This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. I'm sure all of you know someone - maybe it's you - who has struggled with infertility. It's devastating.
My dear friend Wendy and her husband, Wes, got married a couple years ago. Like a lot of newlyweds, they thought about when they wanted to start a family. Once work was settled, then this month would be great to start trying, because then the baby would be born in the summer/fall/spring and it'd be perfect.
Because you never think it's not going to happen.
But it doesn't. The year(s) go on. Tests are vague, at first. So while you're trying to figure out what's going on, the big thing is what's NOT going on: pregnancy. And when all around you it seems like everyone is having babies, it's that much more heartbreaking.
Today I bring you my first guest poster. Wendy, who is one of the most amazing women I know, shares with us her journey - and what you should definitely not say to someone who is walking the same path.
I don’t even remotely consider myself an expert on infertility, but having been in infertile hell for the past 16 months, I’ve undergone enough blood draws, vaginal ultrasounds, uncomfortable radiology procedures, and inquiries about my sex life that I’ve developed quite a list of things you should never say to someone who has been trying to conceive for an extended period of time.
In no particular order:
1) “I have an e-book I bought and will send you – it will totally get you pregnant!”
My exact response? “Oh, wow, that’d be great! And all this time I thought I needed to have sex with my husband while I was ovulating in order to get pregnant… all I have to do is read a book? Awesome!” I think this one speaks for itself, but I will say that it’s important to remember that fertility-challenged couples are hyper sensitive to comments about getting pregnant/being pregnant/others who are pregnant. So while we need to remember you don’t mean to hurt our feelings, know that our elevated levels of hormones, months (years!) of disappointment, and idiotic comments from fertiles give us a handful of “get out of bitchy free” cards to use at will. And P.S., been there, read that e-book. Still not pregnant, thanks.
2) “Feel free to babysit my kid(s) for a weekend, and you’ll change your mind on wanting to get pregnant.”
No amount of snot, puke, or poo will make me NOT want children. Upset baby crying all hours of the night? Bring it on. Projectile vomit ruining your new jeans? Can’t wait. If there’s one thing the past 16 months has taught me, it’s that I will cherish every bodily fluid and sleepless night more than I ever thought possible (Cheryl, feel free to remind me of this a few years down the road). Point being, crazy kids aren’t going to cure my desire to have a baby… it’s just going to make me want to be a parent even more, so I can be a better parent than you. Just kidding. Kind of.
3) “You’re adopted, why would you even consider IVF instead of just adopting?”
While I have first-hand knowledge that adopted children are far superior (hee), this is an incredibly personal topic that is absolutely no one else’s business but the parents-to-be. For us, exploring all options to have our own biological child(ren) is our first choice. I’ve always been open to adopting, and have a desire to adopt/foster a child… but that desire has always been in addition to having a biological child, not in lieu of it. Upon hitting our first fertility roadblock, a very wise friend of mine (ehem, Cheryl) said: “You’re meant to be a mother… maybe not in the way you once thought, but you’ll be a mother one day soon.” This meant the world to me, and was the most thoughtful way of giving support, not passing judgment, and making me feel better. Even if you don’t agree with a couples’ decisions to do/not do IVF, to adopt or not, it’s best to offer support/prayers/good thoughts instead of offering a conflicting opinion.
4) “Just relax, it will happen when you least expect it.”
This alludes to the idea that the couple is doing something wrong, and that’s why they’re not conceiving. In my case, I had three golf-ball sized tumors in my uterus that may or may not have been blocking the entrance to my fallopian tubes. If I’d “just relaxed,” this discovery wouldn’t have been made for who knows how long? Infertility is a medical condition – and while some couples do get lucky and wind up pregnant once they “stop trying,” I’d prefer to stick with medical advice that can not only improve my health and well-being, but make it possible for me to get pregnant.
5) “Ugh, I’d give anything to drink espresso or have a few glasses of wine” (from a pregnant friend).
And really, complaining about your pregnancy in general… morning sickness for four months? Would give anything for it. Stretch marks? Bring ‘em on. Tired because you can’t get comfortable at night? I’ll trade you sleepless nights of hoping and praying for a baby. But complaining that you wish you could drink caffeine or alcohol during your pregnancy? Totally crosses the line into insensitive and absolutely heartless. I’d give up caffeine and alcohol FOREVER if it would allow me to get pregnant (and for the record, I’m down to maybe a cup of tea every three days, and a glass or two of wine a week… so no, that’s not why I’m having fertility problems either, but thanks for thinking it).
6) “I’m pregnant.”
I’m only half kidding with this one… the thing is, HOW you break the news of a pregnancy to an infertile friend is what matters. I’ve read others say that telling early is the best option, but I respect the mom-to-be’s decision on when… I do, however, have some input on how. Since we’ve been trying to conceive I’ve had countless friends announce their own pregnancies and/or have babies. My best friend A shared her news in such a caring way, that I think it illustrates the sensitivity one should consider. I knew they were trying for baby number two, and I called her the day I knew she was going to POAS (that’s “pee on a stick” for those of you not up on the TTC lingo… that’s “trying to conceive”). “So, did you test?” I asked. Her response, “Yeah,” was in such a sad voice, I was certain it was a big fat negative. I apologized, and she said, “No, it was positive… I’m pregnant.” And I could hear that she was crying as she said these words. Her own happiness was put aside in her sadness and sympathy for me. “I want it to be you saying this, and my heart is broken for you.” Baby L was born last month, and I’ve been lucky to be by A’s side through every step of the pregnancy, hosting her baby shower, and visiting soon after she was born. It’s important to tell an infertile your happy news in private, and don’t be surprised if tears ensue, or they don’t respond immediately. Jealously is a difficult thing… I should know, I heard my boss’ dog was pregnant, and I was still jealous! And I may or may not be guilty of glaring at pregnant strangers…
6) “So-and-so told me you were having fertility problems, I did as well and would recommend that you…” (from a friend of a friend who I’d met on two occasions).
Your friend’s fertility troubles are NOT your story to share. It is such a private and personal thing to go through, and you must respect their decision of whom to tell (or not tell…) and how. Hearing from a random friend of a friend not only put me in the awkward situation of having to respond so as not to appear rude, but at the same time get the point across that I had my own circle of friends and support to call on. So what that my mother-in-law calls the day my period is due, and a few close friends know exactly when my husband and I are doing the deed? They’ve been a support to us and we’ve chosen for them to know our intimate details for a reason. At the very least, just say “My friend’s cousin’s next door neighbor’s baby momma had ________ – she’s a great girl, and I’m sure she’d be happy to chat with you if you’re interested in talking to someone who’s been there/done that.” Make it their choice, it’s certainly not yours. That being said, HOW someone shares their infertility struggles is a hard decision as well. For me, email is quick and (relatively) painless. I also appreciate chances to talk with my close friends/family about it in person. I do not and will not share details via text, Twitter, Facebook, etc. If that is your only method of reaching out, you’ll be in the dark. If you think I should be calling you, please consider how many times I’d have to repeat the same story/share the same grim news in order to let people know. It’s not fun to talk about, and I choose to email and blog about it, or chat in person. Period.
7) “You’re young! You have plenty of time to get pregnant – women are getting pregnant in their late 40s these days!”
While I appreciate 34 being considered ‘young,’ the reality is that pregnancy after 35 becomes more of a risk (higher miscarriage rates), and on top of that, a woman’s infertility decreases significantly after 35. Google it – it’s all there. Fertility starts to decline in a woman’s late 20s, and more rapidly declines after 35. Even if I was still in my 20s, comments about a fertility-challenged woman’s age are better left unsaid.
8) “I thought you’d have a baby by now… You’re not pregnant yet?... So when are you starting a family?”
It’s such a natural curiosity after someone gets married to wonder if/when they’ll start a family. If, after a significant amount of time has passed, they still aren’t pregnant? Obviously something is wrong/going on. My favorite response to these questions? “Practice makes perfect, so we practice a lot.” That usually shuts people up. ;)
9) Saying nothing/not responding at all.
While I’ve opened up to a handful of friends and family about what we’re going through, I haven’t totally outted myself. I send email updates to a group of loved ones to keep them up to date with what’s happening. While I never expect to hear back from each person on each email, it’s become blatantly obvious that a few of my closest friends have never acknowledged what is happening. Not even a “thanks for the email, will keep you in my thoughts!” or “sending fertile thoughts your way!” Nothing. The movie theater may think that ‘silence is golden,’ but when you’re the close friend of an infertile, saying nothing at all is just as bad as saying one of the things that prompted this post. Especially when these are friends I’ve known for years. I know our moms taught us, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all…” but in this case, saying anything is better than nothing.
10) “You’re welcome to borrow my husband’s ‘super sperm’.”
Not only is this rude, but it throws in the face of an infertile how easy it was for you to get pregnant, while we struggle. Did you know that one in four infertile couples have unexplained infertility? Leave the sarcastic comments far away from infertile friends.
11) And while this wasn’t said to me, it was said to a dear friend who’d just suffered a miscarriage:
“At least you know you can get pregnant!”
My friend H suffered a miscarriage just a few days after they saw their baby’s heartbeat for the first time. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when she told me an acquaintance made this comment to her. One could argue the “glass is half full” attitude with this one, but I prefer the argument of this person is an insensitive boob!
I want to end by sharing two very powerful links for you to watch… they say it better than I ever could. A few words of advice? Have Kleenex nearby before clicking:
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