Saturday, February 12, 2011

{In}Fertile Soul | An Excellent Article on Infertility Etiquette

I'd give anything to be you...

I found an excellent article on the RESOLVE website today, regarding interacting with infertile men and women. RELSOLVE is the website for The National Infertility Association. I hope that you will read it, and take it to heart. Being infertile is extremely painful, and far too few people really appreciate that.

Here are a few passages from the article that were especially poignant for me...
One of the cruelest things anyone ever said to me is, "Maybe God doesn't intend for you to be a mother." How incredibly insensitive to imply that I would be such a bad mother that God felt the need to divinely sterilize me. If God were in the business of divinely sterilizing women, don't you think he would prevent the pregnancies that end in abortions? Or wouldn't he sterilize the women who wind up neglecting and abusing their children? Even if you aren't religious, the "maybe it's not meant to be" comments are not comforting. Infertility is a medical condition, not a punishment from God or Mother Nature.
Yes, these comments really are as incredibly insensitive as the author states. I am a Christian, and yes, I do believe that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. And yes, I do believe that He can and will resolve this desire in my heart to become a mother. But telling me that perhaps motherhood isn't in His plan for me, when He has laid this desire and passion on my heart for as long as I can remember, is extremely insensitive and frankly, I'd rather not hear a friend or family member give me this cheap platitude. Ever.

The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. Send them cards. Let them cry on your shoulder. If they are religious, let them know you are praying for them. Offer the same support you would offer a friend who has lost a loved one. Just knowing they can count on you to be there for them lightens the load and lets them know that they aren't going through this alone.
So many people think that pretending nothing is wrong with regards to their infertile friends, but honestly, it's not helpful. Sure, it's better to not say anything at all than to say something insensitive or hurtful, but why not find a middle ground? For me, being approached with questions about our fertility journey is painful; we've been on this road for over three years. But getting a card in the mail that says something sweet about how I will make a good mom, or that someone is thinking and/or praying about me, would be comforting.

So, what can you say to your infertile friends? Unless you say "I am giving you this baby," there is nothing you can say that will erase their pain. So, take that pressure off of yourself. It isn't your job to erase their pain, but there is a lot you can do to lesson the load.
Here are a few suggestions. Some of them are paraphrases from the article, some are my own ideas, but all of them are valid ways you can support the women (and their husbands) who are struggling to build their families...

  • When you find out you're pregnant, don't hide it from your infertile friend. She loves you, and even though she may grieve for her own childlessness, she really will be happy for your good news. Finding out that you are pregnant from someone else, or far into your pregnancy by stumbling across something about it on facebook, is a really good way to hurt her. Infertility is already a very isolating thing; excluding your infertile friend from baby-related joy is not only unhelpful, but it makes her feel unwanted - less than worthy because she is "broken" and therefore unfit to be around those for whom conception is just a fun romp in the hay. She may not choose to come to your baby shower because she is afraid she might burst into tears over her own grief and ruin your day, but she should be allowed to make that judgement call for herself. And you never know - maybe sharing in the joy and celebration of new life with someone she loves is what she needs, in order to avoid falling into despair. You probably think that by not including her in baby news, you're helping; please, let her make those choices herself.
  • If you want to know more about your infertile friend's health, or about infertility in general, it really is okay to ask. But instead of digging for details right off the bat, a simple "I am so sorry this is happening to you, and I really want to be more informed so I can be a good friend to you in this" goes a really long way. Perhaps she will discuss the matter opening, or maybe she will point you to a post like this one or a medical article, or a forum where you can connect with the loved ones of other infertiles. Honestly, the only reason I ever get upset when someone asks me about my infertility is when they approach it out of morbid curiosity, or say something like "oh, so-and-so and I were talking about you the other day and we're curious what treatments you've tried because so-and-so from work said that her best friend's boyfriends sister's dental hygienist said that, really, all you need to do is relax and you'll get pregnant." Seriously??
  • On that note, you need to recognize the fact that infertility is not just two people not getting pregnant right off the bat when they go off the Pill and start having unprotected sex. It is not about "relaxing" or just waiting and "letting it happen naturally". Infertility is a medical diagnosis of a serious nature. A couple cannot be diagnosed infertile until they have tried unsuccessfully to conceive for a full year without success. Infertility is not about having to wait a few months to get pregnant - it is about a physical or chemical problem in either the male or female body that prevents conception. No amount of relaxation or positive thinking is going to magically fix this problem, and suggesting these things to a couple that has been trying to get pregnant for years is not just insensitive - it's plain absurd.
  • Recognize that, even when your infertile friend is celebrating something, she is probably sad on some level that another marker has passed without a child. For example: I celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday two days ago, on February 10th. On the 9th, I had an emotional meltdown because it suddenly hit me that when my mother turned twenty-five, her oldest child (me) had just turned four, and she had two other children as well! This was truly one of the best birthdays I have ever had...but it wasn't until my Grama told me her first child wasn't born until she was twenty-seven that I was able to really let that pain go and enjoy my day. My anniversary (number four) will likely bring similar sadness, and Mother's Day is always a very difficult time for me (and pretty much every other infertile woman I know). I haven't gone to church on Mother's Day since 2008, because that Sunday, as I was trying to sneak past the women handing flowers to all of the mothers of the congregation as they left, I was given a flower by the pastor's wife; when I tried to give it back to her, she said, "But surely you are a mother!" even though I had been attending for almost a year, and had previously told her I am infertile. She wouldn't allow me to return the flower, and as I tried to duck out of the church, tears streaming down my cheeks against my will, five or six other women patted my arm as I passed, wishing me a happy Mother's Day. Why did this happen? I have no idea. But I have no wish whatsoever to submit to another sermon on how blessed mothers are among women, or to risk explaining that I am unable to conceive as I run the flower gauntlet out the door. Last year, I received a Mother's Day card from my husband puppy; it was the first time in three years that I didn't want to sleep straight through the day. As the friend of an infertile woman, it is important that you accept that even happy occurrences can and probably do bring up the grief of infertility in your friend and her husband. Father's Day is no picnic at our house, either.
Read the article, please. I have trouble writing about this issue concisely; it is still too near the surface for me. The author has a lot of wisdom to share, and I hope that you will take the time to read through her article, and pass it along to anyone else who needs to hear this message.
The grief of infertility is not so cut and dry. Infertile people grieve the loss of the baby that they may never know. They grieve the loss of that baby who would have had mommy's nose and daddy's eyes. But, each month, there is the hope that maybe that baby will be conceived after all. No matter how hard they try to prepare themselves for bad news, they still hope that this month will be different. Then, the bad news comes again, and the grief washes over the infertile couple anew. This process happens month after month, year after year.
It is like having
a deep cut that keeps
getting opened right
when it starts
to heal.


  1. Although I obviously haven't been dealing with the same issues you have, I can, on some level, understand. I'm sure I would have fertility problems as well. I have had plenty of "clues" on that. One of my biggest dreams in life has always been to be a wife and a mother. Since dream one hasn't become a reality, obviously dream two is not in the works. I know how it is when people accidently offend, insult, pain, etc. you, because people have done that to me. I was in a Bible study group once. They were talking about someone's little sister, who went on her first date after she graduated high school. People were asking why she waited that long to date and someone actually said, "Is there something wrong with her?" There I was, about 24 at the time, never been asked out on a date..... ever! It made me feel terrible because, I guess according to them, there is "something wrong with me". I don't like to think of myself that way, but there are so many people who do. Here I am, 30, and I've still never been on a date... ever. My feelings on the matter come and go. Right now, on some level, I don't really want to get married right now because I think I have some other things to work through. There are times, however, when the desire creeps up on me and hits me like a sledgehammer (usually after someone 10 years younger than me gets married and starts having children). So, on that level, I really understand what you mean. Like with Jessi's post, I think people just need to be sensitive with each other's pain. Everyone has something that is difficult for them. We shouldn't pretend to be experts on the matter. We shouldn't try to fix it for them. Just show love and sensitivity.

  2. This was a really thoughtful, well written post! I think you're right--more people need to understand how infertility makes you--and others--feel. Being hush, hush about it isn't helpful.

    Good read!

  3. Thank you, Laura ♥

    Kelli, I often think of you when I hear people make judgements about unmarried/non-dating women. Some of us take longer than others for all sorts of thing, and it always upsets me when people imply (or say) that another person is strange or different just because they do things on a differnt time table. I pray for you, that God will give you your heart's desires; I know you can be a wonderful mother.

  4. I was totally clueless on this subject. Thank you for enlightening me!

  5. I think EVERYONE needs to read this!!! Thank you for posting and hopefully it reaches many. More needs to be spoken and known about infertility to diminish the insensitivity and unawareness.

  6. Glad it was enlightening, Jess! :)

    I completely agree, Jess, and I'm glad you like it. You're welcome to post a link or something to it if you want, if you think it would help those in your circle?


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