There are a ton of articles out there on what to say or not to say to someone dealing with infertility. It’s pretty obvious there are people out there who have never taken the time to google this information. Therefore, I decided to compose my own version of what the etiquette should be when a fertile person is dealing with an infertile person. These things are what have bothered me the most over the last two years. And, if you are sitting here thinking “have I said that?” the answer is yes – most likely you did at some point to some couple close to you in your life.
First and foremost, I know that whenever any of my family or friends tries to offer their words of wisdom for my struggles with fertility, they have my best interest at heart. I also know that no matter who you are, you are trying to be helpful and supportive. But truth be known, these words of wisdom suck and are unintentionally hurtful. Nobody knows the pain of infertility than the couple actually going through it.
Dealing with infertility is a very sensitive issue for any couple. The emotions can range from feeling like a failure one minute, to worrying about the future the next, to being optimistic, to feeling hopeless. You never know when a “baby challenged” couple could be worried about money and insurance bills, or what part of a fertility treatment process they are in. The emotions and hormones are running high. You just never know. A couple going through this is at the most emotional and vulnerable stages of their relationship.
Since many of you may not understand or be aware of what can be unintentionally hurtful to couples dealing with infertility, I have put together the following list to help out.
(1) Don’t Ask. Ever. Don’t ever ask when a couple is going to have kids, when they plan to have kids, or why they haven’t had kids yet. One day, you may ask that question to the wrong couple. And future grandparents, stop begging for grandbabies because you don’t know what your own children could be going through if they aren’t open about their sex life to you just yet.
(2) Please, no advice. Trust me. A infertile couple isn’t listening to your advice no matter what you say. And quite frankly, your advice to “stop trying” or “just relax” or “go on vacation” doesn’t help at all. Have you ever said to someone battling cancer that they should “just relax”? I doubt it, and honestly those aren’t the words that should be said to someone with the disease called infertility either. Infertile couples need to focus on themselves and their own situation, and ultimately we have our doctors to help us with our specific situation.
(3) If you’re pregnant, don’t complain. (Unless you want to get bitchslapped.) There are women out there who would die to have a pregnant belly, who want to feel morning sickness, and who want to feel fat. I can’t tell you how many of my pregnant friends have complained about being pregnant…. right to my face…. knowing JM and I are having baby making issues. Think for a minute about what you are saying before you say it, and don’t tell me you have “prego-brain” as the excuse.
(4) Don’t tell us we could always adopt. Adoption isn’t even in our vocabulary – at least not until we’ve exhausted every option with our own egg and sperm first. And, don’t offer this as a suggestion to an infertile couple before any infertility treatments are performed yet. Adoption is a huge decision. I don’t know about you, but do you have $40k just laying around to adopt someone else’s child? In the end, adoption or deciding not to have children is a decision the couple makes together. End of story.
(5) If you find out you’re pregnant or a mutual friend is pregnant, please put it in an email and be ultra sensitive about it. To be clear, it’s not that someone struggling with infertility can’t be happy for others, it’s that they consider themselves failures or can’t show the joy instantly. I don’t hate any pregnant woman, I just hate her uterus. I’ll never forget when someone called to tell me they are pregnant just as we were starting all of our tests. Not only did they deliver that news over the phone, but they had the audacity to tell me they weren’t even trying – knowing full well JM and I have been trying for a year. Think people. Think. An email from this person would have allowed me the time to appropriately process the news and deal with my feelings privately.
(6) Don’t ask us if we’ve tried X, Y, Z. Nothing is more annoying than when people ask an infertile couple if they’ve tried this test, or that test. The answer is “yes.” Baby challenged couples are trying everything possible as directed by their doctors and as directed by their bank account and insurance.
(7) Stay away from the phrase “It will all work out.” You might think this is comforting, but honestly – we know you have nothing better to say. These words are actually quite hurtful. When I tell people I’m unable to get pregnant, people always respond with “it’ll happen,” or “you’re so young” or “your day will come.” You know what? Stop. And just let us know you’re praying for us.
(8) Don’t underestimate the devastation of each cycle. Every cycle that goes by every month, many hopes and dreams (and dollars) were tied to that cycle – in addition to blood and tears. Understand that your infertile friend or family members need time to mourn the lost opportunity of getting pregnant.
(9) Stop asking about it. Some days are harder to talk about it than others. It’s best to let the baby challenged couple pick their own moments to discuss their situation or struggles and how they are feeling. Sometimes that couple needs a distraction and it’s the last thing they want to talk about.
(10) Finally, don’t ever voluntarily tell your friend of a friend’s fertility success stories unless the infertile couple specifically asks. I’ll never forget when I told one of my girl friends that I didn’t want any advice, words of comfort, or sympathy, but just to know that we had found out our first attempt at an IUI failed. Her response was to tell me one of her friend’s first IUI attempt worked AND that she just got pregnant a second time naturally. Well, $#!T ON ME. We infertile people don’t care, don’t want to care, and seriously, now is not the time to tell me how others successfully got pregnant. Don’t ever offer to share a fertility treatment success story unless we ask for it.
Since I covered all the “Don’t’s” I think I should also cover the “Do’s.” There is only one rule for the Do’s….. Do be supportive. That’s it. Nothing else. It’s simple. Just let your infertile friend know you’re there for them, happily offer any distractions, bring them a meal the day they find out a fertility procedure didn’t work, take them to get a pedicure or grab dinner, and just let them know you are praying for them. Fertility challenged women don’t always want to talk about their fertility issues and quite honestly, we prefer not to sometimes just so we can avoid the possibility of crying. We “baby challenged” people just need love, support, distractions, encouragement and a ton of prayers (if that’s your thing). Being supportive is really the most helpful thing you can do.