Before I dive into the next chapter of our story- getting pregnant with our daughter- there is something else I feel like I need to write about first. Now that it has been more than two years since we have been trying for baby number three, I have noticed a recurrence of something that I received a lot of in the four years we were trying to get pregnant with Malachi. Unsolicited advise. I guess you could say that this post is not really for anyone dealing with infertility, but really for anyone those who do not.
As a society we are feel strangely free to just ask people fairly intimate questions. You know what I mean. The moment you’ve been dating someone longer than a year- so are you guys going to get engaged anytime soon? You get engaged and the first question is- so when’s the wedding? (Hey, no real judgement here- I do this all the time). But then something happens the second you get back from your honeymoon- When are you guys going to start having kids? And if you already have 1 it’s- are you going to have another? And after baby number 2- are you done having kids?
Really when you think about it- how is this anyones business?? This is not really subject manner for small talk and if you are really friends with someone it is a subject they will probably bring up on their own.
The problem with asking these questions is that you have zero idea what may be going on. You see a couple who has been happily married for 4 years with no kids and think – I wonder if they’re going to get going and have kids anytime soon? I should probably ask them about it (seriously- why do you need to know?). But what you don’t know is they have been trying for years. Or maybe they have had 3 miscarriages by this point and your question is going to be extremely painful for them to answer. Whatever the case may be, once the awkward question is asked, it must be answered. I usually gave the answer- Well, we have been trying, for several years.
And this is where it happens. I think people genuinely feel bad and just want to make the other person feel better. But when they flippantly offer advice without knowing the details or the person that well it just causes hurt or even anger. I would like to help you avoid making this mistake. And before you get too offended or discouraged while reading these- please read until the end. I have a couple of things you can say instead.
So here are my top 5 things never to say to someone struggling with infertility. Also, please know these are not just based off of what I have encountered but I have compiled this list after talking with many women who have struggled with infertility.
- Just Relax/Stop thinking about it.
- This was by far the piece of “advice” I received the most. I literally had to hold myself back from yelling at people when they have told me this. I have had anyone from church members to the medical professionals that I work with tell me this. Here’s the thing- you have no idea why I can’t get pregnant so why would you assume that “relaxing” would help? Relaxing isn’t going to change the fact that I have PCOS and don’t ovulate. It won’t change my husbands sperm count. It won’t change anything for the woman with the clotting disorder that is causing her to have miscarriages. And to tell someone who is literally devastated every month her period starts to “not think about it” is really insensitive. It is literally all you can think about. Every time you see a baby or a friend announces they are pregnant and you have to track your ovulation- you think about it. PLEASE! Stop saying this to people.
- Have you tried…xyz…
- The answer is yes. I guarantee that you are not going to come up with a brilliant idea that I haven’t already discussed with my fertility doctor and researched on my own. Yes, I have seen a naturopath. Yes I have done acupuncture. Yes I have tried that medication. No I don’t want to try that supplement. Unless I ask for your advice, please keep your suggestions to yourself.
- Let me tell you about my friend/sister/cousin..
- I’m sure you know someone who struggled to get pregnant and then was finally able to. But I probably don’t want to hear about it. That is their story and not mine. I know you just want to be encouraging and are trying to find a way to say- don’t worry it will happen. But, it may not happen. I you, yourself, have personally gone through infertility then you should hopefully know how to say in the right moment, “I know what you are going through. We really struggled to conceive. If you ever want to talk, I am available.” But that’s really the only time I really want to hear about it. On so many occasions I had someone say, “Oh can I tell you a story about someone I knew”. I really didn’t want to hear it. That wasn’t encouraging to me but I felt like I couldn’t say no. And at the end all I could say was “That’s great for them.” I especially did not appreciate it when this was said in conjunction with #1. “My sister tried to get pregnant and as soon as they “stopped trying” they got pregnant.”
- Are you pregnant? Anytime they mention any ailment.
- Just because I am trying to get pregnant and have a headache doesn’t mean I’m pregnant. Or if my stomach is upset, or I’m tired, or I had a weird dream. Truthfully- you shouldn’t ask anyone if they are pregnant. This is their news to share when they are ready. But when you are struggling to get pregnant this just grates on your nerves. It feels like you can’t make a move without being questioned. Again, I know it is probably well intentioned. People just hoping you are pregnant, but it doesn’t feel good to be questioned and then to have to say no.
- Just adopt
- This is probably the one that sets me off the most. Lets get a few things cleared up. First, adoption is a wonderful thing. But it is not for everyone. It is not a decision that one comes to lightly. It also has to be something that both partners are comfortable with. Second, it is not easy. There is not “just” adopting. Adoption comes with all kinds of risks. It can be expensive, the birth mother can change her mind even after the baby has been born. And if you do foster to adopt, that comes with a whole other set of obstacles. It can be a very long process. Third, sometimes it’s not just about “getting a baby”. I knew that I wanted to be a mother. And if after everything we couldn’t get pregnant I know we would have explored adoption as an option. But I desperately wanted to get pregnant and have a child that way. It’s really hard to explain how much mentally and emotionally I needed that. And until I had explored all of my options to try and get pregnant I knew I couldn’t move onto adoption.
Lets call these next two “honorable mentions”
- You’re still young/Have plenty of time
- Because I was 23 when my struggle with infertility started I got this one a lot. Now that I’m 35 I get this one a lot less (ok never- no one says this to me anymore. haha). Please don’t assume that because someone is young that their infertility is less difficult to endure or that it will be easier to “fix”. It is just as painful to in your 20s as it is in your 30s. There may be a sense that once a woman has hit a certain age that the struggle to get pregnant is harder because you don’t have “as much time.” But that still doesn’t lessen the pain or difficulty of dealing with infertility when you are 25.
- Be thankful you at least have 1…or 2…
- This is one for all those women struggling with secondary infertility. I always wanted lots of kids. After some negotiations my husband and I settled on having 3. Just because I struggled to get pregnant does not mean all of a sudden I only wanted 1 kid. Those who easily get pregnant don’t have to think about this at all. It’s just- I want to have another kid- ok lets do this. And no one thinks twice about it. If a woman who struggles with infertility wants to have a second or third child, all of a sudden they aren’t grateful for what they have? It’s somehow selfish for them to want multiple children? This may not be the intent of the initial comment but it is definitely how it is perceived.
If you have ever said any of these things- please know that my intention is not to leave you feeling terrible. The fact that you are reading this probably means you know and care about someone who has or is struggling with infertility. I have a couple of suggestions about what to say instead. And they are surprisingly simple. If you do ask someone when they are planning on having kids and get the answer– we’ve been trying for a while- here is what you can say:
- I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’ll be praying for/thinking about you. (but please only say this if you actually mean it).
- If you want to talk about it, I’m available. (This is only appropriate if you have a good friendship with this person).
That’s it. As someone who was going through infertility I knew in my head that most of these comments were always made from a place of good intentions. But sometimes when your heart is hurting, it doesn’t matter how good the intentions are. So the next time someone mentions they are having a hard time getting pregnant, take a moment before answering and keep your response simple and sincere. That will mean more to them than you know.
Knowledge flows like spring water from the wise; fools are leaky faucets, dripping nonsense. Proverbs 15:2 (msg)