Tuesday, April 27, 2010

National Infertility Awareness Week - My friend's journey

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:




InfertileNaomi said...

Very good advice!!! (or please don't give us advice at all)

Kristy @Loveandblasphemy said...

I have seen friends struggle with this and it is so hard. It is hard to know the right thing to say, so I have tried to not say much and just listen and be a friend.

kirsten said...

I do have a friend who tried so very hard, and finally did get there. I went through a great deal of turmoil when I discovered I was preg w/ #3, and wish I'd seen this advice beforehand.

I wish you a peaceful journey Wendy, wherever it takes you.

Jen C said...

I had a friend who struggled with miscarriages. It was difficult as a friend to know what to say. I didn't want to be insensitive, yet I didn't want to say nothing.

Thank you for sharing your story and for advice.

A 2 Z said...

Thank you for the advice! Am I wrong in thinking that there seems to be more infertile women now than ever? Or are we more aware of the problem? I also was infertile but decided to just give up. As a teacher I told myself that I would love those kids like they were mine. As soon as I gave up on being a mom, bingo, I was pregnant at 35 and then 38 ouch! Its kinda late in life! Its one of those things people never now what to say to you when you are trying to get pregnant. Thanks for visiting my blog.


Unknown said...

This needed to be said.

Cheryl said...

Naomi - Thanks so much for stopping by! Wendy has been reading your blog for some time and she's SO happy you came by!

Kristy - Sounds like you have the right idea.

Kirsten - I have a friend who had secondary infertility and she watched me have two babies while she had m/c after m/c. I felt so guilty..

Jen - I'm sure you said the right things, knowing you!

A 2Z - if only that happened for everyone! Glad you have your two - and I had X at 40 and he's perfect! ;)

Cheryl said...

JoAnn - Agreed. Completely.

Marit said...

Oh, I can so relate to this post and every bit of advice. I just felt like shouting out, "Amen sista!" It took us 5 years to conceive. I'll never forget a preggy (jokingly) saying, "if we're not having a girl, we're going to adopt one." When you're going through this, these types of comments REALLY don't help. Wishing you oodles of luck on your journey toward motherhood, Wendy!

Aimee @ Ain't Yo Mama's Blog said...

This is such a wonderful post that needs to be read by everyone who knows someone dealing with this issue.

Infertility is such challenging and heartbreaking time. I know this from having several friends who struggled with fertility and were finally successful with IVF when all other options ran their course.

Sending many fertile wishes your way, Wendy. I hope you know the joys and challenges of parenthood very soon.


Kris said...

I met you at, of all things, Cheryl's baby shower. She has always spoken so fondly of you.

My heart goes out to you and your husband. I can't imagine what it's been like for you both. Thank you for bringing to light things I wouldn't have thought of, without reading your post.

Wishing you the best.

Jamie said...

Wendy, my heart goes out to you. We had secondary infertility and tried for about a year and a half to get pregnant again. It is so tough.

My absolute pet peeve is the reaction, "My husband sneezes and it gets me pregnant!" You would never walk up to someone with cancer and say "Look how healthy I am!", yet somehow this is supposed to help???


The Mayor! said...

I have been on every end of the spectrum with this....my 1st marriage broke up after 7yrs of fertility treatments, with the end result being that I would never have children. One month after moving in with my NOW husband, OMG, WTF, I'M PREGNANT! After our 1st, thankfully uneventful pregnancy, I lost the next TWO, & was certain there was only one miracle for me. Again, I resigned myself to it, but agreed to see a specialist once I had come to terms with 2 losses in less than a year, the most recent only being a few weeks prior. Instead, I wound up pregnant again immediately, & was terrified of bonding with a child I was sure I'd never carry to term. To this day, I think I struggle more with that daughter because of my hesitance to bond. THEN, I seemingly couldn't get pregnant again, & was again booked for treatments 3 years later, when the next 2 kids finally just came of their own accord, with relatively uneventful pregnancies. Thank you for sharing your story, for those to whom it "comes easy", they can't grasp the constant pain & turmoil we go through, the anger & resentment, the whole gamut of emotions....I couldn't even go to my own sister's baby shower, it was just too painful for me to see her so happy & it come so easy. Thank you again for sharing....

Momfluential said...

Hugs to you Wendy (we also met at Cheryl's shower) and well wishes to you on your route to being a parent - I am with Cheryl - I feel certain you'll get there even if the road is winding and goes ways you hadn't mapped.

I'm not infertile but I have had a small window into what it's like b/c my oldest child is adopted (by choice) and I heard all the insensitive "Oh see - you adopted and then you relaxed and now you're able to get pregnant with your *own*!" comments with my bio kid's pregnancies. All I could think was if I had been struggling with fertility issues I'd have wanted to smack these people and even still I wanted to smack them for implying that my oldest wasn't really mine in some way. I've come to the conclusion that people are idiots. For the most part I try and accept their intentions from whence they came but really - we could all use to be a little more sensitive.

That said, I have a little lucky fertility idol that's been passed around to several of my friends while they were doing fertility treatments. I'm not saying the thing works any better than an e book but it has boobs on springs and that's just funny. You're welcome to the boobie idol any time you need a laugh. I hope that was not insensitive of me!

Devan @ Accustomed Chaos said...

Thank you so much for sharing. It really is a personal topic and those of us who are face with fertility and pregnancy complications hearing insensitive remarks weigh on us deeply.

The more the topic is let out of the bag in society - the more 'comfortable' people can be talking about this painful subject, and we can learn to better support each other.

I wish you all the best in your journey and thank you again for opening up your experiences,heart and knowledge.

Devan @ Accustomed Chaos

Kristin said...

Thanks for sharing this.

marie ford palmer said...

I proudly call the Amazing Wendy a long time friend and sister. She captured the essence of my personal struggle with infertility so truthfully. The lows are so low, and the "helpful" comments are just achingly painful.

My ache subsided with the addition of our adopted daughter. With my husband and our son, the mental snapshot of my family was completed. That dotted line that designated the missing piece was filled with the arrival of Mary Cathryn.

Fortunatley for me, Wendy was there several years later with some sage counsel for an adoptive mom. The ability to share and bond during personal crisis is the manifestation of hope. I hope and pray each day for my sister and sweet friend!

Patricia said...

Absolutely beautiful, Wendy. No one truly knows another person's pain, no matter what the ailment - all we can do is try to emphathize and you make that happen with your heartfelt and honest words. I so identify with your wonderings about the people in your life who choose to say nothing about your struggles. I, too, have been perplexed during my cancer journey (10 years now!!) that there are still people who choose to not acknowledge this truth. Yes - it is a mystery and a hurt - but you and I both know that we have so many people in our lives who are true friends, that we must look past those who just cannot acknowledge our pain and struggles. We have a new reality to deal with, and we must move on...

You have this wonderful support system because *you* put it into place for yourself! Yes - that is true. The love that you feel from so many people is love that started with you.

You and Wes will be wonderful parents and I pray with all my heart that you will get that opportunity.

I love you, Wendy.


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