Monday, February 24, 2014

What Not To Say To Someone Struggling With Infertility

For the past few weeks, on Mondays I have been posting things that I learned through my experiences with infertility (here is a list of the other posts if you’re interested.)  This has really been a challenge for me to get it all out; to actually write things makes me feel very exposed and vulnerable.  I keep doing it though because I know the Lord has a purpose for our struggles, and if I can encourage even one person who may be feeling the same ways I have felt, then I will continue to write.  I know everything He does is for good, and I'm looking forward to seeing the fruit of His labor (pun not intended).

While we've struggled with infertility for the past few years, there have been many comments from people, who I’m sure were just trying to be helpful, that really hurt us.  It's probable that they just didn't know what to say but they truly wanted to demonstrate their support, OR they were just so uncomfortable that something just fell out of their mouth.  These types of comments cut me really deep, even if they weren’t intended to hurt me.  Sometimes you don’t have to say anything to show someone you care, but often times silence makes us uncomfortable so we just say something, and just saying anything can really rub salt in an open and very sensitive wound.  Today I not only want to share with you a few of these “no-no” phrases I've encountered, but I also want to tell you why and how these comments are perceived by someone who is struggling.

What Not to Say To Someone Struggling With Infertility
  1. “It will happen someday, just calm down and relax” FYI increased brain activity does not decrease your chances of conceiving.  In fact, fertility challenges are actually a medical condition, not just something that is made-up in someone's head.  Before even being diagnosed as infertile (which is a truly nasty word if you ask me), you have to be actively trying for at least a year; this year weeds out the “just need to relax” concept.  By telling someone to just relax actually adds guilt and stress to the individual, because then they may start to think that the reason they can’t conceive is because of their emotions, when in reality it is a medical condition.  Additionally, if I'm being completely honest, it might not happen someday.  Some people are just not able to have biological children.  Please don’t downplay someone else’s concerns about conceiving; it’s very condescending.
  2. “Don’t worry, you’re so young!”  In case you haven't picked up on this scientifically supported fact, it doesn’t get easier to have children as you age.  On the contrary, it becomes more difficult.  This is why younger women have the children, and older women are the grandmothers.  If I’m ____ years old now and already facing fertility challenges, do you know how much harder it could be for me to conceive in _____ years?  Think about it.
  3. Just wait, it will happen when you stop trying” Uhhhhhhh ......... not to get too far into the birds and the bees lesson, but some activity must happen for conception to occur.  If you’re doing injections, testing with OPKs (ovulation predictor kits), taking temperatures and hormones, and you’re still having issues, the “cure" probably isn't to stop trying.
  4. “Why don’t you just adopt?” or “Why don’t you try to adopt and then see if you can conceive?" or "My friend started the adoption process and then conceived!”  This is not how conception occurs.  Yes, this does happen to be the case for some families, but not for everyone.  And you absolutely should NOT treat adoption like a backup plan.  Adoption is something that you prayerfully consider and train for, for a long long time.  Children who are adopted, or are waiting to be adopted, are beautiful and desired; they are not waiting around to be someone's Plan B.  They are somebody's Plan A.  Always.  You don't just apply for adoption in the hopes that you’ll magically conceive.  That isn't how things work.  First the parents have to completely grieve the loss of their biological child or the hope for a biological child.  Not to mention, that by you providing an alternative solution doesn’t help the individual justify their current feelings or circumstance.  Adoption isn’t for everyone, and if you just give them some other option to "fix" them, you’re suggesting that what they feel about their own grief of a potential child doesn’t matter and it absolutely does matter.
  5. “Oh well, you’ve always got your career” Because a career is just as fulfilling as a child?!  Maybe for some people, but please don’t assume I am one of those people.  Even if I did spend almost 10 years working on my degrees AND love my job, that does not mean I don’t have other dreams or aspirations.  Once achieving education and a job does not mean life stops progressing, or that someone isn't entitled to the desires of parenthood.
  6. “You’re just supposed to be the fun aunt then” or “Maybe you aren’t meant to be a parent” While I adore my nieces and nephews, the role of aunt and mother are very different.  How incredibly insensitive to imply that I would be such a bad mother that God felt the need to divinely sterilize me.  Infertility is a medical condition, not a punishment from God.  While He does have the power to provide a child, His timing is of the utmost importance.
  7. “But you have dogs!” Y’all know I’m a big dog person.  I adore our puppies and of course we consider them to be a part of the family, but seriously?! Are you kidding me?! You’re going to lump a potential child in the same category as a dog?  Do you actually expect that comment to go over well?  This is a perfect example of needing to think before you speak.
  8. “You’re so lucky you don’t have to deal with morning sickness, labor, or sleep deprivation” Again, SERIOUSLY?!  When you can’t have a child, your perspective changes and while many may think these things are inconveniences, when you don’t have them, you value them.  Besides, women who are fertility challenged, are sleep deprived, and it’s because the only one crying at night is them because of the silence piercing the night. Please don’t try to minimize someone’s pain by pointing out more things they are lacking.  Do you know how often I prayed that I would have the opportunity to hug that porcelain thrown just to know that a baby was on the way?  
  9. “When are you going to have children?” or “When are you going to have your next child?” Please don’t assume that couples are just waiting to have a child.  Yes this might be the case for some, but for many others there is a really painful alternative reason; for example, maybe they aren’t ready professionally, relationally, or financially, maybe there are health complications, maybe they have already started trying and are struggling, maybe one spouse is ready and the other isn’t yet, or maybe they are not even interested in having a child or having more than what they have now.  Even though your curiosity may be through the roof, I promise you: they didn’t forget about children, so please respect them and stop pressuring them.  Remember that their fertility really isn’t any of your business (see this “Get Out My Business” post).  If they want to tell you, they will and when they are ready.
  10. “This was meant to happen" or This was all in God’s plan” or “Have you prayed about it?”  From a Christian perspective, I know that God doesn’t make mistakes and I’m pretty sure it was meant to happen, but I don’t need you to tell me that.  Telling me this does not change the way I feel.  Furthermore, the Bible says that the barren woman will NEVER be satisfied (Proverbs 30:15-16) and God knows it.  He knows and acknowledges that incurable pain and He is okay with it.  The Lord says that it is okay to be upset; He is okay with the frustration, and so much greater.  By asking me if I’ve prayed about it is very condemning.  If I’m struggling, I promise you: prayer has crossed my mind.
  11. Any complaining about your children is a no-no Very much like #8, fertility challenges force a shift in perspective, and something that might be a nuisance to one woman is something coveted by another.  If you are pregnant or already have children, just being around you is painful for your infertile friends. Seeing your belly grow is a constant reminder of what your infertile friend cannot have. Unless an infertile woman plans to spend her life in a cave, she has to find a way to interact with pregnant women again. However, there are things you can do as her friend to make it easier: stop complaining!  Someone with fertility challenges is wishing they were up late at night with a colicky baby, yearning for tantrums in the cereal aisle, and longing to find action figures in her purse…..because that all means that there is a child there.  She is missing out on the blessings that you may consider to be annoyances.  While she sympathizes with the truth that being a mother is tough work (no doubt about it!), don't complain to her about it, because she would trade her silent nights with you in heart beat. She isn't rejecting you or your children; she is just trying to work her way through her pain to show sincere joy for you. The fact that she is willing to endure such pain in order to celebrate your new baby or children with you speaks volumes about how much your friendship means to her.
After reading this list you might be thinking, “Well, Darby, is there anything right to say?!”  And the answer is no.  There really isn’t anything you can say that will change the individual’s circumstances.  Sometimes saying anything just makes the person hurt more (even when it’s unintentional).  The best thing to do is to nod, show that you’re listening and you care, and offer a hug if your relationship permits.  Keep in mind that you don’t have to say anything at all; sometimes just being there is the "right thing.”  Don’t try to change or justify the pain because this doesn’t help; instead, it actually takes power away from the person who is struggling.  In the past, I always wanted to stop and fix pain, rather than hug people and to show them it was ok that they were hurting. Now, when people experience pain and I feel like I must say something, I think before I speak, and then I tell them that they hurt because what happened mattered.  Ultimately though, what I learned from my experiences, is that all I really needed or wanted was someone to listen to what I had to say, not to justify my feelings.

For those of you who completely sympathize with this list of comments, when people say things to you that make you go into a bout of depression like: “When are you going to start having babies?” or “You should start soon, you’re not getting any younger?” or “We tried this when we were trying… worked the first month.” Just remember they don’t know what they are saying.  People who have not been through infertility don’t understand.  They don’t mean to hurt your feelings and they don’t know how much their comments dig into the space in your heart that is waiting for a baby.  For the most part, humans are curious creatures and want to know about your life.  Please be forgiving even though you wish so often you could clock someone for their insensitivity.

The grief of infertility is the grief of a loss of hope, joy, and love.  It is the grief of a child you never got the chance to meet.  With each month there is this weird rebirth of hope, only to be smashed in a couple of weeks.  It's like a very bumpy road, and just when you think it is starting to smooth over, you hit another bump.  And this can go on for years.  If you are struggling with infertility, loss, or grief, I hope you know that I pray for you on a daily basis that God would fulfill the desires of your heart and fill you with peace and joy while you wait.  You are a very special population that I am proud to be a member of to love on and pray for.
xoxo Darby


Meg O. said...

I can't believe people actually have the nerve to say some of those things. I mean, I guess people mean well when they say "It'll happen, don't worry!" But "but you have dogs" and "maybe you aren't meant to be a parent" - that is so darn ignorant. Blows my mind.

Susan Fleming said...

My heart goes out to all women that are going through this or may go through this in the future. A good ear for listening or a hug are wonderful and needed. Thank you for sharing...

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