Hello there! I’m so glad you’re here today as it is the second day of National Infertility Awareness Week; a weeklong campaign sponsored by Resolve: The National Infertility Association to raise awareness about the disease of infertility and dissolve the taboo surrounding the subject.
Today I wanted to share some infertility etiquette with y’all. Oftentimes when we are faced with an unfamilar social situation it can be easy to say or do something that might cause hurt or harm to another person especially when we feel like we have to say something or offer advice/opinions. This is frequently the case when infertility is discussed in social settings including those on social media.
So what can we do or say to avoid causing more pain to a woman, man, or couple already experiencing a great deal of pain from the disease of infertility while still helping them feel loved and supported? I think the most important this is to realize that sometimes you don’t have to say anything at all! Now I don’t mean you should ignore it if it is brought up; what I do mean is that a hug and a listening ear can go a long way towards supporting someone struggling with infertility.
It’s best to avoid:
- Telling them to “just relax and they’ll get pregnant”. That’s just not how infertility works! You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to relax and they’ll be healed. It’s the same with infertility.
- Minimizing infertility and their pain with statements like “just enjoy being able to XYZ (sleep in, travel, have spending money)”. These statements are not comforting and are often untrue. Just because someone doesn’t have children doesn’t mean they get to sleep in, travel more, or have extra money. The Resolve page on infertility etiquette (here) says it best when they state that “being able to sleep late or travel does not provide comfort to somebody who desperately wants a child”.
- Making statements like “it could be worse”. Yeah it probably could but ya know what?! Infertility is a super painful, devastating, grief-laden experience. For someone like me who has longed to be a mother and whose main life goal was to be a mother having infertility is one of the worst situations for me. Just like you wouldn’t tell someone who lost a loved one “at least you only lost one and not your whole family!” you shouldn’t tell someone with infertility “It could be worse. At least you didn’t lose your job, find out you have cancer, or have a miscarriage”. Not helpful y’all.
- Asking if they’re trying (or why they aren’t trying): adoption, fertility treatments, fertility diets, prayer, ovulation test kits, tracking their basal body temperature, timed intercourse…we could go on and on with this one. Unless they volunteer the information it’s best not to pry. It’s more than likely that they’ve tried at least some of the above, know it won’t work for their specific fertility issue, or have chosen not to for a reason they might not want to discuss with others right now.
- Complaining about your pregnancy. Seriously I get it; pregnancy can be rough with symptoms that aren’t very fun. But you have no idea how much this could hurt someone struggling with infertility! I would willingly give so much to experience morning sickness all day long for ten straight months along with heartburn, swollen ankles, little sleep, backache, mood swings, cravings, and more if it meant that I could conceive, carry, and birth a child.
- Making statements like “It’s not a great as you think it is”, “You can have mine”, “I didn’t even try/I didn’t even want kids and I got pregnant”, or “Everything happens for a reason”. Seriously just don’t. These statements are so crude and hurtful. They don’t provide any comfort to your friend or family member struggling with infertility.
- Bragging; and bragging might not look like you think it does! KC, a guest blogger, over at The Divine Life said it best when she shared “If you think it’s a funny anecdote that you get pregnant every time your husband sneezes, don’t say that around her. If you’re upset because you’ve gotten accidentally pregnant, don’t express that. In fact, don’t even tell her it was an oops. Just say you weren’t really planning it, but you weren’t really NOT trying, either. (Because if you really WEREN’T trying, you wouldn’t be pregnant, lady. There are fool-proof ways to NOT get pregnant.) If you never had a problem getting pregnant, don’t keep on about it. Don’t talk about all the stupid teen-aged girls who get pregnant or all the crack babies in the world. That may not be bragging about you, but you’re bragging about other people AND throwing the cosmic unfairness in her face”.
- Asking if or when they’ll be expecting. Trust me, you’ll know when or if we are. Asking just reminds us that we aren’t and kind of throws it in our face.
Things you can do instead:
- Offer to listen when they need or want to talk about their infertility diagnosis.
- Be a shoulder to cry on why they’re having an especially difficult day. Not every day is crazy difficult, some days are okay, but there are days where the pain is a little closer to the surface and more raw.
- Let them know that you care and are there for them. A kind word or a “thinking of you” note can go a long way.
- Support them in their decisions regarding infertility treatments; if they choose not to purse them and live a child-free life, if they choose to adopt, if they choose to do fertility treatments, or if they decide to stop or change treatments.
- Include them. They may turn down that baby shower invitation, and that’s okay. But it doesn’t mean you stop being friends with them just because you’re having or had a baby. It’s important for both of you to remember what brought you, and can continue to bring you, together outside of children.
- Offer to pray for them. We need all the prayers we can get y’all!
- Give them permission to grieve. Infertility is a loss and one that reoccurs month after month when only one line shows up on that pregnancy test. Going along with that; don’t judge how they choose to deal with their grief. It is an individual process that will look different for each person, each couple, each family.
- Ask if there if anything that you can do to provide comfort, help, or support. The answer may be no but we greatly appreciate you reaching out.
- Seek to educate yourself. Infertility can be difficult to understand from an outsider perspective and often includes a lot of lingo. Take the time to research a bit about infertility or the specific cause of your friend’s infertility, if there is a known cause, to help you begin to grasp what she’s going through and what’s she’s talking about when she mentions IUI/IVF/TTC/TWW/BFP/BFN/etc.
- Respect them when they turn down an invite to a party or shower, choose to stay home from church services, decline holding your infant, walk away from a conversation that makes them uncomfortable or why they need to take a few moments to grieve.
- Tell them about your pregnancy one on one. Trust me we are happy for you! But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t sad for ourselves as we feel the empty ache in our own wombs. It’s much easier, and so respected by us, if you take us aside and tell us one on one that you’re expecting rather than being blindsided by it in a public annoucement, on social media, finding out through the grapevine, or having you avoid us and not finding out why until much later!
- Remember them on holidays, birthdays, baby blessings, etc. Holidays and special events can be especially hard when you’re struggling with infertility. You’re often surrounded by children and well-meaning friends/family asking when you’ll be bringing some to the party. It can be a time of great loneliness and sadness. I find that Mother’s Day is especially emotional as it centers on motherhood, childbearing, and childbearing. For weeks leading up to the holiday it’s everywhere you look; in store displays, in advertising, local events, church sermons and hymns dedicated to motherhood and more. We tend to forget about those who cannot become mothers, and the piercing pain it can cause every day, but especially on Mother’s Day.