We do live in a world where being politically correct is of the utmost importance, almost to the point that sometimes I think we over do the whole politically correct way of life. However, when dealing with infertility I think that it’s not so much about being politically correct as much as it is about being sensitive. And part of that problem is that infertility is often treated like death, or Cancer, or any other horrible disease you can imagine – what is the right thing to say? What shouldn’t you say? Education goes a long way I think in helping bridge that gap.
You probably know someone who is struggling right now with infertility. Over seven million individuals of childbearing age in the USA alone are experiencing infertility.
Seven million. That would be like all of Washington State’s population struggling with infertility. That’s a whole lot of people.
It’s no secret that we as a society are horribly uniformed and under educated about a whole lot of things – infertility being one of them. Instead of giving the love and support we should be giving to those afflicted with infertility we often say nothing because we don’t know what to say.
Infertility aside from being incredibly painful is kind of like dealing with death. The grief we can feel is the same kind of grief we feel when someone we love dies except when someone we love dies we know that the person who dies isn’t coming back – we know we will never see them again on earth and we know there are stages of grief that we must work through in order to move on with our lives.
But infertility grief isn’t like that – it’s a reoccurring grief that repeats itself over and over and over again.
The inability to become a mother or a father on our own timetable is aside from being extraordinarily stressful it’s often devastating. As kids many of us thought that someday we’d get married and have a family right? When that doesn’t happen we experience loss and the loss/grief we feel with infertility is a reoccurring grief, as those feelings bubble to the surface repeatedly – and can make the strongest of the strong feel crazy, weak and vulnerable. It’s the inability to say goodbye to someone we have never yet met, or never will meet. And each and every month we hope upon hope that the stick will be positive, the blood test will be positive, the ultrasound will reveal a fetal pole, a perfectly shaped sac, and a heartbeat. We can’t fully commit emotionally each month because we are preparing for the bad news we have heard so many times before and when that bad news does come the grief rushes up and over us like a huge wave, crashing our hopes, dreams and desires. And this happens over and over again to many couples who struggles for years in this cycle – just imagine a cut or a scrape that begins to scab over and heal and right as it begins to heal the scab is ripped away and the healing process must begin all over again.
The other piece about infertility is we as individuals begin to lose trust in our bodies. The body we depend upon to help us achieve parenthood. Time marches on, our friends, our co-workers, our family and our friends continue to have babies without us – we lose a sense of control. Lots of times we feel stuck rooted in place – we don’t take those trips of a lifetime, or we stick with a job we hate because of guess what – “insurance benefits”, or we put off buying a home, or a new car, or whatever all because we are so hyper focused on having a baby.
Carole LieberWilkins a mental health professional from Malibu, California beautifully said,:
“The hardest thing about reproductive loss is saying goodbye to someone we never said hello to. Our sadness and depression over the loss of our genetic offspring is grief. But unlike the grief we feel when a real person dies, infertility grief means saying goodbye to someone who was never really here. When there is an actual death, we have ritual around it. We have funerals and wakes, or we sit Shiva, and make social calls. We go to church or temple, and often light candles. People bring casseroles to our homes and say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
As we navigate through the uncharted waters of infertility we watch our bank accounts being to deplete. The testing both men and women undergo is often embarrassing and endless. And really who wants to have the conversation with your physician about timed intercourse, putting pillows under your hips after sex, and please make an appointment the day after coitus in order for our office to take a vaginal swab to see if there are sperm present and if they are alive.
When did our physicians become part of intimate bedroom routine – you know sitting at the end of your bed like Johnny Bench giving you pointers on how the best way to get your sperm to her egg?
However, things often have a strange way of working out. RESOLVE states
A couple will eventually resolve the infertility problem in one of three ways:
- They will eventually conceive a baby.
- They will stop the infertility treatments and choose to live without children.
- They will find an alternative way to parent, such as by adopting a child or becoming a foster parent.
But these resolutions don’t happen overnight – for many couples it takes years and years and years. And once again we are right back to square one – we don’t know what to say, we end up sticking our feet in our mouths which makes you and the infertility patient feel badly and their path harder.
The most important thing is knowing what NOT to say – and here’s my crib note – cheat sheet in regards to interacting with an infertility patient.
- For God’s sakes don’t tell us to relax. How many times have you heard someone say “Oh just relax and let it happen.” Or “When God is ready to make it happen He will.” Or “Take a vacation! That’s what we did and we got little Jimmy that way” Did you know that a woman or man doesn’t receive the diagnoses of being infertile until they have tried actively to have a baby unsuccessfully for 12 months – or one year. By the time a couple see’s their Reproductive Endocrinologist they’ve waited a year and the last thing we need to hear is relax. Aside from the fact that women especially feel like they are doing something wrong because they aren’t getting pregnant.
- Please don’t tell us things like “It’s God’s Will” or “There are worse things that could happen” or “Maybe you aren’t meant to have children” – I mean really? Who knows what the worst thing is for an individual to experience except the person going through it? It’s like telling the person who’s loved one just died that “They are better off” or “They are in a better place” My response to that is “Says who?
- Please don’t minimize our problems. Don’t be that person – you know the person who says “Oh in time you get over this” or “ At least you are getting to sleep in, I am up at 5:30 AM seven days a week with my kids” We want to slap you upside the head and yell “I would give my right arm to be woken up at 5:30 AM seven days a week by a baby!!!” All we see and feel is the utter joy, bliss and how our lives would be complete if only we could have a child. I think one of the meanest things anyone ever said to me after I had experienced miscarriage number five was some well-meaning person saying “I am so sorry, but maybe God doesn’t mean for you to be a mom, maybe God has bigger plans for you.” All I could do was throw up right on her shoes – and I really did. What bigger plans could I possibly have other than being a mother.
- Please don’t offer us your sperm, your eggs, or suggest we adopt. Those things are just plain insensitive and rude. They aren’t funny, we don’t find them funny, and they are really irritating.
And a word to our pregnant friends – I know that it’s not your fault that we can’t get pregnant. I get that and while I am thrilled for you – I really am; I truly don’t want to hear about your pregnancy especially when you complain about it. I am going to see your ever expanding waistline – I am going to watch the glow of pregnancy wash over your skin, I am going to see your belly become big and round like a basketball – all reminder of things I really wish I had. I get that when you are pregnant your hormones make you nuts, you have a lot of discomfort, you are sick, you are tired, you have stretch marks, your partner is a jerk, you have hemorrhoids, your back hurts. I also understand you have the right to talk and vent about your complaints — but please, please, please, I am NOT THE PERSON TO HEAR YOUR COMPLAINTS.
I am just not that girl. When I would hear those complaints from those who KNEW I was struggling I just wanted to punch them right in the face.
The other thing – we aren’t stupid. Just because we are fertility challenged doesn’t mean we haven’t given a lot of thought about becoming a parent. Of course no one knows for sure what it means to be a parent until they have walked in those shoes but just because we aren’t there yet doesn’t mean we are dumb as rocks.
Please don’t talk about my fertility with other people. This is deeply personal, it’s private, embarrassing, and I shared my information with you because I trust you. I know you don’t mean to be mean insensitive but please don’t tell the hair dresser or the our Zumba instructor that we both go to about my infertility issues.
When I’m ready to talk about adoption I will and not before. There’s just so much stuff that we need to try first. When we are ready we will come and talk to you and our families about it.
What we want to know is that you love us and you care. Email me. Send me a card. Ask me to dinner. Let me cry. Hold space with me. And for anyone else if they go to church tell them you will pray, chant, light candles and muster up all the best fertility mojo you possible can. Just let us lean on you – we need to know we can count on you. Don’t be afraid to think about me on Mother’s Day or on any other holiday for that matter. Let us know you haven’t forgotten about us.
Last but not least – Nobody can withstand infertility treatment forever. There is going to come a time when it all has to come to a stop. When that time comes it’s going to be devastating. The decision to stop is agonizing, and I mean agonizing. The grief, the sense of failure, and the decision in some cases to live childfree is often overwhelming. So when you hear from us that we are choosing to stop treatment support us. Help us put that chapter of our lives behind us – don’t second guess our decision. Allow us to have closure and to move on.