Thursday, August 28, 2014

5 Ways To Inadvertently Hurt Your Infertile Friends

Infertility often feels like an Iowa winter...cold and never ending
*Hence the seemingly random photo*
This post has been mulling around in my brain since I promised it sometime last week. My hesitance comes because I don't want to offend those who may have inadvertently said something that I found hurtful -- especially because I know ironically the intent was usually an attempt to be kind. Obviously, these comments come from somewhere and they may have come from you, dear friend/reader. Remember how I have been guilty of some of these same comments myself? With that said, I rarely find offense in these comments but they still remain difficult to hear. So maybe in sharing we can all have a little more direction in what to say when we feel at a loss for words.

So without further delay, here is the list of my most frequently received hurtful statements, otherwise known as...

5 Ways To Inadvertently Hurt Your Infertile Friends:

"You aren't infertile..."
I think as women in particular, we have been trained for these kind of conversations. "No honey! I don't know what you are talking about, those jeans look great on you!" Unfortunately, trying to convince me I am not actually infertile, I just need so more time, or I'm doing something wrong somehow, doesn't have the same effect as trying to convince me I really don't look fat in these jeans. No matter how much you argue, it doesn't change the fact that I can't get pregnant. I know and live on the hope that maybe it will happen some day but I accept my infertility. It's okay if you do, too.

Rather than try to convince me it will happen, it would be nice if you'd just let me vent awhile.
"I can't imagine anything worse/harder/more awful/heartbreaking..."
I find it surprising how many people tell me how sorry they feel for me. They commiserate or even congratulate me for going through what they often say must be the worst possible trial. 

I can't help but wonder, "Really? Worse than my friend who lost a child? Worse than another battling cancer? Worse than that patient in a coma with permanent brain damage? Worse than victims of abuse or violence? Or with no place to live?" The list could go on and on. For me, this particular comment makes me feel broken or shamed. Is my life really so bad that everyone is feeling sorry for me? Is my life so defined by my inability to have children that people would wish any other ailment upon themselves than have to go through what I am experiencing? Are people whispering as I go by, "Oh there's Erin. She's infertile (with a shudder). Poor thing!"

This is perhaps supposed to be a comment of the utmost support and empathy, but for me it is hard to hear. My life is pretty great. For now, I am living with my infertility. It does not define me. It is an interesting aspect of who I am and my life experience. I know that if we have children it will be a great blessing. And I also know that if we never do, we still have a great life.

So you don't need to feel sorry for me. It's not like I have leprosy. Just uncooperative ovaries.

Ironically, the opposite sentiment can be just as frustrating:

"You can just..."
If you ever find yourself saying anything starting with the word, "Just" make sure you turn right around and stop what you are about to say.

"Why don't you just...." is one of the most frustrating comments I receive. Unfortunately, most of the "Just do" suggestions are anything but "Just."
It is especially hard to hear "Don't worry, you can JUST adopt or JUST do IVF."  when facing thousands of dollars of investments, no guarantee of results, and potential complications. How do you feel about JUST giving yourself multiple shots per day, JUST putting yourself at increased medical risks, and JUST coming up with $25,000 cash? Or JUST waiting day after day to be selected to adopt only to find out it didn't work out after all?

Dealing with infertility is difficult emotionally. I think I have been shielded from many of these emotions (so far?), but sometimes the infertile couple may JUST need some time to process the emotions. To mourn the very real feeling of loss knowing they may never become a parent, anger over going through something so difficult when it comes so easy to so many, frustration after months of trying and suffering through medical procedures and tests, or fear and anxiety what they are trying may not work.
"You must be so..."
Many people assume they know what I am going through. They tell me how hard it must be to see other women get pregnant and have babies. They assume I am jealous or angry or devastated. They awkwardly avoid telling about their pregnancies or their children. And in conversations they sometimes comfort me for the wrong thing or empathize for the wrong reason. I have been lucky to avoid many of these common emotions of infertility but I also have my own feelings of anxiety, frustration, anger, and sadness that maybe you don't understand.
We unfortunately are not good mind readers, so the best way to empathize I think is to listen without making assumptions.

"You should ...."
There seems to be that inevitable desire to offer unsolicited advice. Unfortunately, what worked for you or your cousin-in-law or a woman you once worked with won't necessarily work for me. Encouraging infertile women to de-stress is good advice for anyone, but I don't think it will help me overcome my syndrome or help my friend suddenly grow more eggs. Herbal remedies may be helpful but don't be offended if I prefer to take my medications instead.
Luckily, I have my doctor to help me sort through these issues and offer most of the advice that I need.




What should you or can you say?

Sometimes you just need a friend

or your family to put on their coats and walk with you!
  • Wow, this sounds like a lot to go through.
  • Is there any way I can help?
  • I am here for you if you need someone to talk to.
  • I know I probably can't understand but I am willing to listen.
  • Do you need someone to come with you to your appointment?
  • What does your treatment entail? 
  • How are you feeling?

Unfortunately, as you can see I have a lot less to say about this. But actually, I think that is perfect. Because really, the best thing you can do is probably stop talking and just listen.

Let us know you are there.
Let us know you are listening without judging.
Let us know you care.

Not everyone is ready to talk but when they are, they will appreciate having a kind ear to hear.

Thank you!


SeƱora H-B said...

I love this whole post. Thank you for sharing!

I definitely get tired of the "my friend tried X" stories or the comment that "it'll happen when you least expect it". Seriously, I haven't been expecting it for about four years now. It's not just going to happen on its own... And the adoption one makes me want to scream. We've thought LONG and hard about this, said lots of prayers, and come to the conclusion that, at least for now, adoption isn't the right answer for us.

I made a new friend in our new ward. Instead of evading the question about children when she asked, I just responded, "we haven't been able to have kids yet". It was so freeing to just put it out there. She was INCREDIBLY sweet and just asked what the prognosis was. She made no judgmental statements, didn't ask prying questions, didn't offer advice, and just said, "I'm sorry you're going through that". It was so refreshing compared to other people I've met.

I have definitely been guilty of saying some of the bad things, and I try to remember that when someone says something insensitive. (Not that I don't go home and cry.) I just think it's so hard to comprehend what we infertiles go through and maybe it's because we don't talk about it enough and we don't let people know what would be helpful. I feel like I see tons of advice on what to say/not say to people in other situations (e.g., death of a spouse, loss of a job, whatever...), but there just isn't a lot out there about what to say to your infertile friends.

Phew. Anyway, that was a lot of rambling.

Camber said...

Erin, thank you so much for posting so much about this and for sharing your experience. Your thoughts about what to say and what not to say are spot on and apply to a lot of different situations in addition to infertility. And you're right--sometimes you don't really know what to say to people until you've been through it. You'll meet (and I'm sure have already met) a lot of other people struggling with infertility and will be uniquely positioned to empathize with them. I wish you all the best on your journey, wherever it takes you. You have touched and will touch many lives, including mine.