Changing The Conversation Around Infertility
My husband and I were married almost six years ago, and ever since people have been asking us when we are going to have children: family, friends, co-workers, and even my patients at work. To most people, having a baby seems like the logical next step after getting married. We even had a couple friends who had a bet going as to when we would get pregnant. The first three years of our marriage was a conscious choice to prevent pregnancy because I was in graduate school and I wanted to get through my first year working. Then, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, which again gave us a public excuse as to why we weren’t pregnant (even though we were trying despite most people’s knowledge). The questions and comments really began to hit hard around year four of our marriage. People would say,
“Are you ever going to have kids?”
“Do you even want kids?”
“Geez, you’ve sure been married long enough to still be figuring out how babies are made.” (It was supposed to be a joke from someone, but it wasn’t funny to us.)
“You aren’t getting any younger you know.”
“You know, if you wait too long you might have issues.” (My personal favorite!)
In addition to their questions and comments regarding our personal life, people began to offer unsolicited advice. Almost a year into trying, I remember being asked by my husband’s cousin about when we were going to start having kids. I boldly replied something to the effect of, “We have been trying for a while now, but it just hasn’t happened yet.” To which he replied, “Are you sure you’ve been trying on the right days?” To which I replied, “I’m currently taking medication to induce ovulation, I'm using ovulation predictor kits to confirm ovulation, and I'm having blood drawn on a monthly basis. I’m pretty sure we aren’t missing the right days.” That quickly silenced him and left him apologizing for being insensitive. I wish I could say that I always tackle situations like this one with such boldness, but this is not always the case ... nor is it always the best idea.
Why does it seem like no one ever says that right thing when talking about infertility? If I had to guess I’d say that most people don’t know what to say, so they wind up saying the wrong thing. Seemingly innocent or “helpful” comments can be very hurtful to a person going through infertility. Therefore, knowing what not to say is half the battle in providing support. Once you know what not to say, knowing how to respond will come easier.
Things you should not say to someone going through infertility:
Suggestions like “Just relax” or “Just go on a vacation and it’ll happen”
Don’t minimize the problem with comments like, “Just enjoy being able to sleep late, travel, etc.”
Anything that minimizes the pain the person is going through, like, “At least it’s not cancer,” or “One day you’ll look back and laugh at this”
Any phrase that begins with “You can always…” (such as, “You can always do IVF,” or “You can always adopt”)
Any implication that they just aren’t trying hard enough (“Have you tried this?”)
Don’t give unsolicited advice. Do not tell stories of someone’s cousin’s best friend that got pregnant by doing X, Y, and Z
Don’t make crude jokes, like “I’ll donate the sperm” or “I’ll carry your baby”
Rather, when you aren’t sure what to say to someone going through infertility, try one of these:
I’m so sorry you are going through this.
What can I do to help?
Do you want to talk about it?
I’m here to listen, whenever you need me.
Most importantly, just be there to support that person/couple going through infertility. In my experience the best and most supportive conversations with others regarding our infertility journey have been those in which the other person listens more and talks less. Being supportive does not always mean offering advice; it means truly listening to the other person, because what that person needs is to be heard. Infertility is a journey, a battle, a marathon of sorts, and the resolution can take years, so your support is essential.
One of the best examples of support occurred with a patient of mine at the nursing home where I work as a speech-language pathologist. We were in the middle of her treatment session one afternoon when she looked at me and out of the she blue said, “Some day you are going to be a wonderful mother.” She knew nothing of our infertility journey when she made the statement, but in the following minutes I found myself pouring out our story while attempting to remain professional and hold in my tears. I do not remember many other specifics from that session but remember that she let me share what I wanted to share; she did not pry for more information, she did not offer advice or suggestions as to what we should do, nor did she tell me a story about herself or someone she knows who went through infertility. And at the end of everything she said, “I truly believe that some day you will be a wonderful mother. No matter how God makes that happen, you will be a mother.” Sadly, she passed away semi-unexpectedly a few weeks later, so I was never able to tell her how much her words and ability to just listen meant to me, but I will always treasure that afternoon in her room.
So when you can’t think of exactly what to say, remember: listen more and talk less. The goal is to show support for your friend or family member that is going through infertility, not to overshadow their story with your own words and experiences.
Cati and her husband, Tyler, have been trying to conceive since November 2015. She began blogging about their story in February 2018 to help spread awareness and break the silence of infertility. To read more of their story and journey to becoming parents, visit bottlesandblankets.wordpress.com.