Remember that awesome Kate Hudson chick flick, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days?! This is your guide to not turning off an infertile couple by avoiding doing/saying at least these ten things. Now most of my readers know me, so as you’re reading this I know what you’re thinking. Oh My God! Did I say that to her? Is she referring to me? No, no, no. In fact, I’ve probably said or done some of these things on the list myself. It is just that part of discussing infertility is promoting awareness, so people know how to avoid what can be hurtful and what to say to offer support.
1. “Just relax…it’ll happen when you stop trying.”
This may have been the case for 1 in 235,578,428 couples, but for us there’s zero sperm so I can’t relax. If you’re offering, I’ll take the bottle of wine, but you can keep the advice.
Really advice is not something that the infertile couple is looking for unless it’s coming from a doctor or another couple who struggled with infertility. Instead offering support by saying something like “I don’t know much about infertility, but I’m here if you ever want to talk about it” (over wine of course) would be the most comforting.
2. “My husband just looks at me and I get pregnant.”
That’s great for you Mrs. Fertile Myrtle and Mr. Super Sperm, but comments like that make us feel less female and male. It makes us feel inadequate and disappointed in ourselves.
I know it’s life that some things come easier for others, but be sensitive to those who might be having a tougher go at it. Saying something along the lines of “That wasn’t our experience. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to have to wait to get pregnant when you want it so badly” would be nice to hear.
3. “Have you gone to the doctor?”
Jeez…no, I have a masters and sixth year degree, but I didn’t think of that. Seriously, countless people asked me that and while I’m sure it was just par for the course, there’s a better way. You could gently ask, “Where are you in your infertility journey, if you don’t mind me asking?” Chances are most couples won’t mind and if they’re saying they’re infertile, chances are even greater that they’ve been to the doctor’s.
4. “Why don’t you do that turkey baster thing or Petri dish thing?”
I’m exaggerating now. Most people don’t use those terms, but the truth is most people have a vague sense of what IUI and IVF are. They assume that’s the cure-all. For us, IVF wasn’t even an option for over a year and a half, as is the case for many couples. Even then, IUI and IVF cycles may not work the first time, so the couple may have attempted interventions already without success.
Really the best thing to support an infertile couple would be reading up on IUI and IVF to get a brief sense of what they are. All it takes is a quick Google search. That way when your friend or family member would like to chat about their upcoming cycle you could understand better what they’re going through.
5. “Why don’t you just adopt?”
Adoption is one of the greatest and most selfless things someone can do for a child. While it is also an amazing option, especially for an infertile couple, it may not be the avenue they’re pursuing (at least at this point in time).
Adoption also comes with lots of emotional and financial turmoil and is not a simple process. Just like with IVF, to assume adoption nullifies infertility is ignorant. People who think this is the “cure” for infertility aren’t acknowledging all the facets.
Its easy to say “Why don’t you…?” when you’re not in that position. So ask yourself what you would do if you were infertile. To what end would you go to? Would you exhaust all options before adopting? Would you spend your life’s savings on fertility treatments? More likely than not, you’re probably saying I don’t know.
6. “Who’s problem is it?”
This is a really personal question, but I’m sure if you talk to an infertile couple, they’ve heard it more than once. Usually people ask because they might have known another woman or man with a similar experience. However, this is really up to the couple themselves to divulge if they so choose. Furthermore, whether it is the female or male with the infertility issue, it really doesn’t matter. In the end, both of them are in pain and struggling.
I remember asking my husband what he wanted our blanket statement to be in the beginning. As time went on, he became more open about the major issue for us being male factor. In my opinion, it’d be best to stay clear of any question of this sort. If the couple feels comfortable enough, they’ll tell you.
7. Ignoring It
When you’ve been married for a certain amount of time or when you hit a certain age, babies and pregnancy tend to come up in conversations. When you’re the infertile couple and these topics come up, you feel like crawling in a hole. Either the conversation comes to an awkward halt when someone realizes you’re at the table or you discreetly dip out to the ladie’s room (or to do a shot of Fireball) as fast as you can say IVF.
Other times, it can feel like there’s an elephant in the room that everyone is avoiding. Sometimes it may not even be the case, just your own over sensitivity about the situation.
There were many times, when I wished someone would’ve just acknowledged it, rather than avoiding it. I didn’t want to have a pity party so I wouldn’t be the one to just start the discussion about our struggles. However, if someone asked, I was full-disclosure and it felt good-really good actually to get it out there on the table. It would also open up the opportunity on subsequent occasions for friends and family to ask about our last appointment or what step we were at in our journey.
I’m sure it’s just as uncomfortable for ‘outsiders’ as it is for the infertile couple themselves. But there’s a delicate way in which a couple’s infertility can be acknowledged, but, yet, not define them. Sensitive sentiments, such as “I know you had said you started trying in June. Is everything going okay?” would be a nice way to ease into the dialogue. If a couple is not ready to disclose any information, you can catch the drift.
Infertility is an invisible hurt. So when it goes left unsaid, it can sometimes worsen the wound.
8. Dismissing the Possibility of Prengancy
For me, it got to the point where I felt as if people had even dismissed the notion of me becoming pregnant as a real possibility. This may or may not have been the case. Again, it may very well have been my own hypersensitivity. It usually wasn’t even something someone said. It was more often an uncensored look, as if I caught them off-guard by saying my name and pregnancy in the same sentence.
These types of instances usually occurred with people who were obviously very familiar with our infertility and therefore in our close circle. They’d present themselves at times when I would say “Well I might be pregnant then, so…”
It’s hard enough not to give up on yourselves when you’re faced with significant issues trying-to-conceive. Then to see others uncertain of your destiny can be even more discouraging. Try to stay positive for the infertile couple. Even just your sense of hope can be enough to get them in the right mindset.
9. Complaining About Being Pregnant
I’m sorry, but it can’t be left unsaid. I know that kankles, back pain and sleepless nights associated with pregnancy aren’t always a joyride. And of course a right of passage of being pregnant is being able to whine enough that you “earn” yourself a foot rub or carton of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream…or both. But as a woman sitting there yearning for nothing more than to not be able to see her own feet, complaints about the sheer miracle of being able to grow another life are painful. They’re equivalent to being punched in the stomach…again, and again, and again.
Go on and complain to those who have been there, but be cogniscente of your “audience”. If there’s a woman struggling to get pregnant, wait until later. Better yet, let her presence remind you of the blessing it is to be able to conceive and carry a child.
The women who struggle and still complain about pregnancy leave me baffled.
10. “We had issues with our first-it took us like four months to get pregnant.”
Comparing your typical trying-to-conceive timeline with someone who actually is diagnosed with infertility is inconsiderate. First, get your facts straight. Only about 60% of couples TTC actually get pregnant within the first three months. It takes many six months and after a year it can be defined as infertility.
To be honest, at times I’m hesitant to discuss my struggle when there are so many couples who endure years and years of infertility and don’t even end up with the outcome I’ve been given. There are so many women who’ve undergone cycles upon cycles, who have seen positive pregnancy tests only to see lost heartbeats.
While people try to show empathy in different ways, saying you know what an infertile couple has gone through when you conceived within the average time frame can undermine what infertility truly entails. It can be hurtful and downright engraging. Every infertility journey is different from diagnosis to treatment to outcome. Trying to compare struggles is pointless; trying to offer support by saying “I remember how stressful having my first was without any infertility issues. I cannot fathom what you must be feeling.” would be priceless.