Today is the last day of National Infertility Awareness Week. I had hoped to write a post a day, or at least every other day, but that didn't happen! However, here is one more. I know a lot of you would never say some of these, but considering they're still constantly being said, I thought it was worth sharing.
I know there are posts like this one all over the internet. People have put this so much more eloquently than I have, or with a much greater sense of humor. But I've wanted to tell this in my own words, with my own voice. So here we go... a little list of things you can say or do to support your friend who is dealing with infertility, and some things you definitely should NOT say or do when it comes to your friend who is dealing with infertility.
Your words matter. They just do. It is not easy sharing my story. It is not easy to open my heart and tell you our story, or about our RE consult, or how our IUI went. It's not easy telling you how long we've been trying. Yes, I choose to tell my story. Yes, it is my choice. And, honestly, it's been one of the best decisions I have made. It's been hard, but infertility is hard anyway. I don't think being public has made it harder. It's actually been very freeing for me. I am able to spread awareness. I am able to share what is hard for me, and what isn't, what hurts my heart, and what doesn't really bother me at all. I have received an abundance of prayers and support from family and friends, and also from people I never would have expected it from! That has been a huge blessing. And I am able to be a voice for those who do not feel like they can become public with their own infertility stories.
All of that being said, I don't think it's a bad thing to let people know what statements and actions are hurtful to those battling infertility...and which ones are helpful. It's 1 in 8 couples, y'all. Chances are even if you don't think you personally know someone facing infertility, you probably do. No matter what situation you are facing in life, you can probably agree with me that hurtful comments stick with you way longer than they stick with the person who said them. But encouraging, supportive words from others are a LIFELINE. They mean everything. Hurtful comments have ruined my entire day, or have had me crying as soon as the offender was out of sight. But words of support have often turned my whole day around (for the better). They have built me up. They've reminded me that I am loved and supported. Seriously, it means everything. I know my infertility sisters would say the same.
So that was quite the long intro. Here we go.
1 - Respect & try to understand that baby showers & other events are very, very difficult.
They just are. Some infertiles avoid baby showers like the plague. For me, I continued going to them for about the first two years of my infertility journey. At some point, though, it got too hard. It wasn't the baby bump or the mom-to-be opening all her gifts that was hard. It was being surrounded by mothers. Moms who could only talk about motherhood. I can't blame them. They're moms and they're at a baby shower, for crying out loud. But it was incredibly overwhelming for me. Painfully overwhelming, to the point of feeling like I might have a panic attack. The best gift you can give a friend like me is to let them know that while they are welcome to come to your shower (or your gender reveal or your kid's birthday party or whatever it is), you completely understand and are not offended if they do not make it. I have had four friends have this conversation with me - two had been through infertility and two had not. One of them mailed the invitation but sent me a text to let me know she understood if I couldn't be there. It meant SO MUCH to have them let me know I was invited but that if i chose not to attend it would be okay. When I walk away from conversations like that, I feel like a weight has been lifted. I feel respected, valued, loved. I cannot even begin to tell you how much it has meant to me. Be that kind of friend. Trust me, they wish they could be there. But they can't. It's just too hard. This doesn't mean they don't love you and don't wish they could celebrate with you. And they will, in their own time. I find it hard to attend baby showers, but a lot easier to go see the mom after the baby is born. It's a lot less overwhelming - and I bring food!
2 - Avoid certain phrases (see examples).
"Just relax & it will happen" or "If you don't think about it, it will happen" or "Jennifer struggled to get pregnant too, but as soon as she stopped thinking about it, she popped up pregnant!" or "If you go on a vacation and relax, it will happen!"
Just stop. Don't do it. Please don't do it! Even if you genuinely think she is too stressed out and that it's hurting her chances of conception... just don't do it! I beg of you. These types of phrases do more harm than good. First of all, they're just not true. Everybody knows somebody who just relaxed and then got pregnant, but guess what? That person was not dealing with infertility! Infertility is a medical condition. It's recognized as a disease. You can relax from here to kingdom come, and it's not going to change what is medically wrong! Also, saying that tells them that you think they're NOT relaxed. Me, personally, there have been times when I have been stressed about it, but there have also been months where I have been full of great peace. It still didn't happen! And someone insinuating that I'm not relaxed and that's why I'm not pregnant...well, it sucks. It hurts. It assigns blame, is what it does. I always want to reply, "I was relaxed until you told me to relax! Now I'm not feeling very relaxed!"
"If it's meant to be, it will happen." or "If it's God's will, it will happen." or "Maybe you're not meant to have children."
Yes, people have said these things to me. Listen, I'm a Christian. I know that when it's God's timing, nothing can stop it! But putting it like, "if it's His will" or "maybe it's not meant to be" is terribly hurtful. First of all, going by this logic, the people who stick their babies in garbage cans or leave them in the basement to starve are MEANT to have children just because they have them. Come on, now. That doesn't even make sense. Second of all, if it's NOT God's will then He is the only one that can open my eyes to see that, and that can give me a peace about it. If I am still trying to conceive, then obviously God has not brought me to that point. Truthfully, I don't think He ever will. I do think it is His plan for me to have children. And everything in the Bible about the infertile woman supports that...they all eventually conceived. There is even scripture I like to hold on to like, "He makes the barren woman a joyful mother of children." (Psalm 113:9). As far as I am concerned, He is saying I AM going to have children. So please let God be the one to speak to me about that. Only He knows His will for my life.
Adoption is a beautiful thing, and we are not at all opposed to the idea. However, adoption is not an easy button. It's a roller coaster of emotions. It is money, lots of money. It is paperwork and interviews and homes studies and meeting babies and holding them in your arms only to have the birth mom change her mind. It is WORTH IT in the end, when it works, when you have your forever baby, but it still not an easy way out. So to just flippantly toss it out as the answer to all infertility problems is ignorant. Adoption is a beautiful and wonderful thing. It is a miracle. But a couple may need to grieve their dream of having a baby with daddy's eyes and mama's nose. And that is okay. It's between them and God. It is a decision they come to on their own. Trust me, there is no couple you say this to that hasn't thought about it already. They may even be starting the process.You just don't know.
3 - Don't feel like you have to give a "solution" (like those above). Just offer support.
One thing I have noticed: Most people feel the need to give a solution. It is very rare for someone to say something to me about infertility without adding in some sort of advice. The "advice" usually goes like this: "Oh, girl, I'm so sorry. You know, I bet if you relax and stop stressing about it, it will happen!" or "I am praying and believing with you that God is going to answer your prayers! ... Make sure after you have sex you lay with the bottom half of your body elevated so the sperm can travel!" (Yes, an actual comment to me, and yes, I know what to do after sex, thank you!!) or "You should buy my product!!! It's helping people get pregnant!" (That one is actually pretty hurtful, because it feels like you're trying to make a buck off of my infertility.)
Usually, it's not an actual solution. It is often something ridiculous. Sometimes it is something that might help, but not something I haven't already thought about before! Some of it is things I'm already doing! Trust me. You may have just recently found out about our situation, but we have been going through it for four years. I fully believe that God has been and will continue to lead us and guide us every step of this journey. The truth is, you do not have to say anything at all. But if you want to, it can be something like this:
"I love you." "I'm so sorry y'all are going through this." "We are praying for you." "I don't know exactly what you are going through but I am here if you ever want to talk about it. Or if you just wanna go get ice cream or something."
Since my word for the year has been "believe", I have recently found that I also love comments like these: "I am praying and believing with you!" "God is going to give you the desires of your heart." "You are going to be a wonderful mother!" "I can't wait to see your announcement pop up in my newsfeed! I have no doubt it will happen!" These restore my faith. Sometimes I hear them when I am discouraged, and they're exactly what I need. They turn my whole perspective around!
Notice how these are different from the things you shouldn't say. These don't offer a half-hearted solution. They just let us know we are loved and supported. And that is really all we need.
Now, I'm not saying I am not open to new ideas or advice. I am, and if you have a burning desire to share something with me that you really believe could help me, go ahead and do it. I'm not going to hate you or anything. As a general rule of thumb, though, I would really think and pray about it first. If you are supposed to say it to me, I think it will weigh very heavily on you until you do. If not, you'll forget about it. I guess what I am trying to say is, don't just flippantly use empty advice, saying the first thing that comes to your mind. Only give the advice if you feel that it's something I haven't already considered. And don't do it at all if it involves the words, "why don't you just" or "relax". Ha!!
* * * * * * * * * *
I know that most of the time, people's hurtful comments are unintentional. They just say what comes to mind, and usually it's just what they've heard. They don't actually think about the words they are using and what they could mean or how they could affect others. And I get it. I've said careless things to people who are facing something hard, like disability or disease. But then I found out those things are considered insensitive and I stopped saying them. Being on this infertility journey has made me very careful about the words that I say to others about their own situations. I just think that even if you can't imagine the pain of infertility, your mind can comprehend that certain words and actions are hurtful. Even if you don't understand, it is never a bad thing to have compassion.
I have to add that I have been so grateful to the fertile friends of mine who have been extremely supportive, who have said all right things, who have showed me much grace and love. You are a treasure, a gift, and a true friend. I would call you out, but you know you are. I really do not know what I would do without you!