and my eggs, while I have plenty of them, are (to put it very bluntly) fucked. This has nothing to do with my age, my sexual history, or any of the many activities I’ve done throughout my life. It’s simply a truckload of bad luck that has befallen my reproductive system, and no amount of relaxing is going to change that.
“If you just give up it will happen”
One of my personal favourites. No, if we give up, we remain childless*. As per the above paragraph, our infertility is a MEDICAL CONDITION. Much like relaxing or going on holiday, giving up is not going to make my endometriosis damage disappear or magically make eggs start working. Giving up means no more chances for children. Zilch. Nada. None. Giving up means us throwing in the towel and accepting that we will never have a child to call our own.
“Well you can always adopt”
Yes, we can certainly TRY to adopt. While this can be quite an inflammatory statement for many infertiles, a minimisation of their desire to have a child that is biologically and genetically theirs, this is not the case for my husband and I. We yearn for a child and whether they are genetically related to us or not isn’t a concern. Yes, we’re grieving the fact that we will never have a child that is genetically related to both of us but in reality that is a very minor part of our process. We will and are openly pursuing adoption, unfortunately it’s not as easy as you would think. The statistics rolled out at the adoption evening we went to stated only 5 adoptions in our area in the previous year and 54 couples on the waiting list. Those are not good odds. Even if we make it through the endless tests, evaluations, home visits and referrals, and manage to get our names into the adoption database, the chances of us actually being chosen by a set of birth parents is slim to none. So no, we can’t “always adopt”.
“Such & Such’s uncle’s friend’s cousin-in-law tried for years then just did blahblah and surprise they were pregnant!”
While it may seem an inspiring story, and in the initial stages of infertility they often can be, we’re not Such & Such’s uncle’s friend’s cousin-in-law and we never will be. Please don’t compare us to these amazing hard-to-believe success stories, they’re hard-to-believe for a reason, they’re rare. [Insert random person here]’s journey will more than likely be completely different to our own and is therefore likely to have entirely different reasons for success/failure. Not only can it make us feel bad that we’re not doing enough or doing too much, but it can also add extra pressure both financially and emotionally when we feel the need to try and emulate that other person’s journey in the hope it brings success for us too.
“Oh, you can have mine!”
I know it’s intended as a joke and I don’t lose my sense of humour entirely just because I’m infertile, but trust me, this far down the infertility track offering up your children is far from helpful. I’m nearly at the point now where I will take people up on this offer and respond with a “Oh sure, totally! Now if you’ll just sign these adoption papers”, only I’m not sure the joke would go down so well when thrown back at the joker. Lord knows I don’t need another stare and awkward silence of ‘this woman is crazy’.
“You wouldn’t want children so desperately if you had them, they’re such hard work/so naughty/a handful”
Yes, I would. I know what children can be like, I was a nanny in my younger days, have babysat many a child, and was also pretty much an adult when my younger sister was born, I know exactly what I’m getting myself into. But that’s beside the point. Surely infertiles deserve to experience the joy, trials and tribulations of having children the same as everyone else, regardless of whether they know what they’re getting themselves into or not. I’m pretty sure a large percentage of parents, fertile or otherwise, have no clue as to what having a child involves, so please, allow us the same civilities as the rest of the population. There aren’t many parents who would voluntarily give their kids up once they have them.
“I struggled with infertility too, we were trying for [insert number of months less than 12 in here] before we got pregnant”
Now believe me, I’m not trying to minimise your struggle to get pregnant, I know that every month that you’re not pregnant when you’re trying to conceive is a massive disappointment. I know it hurts when you don’t get that positive result month after month, but it is considered perfectly normal to try for a child for up to a year before you conceive. A baby conceived in under a year is not a child conceived following infertility (recurrent pregnancy loss excluded). It may feel like it, once again I know those months can be devastating, but medically speaking infertility is “the failure to conceive following twelve months of (frequent/perfectly timed) unprotected intercourse”. You may be trying to connect and empathise with us in our ‘common struggle’ but, from my perspective at least, you’re more likely to invoke jealously and anger or a conversational disengagement from me. Yes, I feel like a bitter old lady having this reaction but it certainly feels that, when it comes to infertility, I’ve been around the block more than once and would almost kill to have been able to conceive a child in less than a year.
So what CAN you do? Well, it’s hard to say because who knows how we’re going to feel on any given day. Best you can do is enquire.
Ask us how we’re doing, what’s going on, how we’re feeling.
We’ll soon enough let you know if we don’t want to talk about it. More often than not I’m happy to discuss anything and am just glad that someone’s cared enough to ask. But if we don’t feel like talking, please don’t be offended if we brush you off and change the subject, on those days it’s pure survival mode, we either distract ourselves & change the subject, or cry, and believe me there’s enough crying behind closed doors we don’t want to be having a breakdown in front of you too!
Invite us along to your gatherings.
We may decline to attend your child’s birthday party or a social event with loads of kids. We may decline these events often, but please don’t mistake this for us not wanting to attend. The majority of the time we desperately want to join in but the reality of being surrounded by kids, and parents talking about them, is sometimes more than we can bear. Once again it’s survival mode. We’ll try and come along to as much as we can so please continue to ask us. It may seem like it’s not worthwhile, that we’ll say “no” anyway, or that you’re putting everyone in an awkward situation by extending the invitation to ‘the infertiles’, but the alternative is so much worse. By not being invited to events that everyone else gets to go to, and finding out after the occasion, we feel even more alienated from the crowd; that we’re not only losing our child but that we’re losing our friends as well.
Remember that we love your kids.
We may not see them often or we may seem a little sad when visiting but please remember that we absolutely adore your children. They’re not only awesome kids, fun to play with, an extension of you (our friends and family), but they also help us to remember why we’re going through this hell of fertility treatments and why we cling so desperately to this rollercoaster of hope. They are all beautiful souls and we love them as if they were our own.
Be considerate when announcing your pregnancies.
Take us aside or let us know privately that you’ve expecting a/another bundle of joy rather than including us when you broadcast it to the wider group or pop it up on Facebook. We will be thrilled for you but remember we’re also grieving for ourselves and we need time to process this information and work through our sadness for our own situation before we face the wider world. This may seem selfish but bear in mind we so desperately want what you have (in this sense) and a pregnancy announcement is yet another reminder that we’re lagging behind, unable to participate in the joys (and trials) of parenthood. Please believe me when I say our reaction has nothing at all to do with your happy news, we are absolutely stoked for you and will be there for both you and your child/children always, we may just take a moment to display the appropriate social graces, pop a smile on our face and congratulate you.
Don’t get angry or upset when we gaze longingly at your baby bump.
We’re not trying to stare or be offensive, we just so desperately want to have a bump of our own.
Understand that we may not publicly congratulate you over social media.
I’m sure some people think it weird that I’ve personally messaged them over Facebook or the like rather than add to the ever-growing congratulatory comments that follow their pregnancy or birth announcement. I may ‘like’ your pregnancy/birth post but I will very rarely comment publically on it. I’m not trying to be strange, I’m merely trying to avoid the onslaught of notifications telling me that someone else has wished you congratulations. Those constant reminders that we may never be in your shoes can be totally soul-destroying. Once again we are truly happy for you but need the space to continue our battle without being reminded of what we’re missing out on.
So that’s a start, I hope it helps. If you can add to this list from your own experiences please feel free to do so, I’d love to hear of other people’s thoughts/reactions/experiences too.
*I say childless here, for all those up with the ‘childless’ versus ‘childfree’ debate, because for us it will always be childless – while we can handle living without a child and will enjoy life to the fullest were that to happen – it will never be the choice we wanted and hence we are ‘child-less’.