10 Dos & Don'ts When Talking To Infertile Couples

Infertility is something that, for whatever reason, isn't talked about much. Is it any wonder then that not many know how to respond? I'll be honest, before I experienced infertility, I didn't know what to say either.
When I was young, my sister had experienced years and years of painful surgeries, procedures, medications, financial burdens of treatments, and so much more from infertility. Even now, I can't even begin to understand her pain. Back then, I was barely an adult and had no idea how to show my support and sympathy for her.
Now that I am in the thick of infertility, I have a better understanding of what it means to experience it and have learned what has helped and what hasn't.
*disclaimer: I do not claim to write from the experiences of every infertile woman. I can only write what I have personally learned and experienced from my situation. This list may not apply to everyone. I can say, that from talking with many other infertile women, they also feel the same way to some degree*

1. DON'T use the phrase "At least…"
…you already have a child.
… you were able to get pregnant in the first place.
… you haven't had to struggle with this for 8 years like, so-and-so.

No. Just stop. Whenever you use an "at least…" phrase, you are essentially saying that my struggle now doesn't matter because of other factors in my life (either past or future). This is completely untrue and a very uncaring phrase to say.

First off, I don't need you to count my blessings for me, I am very capable of doing that myself, thankyouverymuch. 

Second, just because I may have other positive blessings in my life, does not mean that this current struggle is somewhat "less" of a struggle. Heartache is heartache. Yes, there are always positives in my life, but I don't need you to be a ray of sunshine in this dark point. I need you to be by my side, supporting me through it.

2. DON'T say "Just relax, and it will happen…"
It's rude and condescending to assume that because it was easy for YOU to conceive (or your sister, or your aunt) that it's also so easy for me.

This is essentially like going up to a cancer patient and saying, "Oh just relax and ignore it! All that stress is what's REALLY causing this. Believe me, it will just go away".

It's essentially saying that my infertility is all in my head when, in fact, infertility is an actual disorder.

3. DON'T give me anecdotal advice.
Yes, that's awesome that your sister (or cousin, or aunt, or best friend) had infertility, went on vacation, ate salmon every single day, and then got pregnant that month. Good for them but I don't want to really hear about their happy ending right now.

And please don't tell me the story about how your sister (or cousin, or aunt, or best friend) had sex in some unimaginable position and they conceived. 

Don't even start telling me about when your sister (or cousin, or aunt, or best friend) just started doing positive affirmations and she magically got pregnant.

Seriously, I don't want to hear it. It doesn't give me hope, it just makes me angry and even more frustrated. This is, again, essentially saying that my infertility is a product of my imagination.

4. DON'T tell me, "You can just adopt!"

While this may be a solution to eventually add to our family, it does not undo all of the trauma that comes from infertility. Did you know that studies have shown that the depression and anxiety from infertile couples is comparable to those that have cancer, heart disease, and are HIV-positive?
Think about that for a while and let it sink in.
Plus, there is no "just" in adoption and it isn't something that is easy to do. It's not as if I can run down to my nearest Miss Hannigan's Girls Orphanage and pick out a child to bring home, like I would a dog at the humane society.
While I have never personally experienced the adoption process, I have asked many friends about their experiences. They have all told me of the stress, anxiety, and heartbreak that came from their adoption process. It's not for everyone and it's not a "cure-all" for those with infertility.

5. DON'T bring religion into this.

Please, don't tell me to keep praying or to trust in the Lord and everything will work out. I do not need to hear that this is a trial from God to make me into a better person

I may not be religious like you and even if I go to the same church,, I may not even have the same ideas about deity. It's not a source of comfort to some.
If there is a chance that I do share the exact same beliefs, then I would say to tread lightly. It may be a source of comfort or it may not so I would recommend to err on the side of caution with this one.

6. DON'T ask about my treatment.

I know that family and friends want to show support, but talking about treatment is a very personal thing. It's usually not polite to ask about someone's pap smear or mammogram. We usually don't ask people when they're going to get a colonoscopy or ask about their yeast infection treatment.

Infertility treatment is invasive as it is. What was once something personal that could be created by a couple in the bedroom, is now subject to tests and tubes in a lab.

It's a sensitive topic to most and while I don't want to discourage people from asking, you also need to be prepared that if you do ask, you may be met with, "I don't want to talk about that right now."

Try to understand that it's not a reflection on our relationship and it's nothing personal against you.

7. DO show your support

So while it's mostly not appropriate to ask about fertility treatments, there are other ways you can show your support. Here is a short list:

- Share articles about infertility awareness. I wouldn't recommend tagging the person with infertility and saying "See! This is for you!", but a general interest that you want to bring awareness to infertility is great.

- Donate money (if they have a fund). Infertility is expensive. IUI's can range from $1,500-$4,000 per cycle. Even then, there's only about a 20% chance or less of conceiving. IVF can range from $10,000-$17,000 per cycle. And even with all of that, there is no guarantee that you will have a baby. If the couple has a fund set up, donate! Even $5 can help. If you can't donate, share their donation page on Facebook so they can have more reach.

- Write a simple "Thinking of you" message. It doesn't have to be an official card in the mail, but even just an email with kind and encouraging words can help.

- Offer to babysit (if they have kids) for the couple to go to appointments/treatments/consultations.

- Offer a shoulder to cry on. They may take your offer or they may not, but at least they will know that you are available when they need to vent/cry.

8 DO tell me your experience.
Earlier I mentioned that sharing "happy ending" stories is discouraging, I do appreciate when people tell me their personal experience with infertility.

It means a lot when people say something like, 

"I watched my sister struggle with infertility for years. It broke my heart to see her go through all of these invasive medical procedures only to come out of it not pregnant and even more broken-hearted than before. I'm sorry that you are going through this too."

Phrases like this? Good.

Now let me tell you an opposite example,

"My aunt tried for 7 years to have a child. It was really sad because she didn't have any children and she had gotten married in her 30's. Then, one day, she had a dream she was pregnant. She took a test and she was!!!"

Phrases like this? No good.

One is relating to the individual with infertility. The other is telling a magical ending story that is depressing to people with infertility. Got it? Good.

9.DO allow me to have bad days.
When someone close to us experiences something traumatic, we sympathize with them and comfort  them. I also think it's normal that afterward, friends and family forget. I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty or place blame upon you. It's just a fact of life. You have your life to concentrate on. Soccer games, birthday parties, school, work, and overall life goes back to normal for you.
But it's not usually how it works for those that have experienced something traumatic. Infertility is a real, traumatic event that affects lives every single day..
Now, I'm not saying to bring it up constantly to show your support either. That's probably not going to help (and I say "probably" only because infertility experiences vary and I cannot speak for them all).
What I am saying, is to not take it personally if I don't want to participate in baby-related events. I may even have trouble being in the same room as a pregnant woman. I'm not mad at the fact that they're pregnant, it's just that it is a very physical reminder of what I don't have.

10. DO say...
Earlier I gave examples of what not to say and I wish I could make an opposite list of phrases that would be appropriate.
The problem is twofold.
First, there really is nothing you can say to make the situation better. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to say a profoundly touching remark.
And second, each case of infertility is different. Some women are dealing with poly cystic ovarian syndrome, some are dealing with endometriosis. There are some that have male-factor infertility, some both male & female. There are some, like me, that have no explanation.
Because there is such a wide spectrum of infertility, the needs are going to be different for each woman or couple.
The bread & butter of phrases to say would be, "I'm sorry. If you need me to do _______, I would love to help you. Just know that you have my support".
. . .

Overall, infertility is a sensitive subject and the best guide would be to be willing to listen and respect the needs & requests of the infertile couple. Even if it doesn't make sense to you. Even if you don't agree. Even if you can't understand.

1 comment:

Erin Anderson said...

Thanks for sharing this Jessica. Really great info!