Consider this a public service announcement. Whether you realize it or not, you most likely know someone who is dealing with infertility. It can be hard to know what to say, especially since you really don’t know much about it unless you’ve been through it yourself.
I’m going to start with what not to say. I’ve heard every one of these. They don’t help. They hurt. Please don’t say these things to people you care about.
1). Just relax. Or stop trying so hard. Or stop thinking about it and it will happen when you least expect it.
Infertility is a medical condition. My inability to get pregnant is not because I’m “trying to hard.” This implies that it’s something I’m doing that is keeping me from being pregnant. Would you tell someone with cancer to stop thinking about it and it will go away? Don’t tell me that it’s somehow my fault I’m not pregnant or that just ignoring a medical problem will fix it.
2). You’re still young, you have time.
Infertility isn’t limited to a specific age. Some women lose their fertility in their 20s or 30s. Don’t tell me you know anything about the state of my ovaries. The calendar may say my body is a certain age, that doesn’t mean my ovaries got the message. We don’t know why some women’s ovaries age at different rates but they do. Infertility doesn’t start at a specific age. And no one is too young to be infertile.
3). Don’t tell me the story of the person you know of “who was in my situation and this is what worked for them.”
You don’t know what my diagnosis is. You don’t know what I’ve tried. This implies that I’m an idiot and I need someone who is not a medical doctor and really only knows anecdotes to tell me how to fix my problem. I know you’re trying to give me hope, but this doesn’t do it. Chances are that if your suggestion has any validity, I’ve looked into it and either tried it unsuccessfully or rejected it based on my actual diagnosis. This is really a lot like looking at someone and telling them how your friend cured their high blood pressure when they really have diabetes.
4). Why don’t you just do IVF (in vitro fertilization)?
When I’m asked this question, I know the person I’m talking to has absolutely no clue what they are talking about. You don’t just “do IVF” and take home a baby. First, it’s expensive. IVF runs anywhere from about $10,000 to $35,000 depending on what drugs you need and whether or not you need a donated egg or sperm. Secondly, it’s not a sure thing. In my best case scenario, I was looking at only a 60% chance of taking a baby home from the hospital. Thirdly, it’s not an easy or comfortable procedure. It starts with lots of blood being drawn, like every other day during parts of the cycle. It included daily or twice daily shots that you give yourself in your stomach, and possibly shots in your bottom daily depending on your situation. The egg retrieval is not comfortable. The IVF can fail before retrieval if you ovulate in spite of the drugs (happened on my first IVF), or if your eggs don’t grow properly. If everything goes as planned, the eggs will be fertilized and they will divide. Here’s the next place your IVF can fail, if your eggs don’t divide properly after fertilization and get to a certain stage of development by day 5, they won’t be placed in you. Let’s say that works, and they transfer the embryo to your uterus. Now it has to implant. After 10 days, you’ll have more blood drawn for a pregnancy test. This is where my second IVF with a donated egg failed. I’ll tell you, it feels like a miscarriage. I have an ultrasound photo of that embryo in my uterus. The emotional toil of all of this is huge. It’s not a simple thing. Don’t minimize the pain, the money or the effort it takes to do this.
5) Don’t use the “look on the bright side” approach, or offer me your kids, or tell me how lucky I am for whatever thing you can’t do now that you have kids, or be grateful for what you have, or things could be worse.
All of these things are so hurtful and insulting. The bright side approach is like telling someone after their house has burned down, “Hey at least you don’t have a heating bill.” And believe me, someone going through infertility knows that it can be worse, we don’t need to be told.
6) Why don’t you just adopt? Or I know someone who after years of trying adopted and got pregnant.
I think everyone must know these same 6 people. First of all, anecdotes are not statistics. Realistically, only 6 – 8% of people who adopt later get pregnant. That means that over 90% don’t. This is not hope. This is once again implying that it’s something we’re doing that is preventing us from getting pregnant. Secondly, no one “just adopts.” It’s a long hard expensive and invasive process. Regardless of whether or not you are adopting domestically or internationally, your life will be dissected to determine whether another person thinks you are fit to be a parent. They look at your medical history, your finances, your criminal background, whether or not 911 was called to your house for a domestic dispute 5 years ago, they’ll talk at length about your childhood, how you plan to discipline your child, your thoughts on anything about family and home life. They’ll tell you how you can and can’t raise the child you are adopting. Once you get past these hurtles, then for a domestic adoption, the birth mom has to choose you. Then she has to give birth and not change her mind. 20% of the time the birth mom changes her mind and decides to parent her baby. This is not a journey for the faint hearted and it’s not a consolation prize for those who can’t get pregnant.
7) It’s not God’s plan. Maybe it’s just not meant to be.
Really? You’re telling me you think it’s more God’s plan for a baby to be born to a crack addict addicted to cocaine than for me to get pregnant? You think he’d rather children be born into abusive homes than into my loving home? Or do you think that I’d be a horrible mother? I know that people who are saying these things think they’re being supportive. I guess it’s supposed to comfort me that I’m not pregnant because it’s not God’s plan for me. It doesn’t comfort me. It doesn’t give me hope. It insults me. I’d like to think that if God is intervening in this way that he spend his time preventing pregnancies that end in abortion rather than preventing me from getting pregnant.
I know it can be hard to know what to do or say. Here’s my advice on that.
1) Just listen and be supportive. Don’t judge, don’t offer advice. You can say I’m so sorry you’re going through that. You can say I’ll pray for you. Let me know you care.
2) Support my decision to stop treatment when I get to that point. Don’t rush me to move on to adoption. Let me grieve and move at my own pace.
Thanks for taking the time to read through this. I’ve had every one of these things said to me during my journey. I hope that by sharing them here, someone else won’t have to hear these things and feel extra unnecessary pain caused by insensitivity. We’ve stopped infertility treatments about a year and half ago but if you have questions that will help you understand infertility and how to support someone you love, I’ll be happy to answer them.