I’ve never struggled with infertility. I conceived my first daughter after trying two weeks and my second daughter after six weeks. See, I’m already being an ass. These are just facts, but to anyone who has spent years trying without success to have a baby, the dizzying speed at which my husband knocked me up, coupled with the ease I had carrying two healthy children to term means I lack any personal experience with infertility. It creates a divide that, no matter how much friendship or love exists between us, can never be crossed.
I’ve put my foot in my mouth so many times with infertile couples that I felt compelled to write this guide. The first time happened before I had children, when I lacked any point of reference. The most recent happened today, at a period of my life when I thought I was better educated and more aware. I’d watched multiple friends and close family members struggle, so I thought I was done being an ass. I was wrong.
As awkward or embarrassed as you might feel discussing reproductive issues with someone who has them, I promise you, the other person feels worse. While I hope these tips help you avoid making the same mistakes I have, the intention is to prevent causing additional pain for the folks struggling with infertility. They have experienced enough heartache on their own without your help.
Tip #1: Never ask when someone plans to have kids.
If you know ANYONE who has experienced trouble conceiving, you probably know this one already. Even so, I was asked this all the time before I had children, including the six-month period when I thought I was going through early menopause. I flat-out lied to people, telling them I didn’t know if I wanted to have kids. The truth was, I thought I might not be able to conceive. Despite this experience, I asked someone who struggled with infertility for seven years this same question while I was pregnant with my youngest daughter. (In case you’re keeping count, asking an insensitive question WHILE pregnant makes me a double ass.).
Tip #2: As a fertile woman, you can show sympathy and support for someone struggling with infertility, but you can never empathize.
You just can’t. You may care about others who have struggled, you may have even cried tears with them after each devastating miscarriage or false pregnancy test. You likely celebrated with them when you finally held their baby in your arms. As present as you were, as close as you might be to those going through infertility, you are not infertile. So, avoid comparisons to things unrelated to infertility and, above all, avoid saying “I know what you mean.” You don’t.
Tip #3: Understand That the Reasons and Solutions for Infertility Vary
You would think a process that determines the continuation of the species would be simpler. It’s not. The more people I know with fertility issues, the more I’ve learned about what can go wrong. There are SO many things that can hinder reproduction; it’s a miracle any of us are fertile. Some couples have trouble conceiving, other women have difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term. Just because you know someone with one type of infertility doesn’t mean you can understand another. So, keep your advice to yourself. What worked for you or your friend might not work for someone else.
I get it. You see someone suffering and you want to help. You suggest alternative therapies or, depending on how well you know the person, various sexual positions and frequencies. The truth is, unless you’re a doctor or someone suffering with the same type of infertility problems, your advice probably won’t help. More likely, it will just annoy the person who has heard it all before and because (see Tip 2) you just don’t understand. For the record, my most recent ass behavior was trying to offer advice. Thankfully, I gave it to someone willing to put me in my place, rather than let me babble on.
Tip #4: Learn How You Can Support Someone with Infertility
Just because the causes for infertility are different doesn’t mean you can’t learn about it. If you’ve read this far, you probably care about this topic. However, instead of researching IVF or weak cervices (because, let’s be real, you probably aren’t going to discover a universal cure for infertility surfing WebMD), read up on how you can be part of a support system for your loved ones.
Sometimes, you can learn the most from strangers. A close family member once posted a link from an online support group for women who had suffered miscarriages or stillbirth. Reading the comments from women in the group gave me a far better perspective of what was happening within my own family. While my family member didn’t want to talk directly about her experiences, she showed us a place where we could learn something. I’m very grateful to her for that opportunity, and it has prevented me from being an ass (most of the time).
Tip #5: Sometimes Being Supportive Means Not Being There
We all love our children. We want to share pictures of their milestones and celebrate their lives with baby showers, christenings and birthdays. The truth is, sometimes these events are painful to our friends and family struggling to conceive. Sometimes they aren’t. You should invite your loved ones to celebrations, but understand that sometimes they don’t want to be surrounded by all things baby. Sometimes, they may need to take a step back. You can support them by not taking their absence as a personal affront and by welcoming them with open arms when they’re ready.
Tip #6: Keep the Griping About Your Kids / Pregnancy to a Minimum
I’m going to be an ass again and compare infertility to something completely unrelated: Imagine you’re trying to buy a house but every bank you’ve applied to for a mortgage has rejected you. Now imagine your close friend not only gets a mortgage, but finds her dream home and moves in. She then spends the next weeks, months, years, complaining about decorating the house, cleaning the house, and refinancing the house. Annoying, right?
Now try to imagine (keeping in mind that YOU CAN’T) what it must be like for your infertile pal to hear you complain about your pregnancy and your kids. It’s not that you don’t have a right to complain. There are more than a few sympathetic ears for those sleepless nights and stretch marks. They just might not belong to the person holding a piss-soaked stick every month and sobbing.
Tip #7: There’s Little You Can Do
The best you can offer is to listen with compassion when someone makes the decision to share their personal experience with infertility. In general, try to be aware of how your words and actions effect those around you. Just know that you may still, on occasion, upset someone struggling to have a child. Depending on the day, simply seeing you with your children can be enough to unleash a flood of emotions. Sadly, there’s nothing you can do about it, but as long as you think about what you say and listen with an open mind and heart, you might avoid being an ass (most of the time).