When a friend or family member is going through a difficult time, it's natural to feel the urge to say things you hope will comfort them. It's also pretty normal to accidently say or do the wrong things, even with the best of intentions. Here are 10 things to stop doing if you have a friend or family member struggling with infertility.
Stop Thinking You Can't Be Supportive Because You've Never Struggled with Infertility
There's a misconception that you can't provide empathy properly if you've never experienced another person's problem. Thank goodness, this isn't true! The fact of the matter is, even when you have personal experience with a struggle, it's still only your personal experience, since everyone's life situation is different and people cope with problems in different ways.
Instead… know that you don't have to experience a particular problem, including infertility, in order to provide support. You can even admit that you're not sure what to say or do, but you want to do something, if you can. Go ahead and ask us what we need most.
Stop Assuming We Don't Want to Hear Anything About Your New Pregnancy or Your Kids
It's true that hearing about a new pregnancy or listening to a lot of cute baby talk can be painful for those with fertility challenges. In an effort to protect fertility challenged friends, sometimes people attempt to keep a new pregnancy secret. Or they share almost nothing about their little ones, leading to awkward silences. This isn't a good idea.
Instead... give us the news of your pregnancy in a way that allows us privacy and room for our initial reaction - email is probably best, and a phone call is much better than in person. Secrets never remain secret for long, and we're bound to hear your good news eventually. We'd rather hear it from you.
Also, ask us if we want to hear about the kids' latest activities or your recent pregnancy adventures, because maybe we want to live vicariously through you! But first, please ask, in case we'd rather avoid the discussion altogether.
Stop Endlessly Talking About Your Pregnancy
While keeping pregnancy a secret or avoiding the topic altogether isn't a good idea, talking about your pregnancy endlessly with us is a really bad idea. Too much pregnancy talk just reminds us how much we're missing.
Instead... gush about your pregnancy adventures with your fertile friends, and talk to us about whatever it is we spoke about before you got pregnant.
Stop Asking If We're Pregnant Yet
We know you're curious, but asking repeatedly whether or not we're pregnant reminds us once again that we're not. And "Any news?" is essentially the same as asking if we're pregnant, so don't even think of trying that question instead!
Instead… assume that if we were pregnant and were ready to share, we would have already told you. If you want to ask us how we're doing, then a simple, "How are you doing?" or "What's new in your life?" is best.
Stop Telling Us We Can "Always Adopt"
Fertility challenged people have a variety of options, and adoption may be on the table - but it's not a simple process, nor is it available to everyone. Making the choice to adopt comes with its own set of emotional and practical complications. Plus, knowing adoption may be an option doesn't make infertility any better. It's like telling someone whose mom died that they "always have their dad." Having dad doesn't make you miss mom less.
Instead... allow us to come to the decision to adopt on our own, and if we do eventually go that route, be supportive without making comments that imply adoption automatically takes away the pain of infertility.
Stop Giving Unrequested Advice
We know you just want to help, and maybe you heard of a new fertility treatment on the news that you're sure will cure our problems. Or perhaps you believe strongly in a particular health lifestyle, and you believe "if only" fertility challenged people lived that lifestyle they'd be as fertile as you are. Or you're sure if we would just relax, things would resolve magically.
Offering these tidbits of advice feels condescending. It feels like you don't think we can figure this out without your wise advice, as if we aren't researching options endlessly ourselves. Plus, that new fertility treatment you read about may not be available, and without understanding our exact fertility issues (please, don't ask), you can't really provide targeted advice.
Instead... understand we're doing our own research and speaking with our doctors about how to proceed. If we want your advice, we'll ask.
Stop Speaking on the Universe's Behalf
Comments like "If it's meant to be, it will happen," or "Maybe you weren't meant to be parents," don't help. They add to our shame, as they imply we are not only infertile - but we also deserve it.
Instead... remember that no one really knows why things happen, and even if your philosophy on life comforts you, allow us to come to our own conclusions on why bad things happen to good people.
Stop Accusing Us of Not Appreciating the Good in Our Lives
Our good marriage, our children (if we're dealing with secondary infertility), our great job, our nice house - whatever it is we have that's great doesn't take away the pain of infertility. It is possible to feel many feelings at once, sadness for our losses and joy for our blessings.
Instead... keep in mind that people talk more about what's troubling them than what's going great. Just because we don't talk to you about all the wonderful in our life doesn't mean we aren't aware it's there.
Stop Telling Us How "Lucky" We Are to Not Have Children
Yes, we know, kids are loud and don't allow you a moment to yourself, kids never let you sleep, kids get in the way of sex, kids are a hassle. And we still want them. We are not lucky to not have kids; our lives are not easier for the lack of them. In fact, infertility also takes away the quiet inner moments, infertility keeps us up at night, infertility destroys our sex lives, and infertility is a hassle.
Instead... admit that you wouldn't give up your kids even if it meant you'd have more sleep and less stress. If you would rather trade in your kids for peace and quiet, then please keep those thoughts to yourself, as they're not very flattering - it just makes us wonder why the Universe gives people children who don't want them.
Stop Invalidating Our Feelings and Reactions to Infertility
"It could be worse."
"At least it's not cancer."
"Having children is a lifestyle choice. You just need to pick a different lifestyle."
Comments like these are painful because they invalidate our feelings. They imply our reaction is an overreaction.
Instead... realize there is no "right" or "wrong" when it comes to emotional reactions, and everyone deals with life trials in their own way. Infertility is correlated with increased rates of depression and anxiety. Our reaction is normal, and what we need is support, not invalidation. When you don't know what to say because you don't understand, simply say nothing.
More articles to help you understand infertility:
- Quiz: Do You Know Infertility Myth from Fact?
- Fertility Facts You Need to Know
- Emotional Impact of Infertility
- What Women with Infertility, Cancer, HIV, and Chronic Pain Have in Common - And Why Few Understand It (Be sure to read the comments on this blog, so many heartbreaking stories.)