Have you ever had a friend tell you something and you’ve not known how to respond in a manner that will comfort them? Flip the coin, have you ever told a friend something personal and they’ve responded in a way that’s hurt? Most of the time, insensitive comments aren’t meant to hurt, however they do, regardless of who they come from. I remember when I first told people I was infertile, comments that were meant with love stung and friends were quite honest by saying “I don’t know what to say.”. The problem is, nothing anyone says can take that pain away. Sometimes, those comments that make you want to put your foot in your mouth and cause your friend to awkwardly smile and say “Thanks, I know…” are all we have.
Last weekend I was very lucky to be part of a Huffington Post UK article regarding the IVF cuts to the NHS and frankly, some of the comments astounded me. It got me thinking about how little people understand about infertility and the pain people go through whilst trying to conceive, so here are my 10 things not to say to someone struggling with fertility.
1. Just Relax! You’re stressing too much. It will happen.
Thank you for your input, Susan, however relaxing is not the answer to my fertility. As I stated in my last blog post: Changing your perception of your infertility: The Law of Attraction and Fertility, I am a big believer in changing your mindset and somewhat ‘relaxing’. However, relaxing is not always the answer.
Many people struggling to conceive have been trying for years and the first part of the journey was very much relaxed, exciting and a new adventure to embark on. For a lot of people, they know they can’t have children naturally and relaxing isn’t going to change that. Day to day stress does not change fertility and ask yourself, why are they stressed? Were they stressed before the infertility or is it most likely that the stress is caused by the infertility? It’s most likely the latter.
2. My cousin’s uncle’s ex wife’s dog’s breeder’s wife didn’t have a womb and she had quadruplets!
Okay, maybe an exaggeration, however stories of little miracles do NOT help. Firstly, how much did said third party spend on fertility treatment? Did they have any help? Was it a total miracle? There are so many things to an individual couple’s own fertility journey that you just don’t know the answer to. As much as you are trying to be positive and tell a positive story, it doesn’t always come across that way. The person you are saying it to may have a totally different issue with their fertility, need different treatment and male factor (or female if you’re talking to a male!) might be an issue too. At the end of the day, your third party is not the same as it being you. A better thing to say would be, ‘My cousin struggled to get pregnant, it happened for her eventually but perhaps I could put you in touch – it might help to have someone to talk to who understands?’. It sounds strange, but an infertile person can never have too many infertile friends – nobody gets it quite as much as they do.
3. You can borrow mine! Ha ha ha ha ha…
Again, THANK YOU SUSAN, but no thank you. Putting me on babysitting duty does not fill the void, even temporarily. Following this with stories of how your 3 year old is a little temper tot and how you’d cut off an arm for a full nights sleep, is also not helpful.
Everyone trying for a baby knows that it’s hard work, they know it is a handful and they know that a mothers average day is a good day if only covered in poo or puke once. We know that we will walk down the supermarket aisle and our child will inevitably scream and shout because you brought the wrong coloured beaker or because you said no to something. We anticipate this more than you know. We aren’t blind to the reality of parenthood. However, making the light of your life out to be a total sacrilege isn’t ideal – it only downplays the couple’s emotions. We know you wake up every day full of love towards your terrible two year old, we wouldn’t want you to be any other way.
4. Just adopt!
This is one of my biggest bug bearers. There is no such thing as “just” adopting. Adopting is not easy; if anything I believe it to be harder than having your own and takes a truly special person to do it. Adoption isn’t a quick fix, it’s a long process where every single bit of yours and your family’s life is scrutinised. Of course, should having your own child never happen, I imagine it is something most consider but it is not for everyone and that is okay.
I cannot stress this enough. It is not the responsibility of the infertile to fix the adoption crisis in the U.K. The U.K. has thousands upon thousands of children who need adopting and whilst of course it would be incredible for everyone to ‘just adopt’ but it isn’t realistic. The issue with adoption needs to be solved at the root, why these children are in care and how to stop that happening, rather than there being an issue regarding who wants to adopt and who doesn’t. Let me ask you this: when was the last time you told a fertile friend to just adopt? When your sister told you she was trying for a baby did you say ‘just adopt’? If you wouldn’t say it to someone who wasn’t struggling, don’t say it to someone who is. It isn’t a cure. Adopting a child is not the same as adopting a dog, yet many people seem to act like it is.
5. Maybe you’re not meant to be parents.
Firstly, says who? Maybe if you’re religious this would have some weighting but for those who aren’t, I repeat, says who? I do believe that everything happens for a reason and I’m a big believer in timing, however, this does not help the situation or make your friend feel any better. Why aren’t they supposed to be parents? Why are these good people not supposed to reproduce? All this will do is make your friend angry and ask themselves why- why the lady in the newspaper has 7 kids who are all in the care, why she is meant to have kids but they’re not? This isn’t a job. This isn’t telling your friend that maybe they’re not meant to be a journalist but in fact an author, it doesn’t have the same impact and in that couple’s mind there is no alternative. Unless a person really doesn’t want kids, I don’t imagine there will be many people in the world struggling to get pregnant who will think ‘oh well!’.
6. You’ve already got one, isn’t that enough?
Secondary infertility is a real thing and having one doesn’t make it any easier. Some people choose to have one child, some choose to have two, three or four. When you want it that badly, the feelings are all still there. That person doesn’t feel any less grateful for the child they already have, if anything they are going to be more grateful. However, when your child is asking you for a brother, your child is the only one at a party without a sibling, your child plays on their own and simply wants someone else to play with – the guilt you feel when struggling is not an easy one to mask. Secondary infertility is as emotionally heartbreaking as ‘ordinary’ infertility; don’t make it seem like they shouldn’t be hurting.
7. You can do IVF!
IVF is a wonderful thing but for many people, IVF is not an option. Even if it is, it’s an expensive one at that. It is hard, both physically and emotionally, it’s invasive and it’s incredibly full on.
On average IVF takes three cycles to work and even if you have the cash, it isn’t always that easy. For IVF there are often eligibility criteria’s that need meeting which aren’t always possible. Age, BMI, whether either parties have children from past relationships, all factors to be considered. The older the woman, the less likely it is to work and even with a spring chicken, IVF only works approximately 39% of the time.
For some, their religion doesn’t allow IVF and that’s the way they choose to live their lives. Others may not be comfortable with the procedure, the medication or paying for a baby.
Your intentions are so right when you say this, just know that it isn’t always an option. £5000-8000 might not be a great amount of money for you, but for the couple in question it might be a life’s saving for a gamble.
8. Are you pregnant yet?
When people know you’re trying, the slightest bit of nausea, a slightly late period or a bloated stomach and they start with ‘Are you pregnant?!’. The question cuts like a knife. When people know you’re struggling, it somehow doesn’t stop. ‘Maybe you’re pregnant!’ ‘This could be the month!’ or ‘Has it happened yet?’.
With good intentions words are said however when your friend is trying to conceive, with or without fertility issues, they will tell you when they’re ready. It is not your place to pry.
9. My husband just looked at me and I was pregnant!
I don’t feel the need to write much here.
Excellent, thank you Susan. That’s absolutely wonderful. Thank you for reminding me how fantastically fertile you are and how fantastically fertile I am not.
10. You’re still young, give it time!
Do we forget that our fertility has a lifeline? You’re penalised for having children when you’re younger, for not focussing on a career and yet you’re penalised for waiting too. THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER. What is right for one is not for another and when fertility issues are involved, that lifeline is often shortened.
I once had someone tell me I shouldn’t be upset because I had only been trying for 4 years in comparison to their 8, like that was supposed to help. It made me feel like I was being spoilt and ungrateful because they had it worse. Your own struggles are based on your own experiences and we are all aware it could be worse. However, we have not felt that worse. This is our reality and whether we are 24, 34 or 44, the feelings are the same.
You are still young, maybe you’re not, it’s irrelevant and mentioning it does not assist the grieving. Do not forget how much we have gone through to get to this point. A person may be young but how far have they gone to reach where they are? Another 4 years of infertility is my worst nightmare.
Infertility is one of the hardest things you’ll ever need to support a friend through. If you’re lucky, you won’t, but with more than 1 in 10 couples experiencing it then you’ve done well to know nobody.
We all understand you’re trying to be positive and everything is meant with love, all we ask is that you’re mindful. If you think you’re going to put your foot in your mouth, don’t say it. Sometimes, all we need to hear is “I’m here for you.”.
Love, Amber x