Infertility is something that is not overtly advertised and quickly dismissed as a topic that is better dealt with privately. However, with the growing rate of infertility affecting 10% of American couples of child-bearing age, it is a topic that is probably affecting one or more couples that you know. 10% equals 6.1 million American couples. Yikes! So how can you support the people in your life navigating the difficult topic of infertility? The better question is a growing list of things you should avoid saying.
1. Have you tried this…You should do this…
When you know that someone who is in your life whether it be an acquaintance, friend, co-worker or family member is having an issue, the first empathetic, human reaction is to want to help. And what is always our first reaction to that, to give advice… People with infertility get that, but it doesn’t make it any easier hearing your well-meaning recommendations of what we should do, not do and/or try.
2. I know exactly how you feel. My sister, friend, hairdresser, acquaintance, etc. went through that.
The person then launches into their own personal story which usually consists of them trying for a shorter amount of time to conceive and not needing any medical intervention to do so. We get it, you are trying to commiserate. We understand that you want to empathize with us while also giving us a hopeful outcome. Interestingly enough, people who are experiencing similar issues and treatment never say this expression. We are also very sorry that someone you know also had to experience this and although they may have talked to you about the experience, it does not mean that you truly understand the rollercoaster of emotions that happens.
3. Everything happens for a reason.
While this is truly a life message we believe in, we have never met anyone that wants to hear this statement directly while they are in the midst of the emotional situation they are experiencing. This statement also indicates a lot of perceived meaning that is not directly said such as: “You must not be meant to be a parent.” And that is truly depressing. We’ve read a lot of negative comments on articles about people going through IVF where people say that some people are not just meant to be parents and that it is selfish to go against God’s will to try to get pregnant. So it is best to let the person experiencing the pain say this one. If they bring it up because they are trying to look for the positive light in the darkness, it is fine to agree with them along with highlighting some difficult situations of your own you’ve overcome.
4. Just relax and it will happen.
After saying this statement, this is normally again when the person speaking will launch into a story about someone they know who was trying to get pregnant through IVF and/or adopt. We know you're just trying to help and understand that we would all love to be able to just relax and let it happen. In fact most of us tried that for several years. But we've come to the conclusion that our bodies need assistance in the area of reproduction making it difficult to ever relax because you feel unnatural and out of control.
5. Why don't you just adopt? There are so many unwanted kids out there.
You're right, there are. We agreed, tried and failed. This is probably the most insulting statement, one that I muttered too for a lot of my life. I was never one of those people that felt my child had to be my own blood and was lucky to marry a man who agreed. We just wanted a child/children to love which is exactly which led us to fostering to adopt. We thought we'd go through our state since there were 4,837 of them in foster care. First, we had no idea about the difficulty of the training process. The hours of training, forms, inspections and home studies were endless. It took at least five months to get certified. Secondly, once we did get a placement we learned there was no such thing as a "pre-adoptive resource" and lost the two girls we loved due to the state's focus on reunification. This is a short summation of the horror of the foster care system.
6. Not saying anything at all.
After the list provided above we can understand the trepidation to say something wrong. So saying nothing might seem like the best option. We can assure you though it's the worst and most hurtful. When you say nothing and act like there is nothing going on with the infertile person's life you make them feel as though you don't care and you unknowingly belittle the trials they're going through.
You are probably now asking yourself, so what can I say? People struggling with infertility just want support and to know you're there rooting for us. One of these simple sentences is all it takes for us to know you really care: "I'm sorry you're dealing with that; I'm here for you for whatever you need; I love you; Is there anything I can do to help? or You're in my thoughts and prayers."
Check out our new book, Navigating the Road of Infertility, available now on Amazon.