4 things not to say to someone struggling with infertility | Tuesdays with Jacob

4 things not to say to someone struggling with infertility

January 20, 2016

If you know me, even a little bit, you know my road to motherhood was not an easy one. It wasn't a happy tale of easy success or surprise positive pregnancy tests. Instead, it played out more like a tragedy, filled with bad news after bad news after bad news. Doctors and tests and treatments. Shots and pills and constant ultrasounds. I had an amazing support group along the way, which was just about the only thing that kept me from giving up hope all together. But on the flip side, I got some pretty insensitive comments over those four years.

Certainly no one meant to be insensitive, but if you haven't been there yourself, you just don't realize how much some of these things can hurt. A lot of people don't know what to say at all.

Chances are, if you think you don't know anyone struggling with infertility, you know someone. They've just chosen to keep it to themselves for personal reasons. While there is nothing shameful about it, it can certainly feel that way when you are in the thick of it.

For this reason alone, I believe it's NEVER in good taste to ask someone about their family planning and when they might have a baby. (or another baby, if they already have one or more) Unless you are close enough that you would share your toothbrush with said person, don't ask. You never know if that person might already be trying and having a hard time of it. Whether they've tried unsuccessfully for five months or five years, it's going to be a sensitive subject.

However, if you are lucky enough to have a friend open up to you and share their struggles, PLEASE, don't say these four things:

1. "You want kids? You can have mine." Ugh. This is such a slap in the face. Even if it's meant to be a joke. Fertility treatments are without a doubt the hardest thing I've gone through. No one chooses to go through it because it's the easy road. They go through it because they are desperate for little ones. And for someone who would cherish a baby with everything they have, hearing that you care so little about yours that you would give them away is like a knife to the heart. I remember thinking how unfair it all was when this was said to me "Why can she have kids and I can't? She doesn't even want hers!"

2."You can always adopt." Friends, I heard this from my own family. My own flesh and blood suggested that maybe I should just look into adoption instead. Adoption is so important. But some of us are called to it, and some of us aren't. Adoption is not a band-aid for infertility. If you know someone going through fertility treatment, it's because adoption isn't their first choice. If it was, they would be filling out paperwork and starting the process of adoption instead of subjecting their bodies to physical and emotional torture. They want children they can see themselves in. Who they can look at and say "Oh, she has my eyes" or "He has a personality just like his daddy." Suggesting they could just adopt is asking them to give up on their dreams. This isn't to say that at some point they won't possibly decide on their own that it just isn't worth it anymore and look into adoption instead. They may get to that point. Support them in that choice too, and NEVER say "I told you to do that from the beginning!"

3. "It will happen eventually/when you least expect it/when you relax." Maybe. Maybe not. Truth is, no one knows when and if fertility treatments will work. Some couples undergo treatment for decades (and I'm not exaggerating) and it just never happens. The expense of fertility treatments is also excessive. The amount you shell out for a chance at something, is more than you can imagine.  Never assume your friend has the means to continue treatment unless you have an awareness of her financial situation and know that she is capable of continuing.

4. "You just need to try ___________." Chances are, she's tried it. And if she's under the care of a doctor, she needs to be following his regiment, not yours. Women receiving medical attention for infertility have bigger issues than can be solved with heresay advice. I was once told that I just needed to eat pineapple core. Sorry, but that's not going to fix my polycystic ovaries.

So what should you say?

"I understand what you are going through and these are a few things that helped me." I'm stating the obvious here, but don't say this unless you actually know! If you too have walked the infertility path, offer up a few things that helped you keep sane and hang on to hope. For me, it was leaning on my husband, pampering myself with little indulgences like a pedicure, or a massage, and writing letters to the child I was hoping for.

"I'm here for you if you need someone to listen." And mean it. Listen. She doesn't need someone to fix her problem for her, she likely has a doctor working on that. She needs to be heard. 

"I'm thinking of you/praying for you/holding out hope for you."  Infertility can feel very, very, lonely as families swell and grow around you. This lets her know that she isn't forgotten.

"If there's anything I can do to help you, please let me know." As opposed to "what can I do to help you?" which puts all the pressure on her to come up with some way for you to help. This leaves the door open and she can choose whether or not to reach out for help or support.

These are the supportive, encouraging words your friend needs to be wrapped in. These words let her know that she is not alone.
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