Monday, April 28, 2014

"What Not To Say": On Infertility

Last week was National Infertility Awareness Week. A friend of mine posted one thing each day last week that people simply should NOT say to those couples who are struggling with infertility. I asked her if I could post her thoughts because I thought it would be beneficial to share.

I'm so grateful that infertility is not something that my husband and I have had to experience. I couldn't even pretend to understand the pain that some couples face when they experience this struggle. But I do want to do what I can to support and encourage my friends as they walk their journeys, whether or not I have experienced them. And I want to remember, most of all, that my child is a sweet, sweet gift... a gift that is precious and not something to be taken for granted.

So, here we are:
National Infertility Awareness Week and "What Not to Say"
  1. OUCH!: Why the rush? You're still so young.
    Age doesn't have anything to do with it. Every pregnancy announcement we hear, every baby we see, every expectant mother we sit next to while waiting to see the doctor about our latest test results is a reminder of all we don't have and can't be. Each time a sensitive, caring friend comes to tell you in the privacy of your own home ("before you find out anywhere else") that she is expecting, the only way you can survive it is by promising yourself that you'll be next. But when the next announcement ISN'T yours, it gets harder and harder to believe. I'm not trying to beat my biological clock. I'm trying to beat everyone else's! I'm trying to beat the pain. I'm trying to beat that next horrible blow. I'm trying to beat feeling that unbearable ache one - more - time.

    THE BETTER RESPONSE: You will be such great parents!
    Thank you for believing in us! And thanks for the reminder that we will get there eventually. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that. We may not get our child in the way we'd always imagined, but one way or another, we will be parents. (Hint: Be sure not to say this to someone who has chosen to remain childless and is healing from that.)
  2. OUCH!: Have you considered fostering/domestic adoption/international adoption/IVF/embryo transfer/egg donor/surrogate/kidnapping/etc? [Not so much a painful question as just one where the answer seems obvious. Although some do ask this question in a pointed, almost condescending way, as though trying to imply that we're not doing what we should be. That DOES hurt.] 
    Yes. Just yes. Trust me, we've been up and down the list five million times. Anyone going through this is going to explore EVERY option! The truth is that none of these options are ideal. There are unbelievably long waits, deep pain, unknown and frightening risks, incredible expense, questionable ethics, birthparent relationships, and a multitude of other issues no matter which way you turn when you can't conceive naturally. Please trust that we've made the right decision for US.

    THE BETTER RESPONSE: How did you arrive at the decision to pursue [insert chosen method of family-building]?
    I'm glad you asked! It wasn't an easy choice, I assure you. Thanks for being interested in our journey!
  3. OUCH!: Are you really going to do that? Haven't you heard that [insert any manner of negative objection]?
    Yes. I assure you we've read all the reasons we should and shouldn't do everything. We've done our homework, but everywhere you look, you can always find an organization or blog or protestor that is more than happy to tell you why any given choice is wrong. Sometimes you have to look at your options and ask, "Which option gives me the peace in my soul to let me sleep at night?"

    THE BETTER RESPONSE: That must be a tough decision.
    Yes, it is. Thank you for recognizing that. I hope you never have to make it.
  4. OUCH!: So which one of you has the problem?
    Seriously? If I wanted you to know that, I would've told you. If I'm the problem, I'm not sure I appreciate you being so curious about the failures of my baby-maker. If it's my spouse, I'm really not comfortable discussing his physical issues behind his back. There's no winner to this question. The point is not to blame one person. We are a couple striving for the same purpose and working through the same problem together.

    THE BETTER RESPONSE: How is your husband handling all this?
    How kind of you to think of him! Infertility can cause serious stress in a marriage. We're working through it together, and he's been an amazing, supportive husband on those days when I'm a wreck!
  5. OUCH!: All you need to do is ...
    Okay. I'm going to stop you right there. Because whatever comes out of your mouth next is going to either be incredibly awkward, uninformed, or obsolete, but most likely all three. It's amazing how many people who have never lived through this struggle are happy to advise me to take special vitamins, have my spine adjusted, add a "special ingredient" to my tea, monitor my body temperature, spin around three times chanting in German, or any other number of unhelpful rituals. Everyone and their great aunt has their own "fail-proof" cure. Infertility is a complex medical concern with many causes (many of which are unknown) and many levels of severity.

    THE BETTER RESPONSE: I'll be praying for you.
    Sometimes, that's all we need to hear. And sometimes, it's our only hope. Thank you!
  6. OUCH!: If you would just relax/adopt/stop trying, it'll happen.
    If I had a nickel for every time this was said to me, my costs would be covered. In a perfect world, we could all achieve what we want by closing our eyes, taking a deep breath, and wishing. The human anatomy is complicated. Infertility can be caused by chromosomal, hormonal, mechanical, genetic, disease-related, secondary, or even neural conditions, just to list a few of the physical gears that go into human fertility. But NOT failure to put one's feet up from time to time.

    THE BETTER RESPONSE: I hope it happens for you very soon, even if it's in a way you don't expect!
    Thank you. We do too!
  7. OUCH!: You want kids? You can take a couple off my hands. My kids will change your mind.
    This is probably the most hurtful thing that I ever hear. I know you mean it as a joke and that you're just trying to lighten the mood. I know you love your children. But you have no idea what a slap in the face it is. You have no idea that there's a deep part of me that wants to scream, "YES!" Everywhere you go, you can see parents who don't appreciate or take care of their children - people who just want to be parents when it's convenient. You just want to go tell them all what a blessing they are missing out on because they aren't cherishing their children.

    THE BETTER RESPONSE: Wow. Seeing what you're going through makes me appreciate my family more.
    This may sound insensitive to you, but it's the sweetest thing for me to hear. If my pain can do something so beautiful as to remind someone else of their blessings, then it *almost* makes it worth it. Every child should be treasured. Go home and hug your kids a little tighter tonight. Because you know you couldn't imagine a life without them.

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