With over 7 million women in the United States with “impaired fertility”, it’s highly likely that you know someone who is dealing with the depressing situation known as infertility. So you want to be helpful. You want to be nice and supportive. This person is probably a friend of yours, or a member of your family. What you don’t know is that the manner in which you provide this support may actually backfire on you.
Difficulty in conceiving a child is a very personal and stressful time in a person’s life – for both partners. The woman is likely coping with frustration and disappointment, coupled with the fact that, depending upon the process she is going through, hormone treatments. The man is also dealing with frustration for similar (and possibly different) reasons. My Aunt Rebecca put it this way – “it’s like having diabetes; you cannot do things that other people can do easily.”
Here are some things to NOT say to a couple/person who is struggling with difficulty in conceiving a child:
“Just relax.” – This is probably one of the worst. I know it sounds like it’s a nice, reassuring thing to say. And yes, if the person has only been “trying” for a couple of months, it’s actually quite possible that stress is a factor. But if you’re talking to someone who has been struggling with this for over a year, and is working with specialists, medications, and maybe even processes like IUI and IVF, it’s highly unlikely that the prescription of “relaxation” will simply fix everything. Trust me on this one. Never say it. It will make the person internally seethe with rage and they’ll start imagining inventive ways to “relax” that involve the person who gave this “advice” being pelted with soapy frogs.
“I bet if you just got really drunk you’d get pregnant.” – Do you really think this is helpful? I doubt it. I imagine you think you’re being clever and amusing, and probably hiding your discomfort with humor. However, all that you are doing is basically suggesting that your friend is a fool for suffering through injections, treatments, and almost-daily doctor’s appointments when clearly, had they just consulted YOU, their problems could have been solved with a shot of Jack Daniels.
“Why don’t you just adopt?” – This is the king of the soapbox, holier-than-thou comments. When you proffer this nugget, you are implying that adopting a child is just as easy as picking up the phone, calling China, and saying “Please send me a baby. Kthxbai.” Adoption is NOT easy. It’s an expensive and time-consuming process, just like going through IF treatments. So if you’re suggesting adoption as an “easier” solution, you’re ignorant. If you’re suggesting it because you think “Hey, if it’s so hard for you to conceive, why not help out a poor child”, then you’re making a value judgment about your friend. If that’s what you were trying to do, then hey, good for you, but don’t be surprised if your friend doesn’t interpret this as “supportive”.
“Hey, you can have my kids! They’re so annoying!” – Another one in the “trying to be funny, but coming off as a jerkwad” column. Trust me. Your friend is spending huge amounts of money and going through embarrassing, uncomfortable, and sometimes painful medical procedures, all because she wants nothing more than to have a child. Statements like this not only devalue the end goal, but remind your friend that YOU had no problem spawning.
“I know people who got pregnant as soon as they adopted another child. That’s probably what will happen with you.” – All that this proves is that you don’t understand statistics. Leaving off the fact that correlation does not imply causation, for every case in which this happens, there are hundreds, if not thousands, where it does not. You just don’t hear about them because they’re not interesting. Would you say to your dieting friend “I bet if you just got Botox you’d suddenly lose a bunch of weigh in your ass?” It’s kind of the same thing.
“Hey, at least it is fun to try!” – I’ve got news for you – it stops being fun after about six months. Once sex becomes a matter of timing, temperature, and various other things in which the focus is on exactly what millisecond the little dudes need to get inside the Big Top, it stops being fun. And when you go even further into IUI and IVF, let me tell you something – the “special room” in the fertility center with just you, a cup, and some really old porn…that is NOT a good time. The most “fun” that my wife and I had so far in this journey was the one month when, in preparation for IVF, she was put on birth control. It was a whole month when sex had NOTHING to do with process or procedure. It was awesome.
So how CAN you be supportive of your friend or family member going through this trying time? There are three simple things you can do:
1) Ask questions. Pretend you give a crap – you might think this is a very “private” thing and your friend doesn’t want to talk about it. You might be surprised. And the more educated you are on the subject, the less likely you are to make one of the missteps listed above.
2) Check in from time to time. We’re all busy people, and I know that while the IF issues your friend is facing are super important to him or her, they’re probably low on your list of priorities – which is right and natural. But every now and again, just reaching out to your friend to “see how it’s going” is very welcome. You might not actually care – maybe you’re a single person who doesn’t understand why someone would want to have kids. Maybe you think what your friend is doing is “morally wrong”. Maybe you think that talking about cycles and eggs is “icky”. It’s up to you to determine if those things are more important than supporting your friend. Your decision says a lot about you.
3) Bake some cookies. On an unrelated note, my favorite kind is oatmeal raisin.
Hopefully this will help folks who aren’t going through these issues understand the perspective of someone who is. At the end of the day, it’s all about being sensitive. Realize that your words WILL have an impact, either positively or negatively.