As you gather with family and friends for holiday meals and get-togethers, we hope you’ll share this post to help educate your family and friends about actions and words they can avoid to prevent inadvertently hurting your feelings or making you feel uncomfortable about your infertility experience.
A RESOLVE New England volunteer
Perhaps you are wondering why your daughter, sister, or friend has been married a few years now and still might not have children. Maybe you’ve wondered, “Why is she waiting so long?” Perhaps you wonder when your sister or daughter will add to her family. After all, she always wanted more children, right? If you have asked these questions aloud, maybe your friend has sidestepped the question, changed the topic, or physically stiffened.
If you are reading this, it is because someone you know is suffering from infertility.
I wrote this article as a resource for those experiencing infertility as an easier way to express what is commonly felt by many of us waiting to start or add to a family. Handing out this article is probably easier than a direct response to the well-meaning inquiries and will hopefully result in some honest, supportive interactions.
In the Spirit of Education, Here Are Actions to Avoid
I offer these observations of what not to do in order to help you make things easier, less painful, and more supportive for your friend, your sister, or your daughter:
- First and foremost, infertility is a sensitive topic and should be treated as one at all times. Treating infertility as a casual topic is incredibly painful for the person who has to respond to the inquiries.
- Asking a person or a couple when or if they are going to have children is normal conversation, but only the first time you ask. Ask once, but don’t ask again. Mom, that means you. If we want you to know something, we will tell you.
- Stop asking us about our infertility. I’m serious. The longer we bear this burden, the more it stings to be questioned about it. When we call to say “Hi,” do not respond with, “Do you have any news for me?” If we have news, we will tell you. If you keep asking, we are going to stop showing up and reaching out and will feel even more isolated than we do already.
- If you are at a party or out to dinner or some event that qualifies as fun, it is a completely inappropriate time to bring up your friend’s recent loss, or lack of pregnancy, or ask “if she is trying.” Of course she is trying; she wants to have a baby. Infertile couples are always trying. It is a chronic roller coaster of hope and disappointment.
- Do not monitor your friend’s drinking, especially not out loud. Your friend is already under enough stress from not being pregnant that she doesn’t need you pointing out that she isn’t drinking. It seems like harmless fun, until you find out that for the second time this year, she just started three injections a day for the next 12 days supplemented by every-other-day vaginal ultrasounds and near-daily blood draws. We barely feel good enough to socialize, so please don’t call attention to us when we are trying to enjoy ourselves and feel normal for a rare moment.
- There is no need to point out that we are childless, even accidentally such as, “You childless couples have so much freedom.” You may assume that we have less rigid schedules than most parents, but that is simply untrue. Our schedules are filled with doctor visits, lab appointments, pharmacy visits, mental health support, reading, and educational seminars. Our marriages have been assaulted by loss and that takes additional attention, too. We desperately want to be parents, so please stop pointing out that we aren’t.
- Don’t suggest that someone consider adoption, especially if you have your own biological children. I have yet to meet a person who is not aware of adoption as a solution to creating a family. If you aren’t an adoptive parent, you don’t know what it might feel like to consider that path. Considering adoption typically means a woman is going to emotionally grieve that she will probably never have a biological child or another biological child of her own. That issue is significant and requires much internal reflection, emotional energy, and personal attention.
- If your friend experiences a loss of any kind, absolutely do not say, “It wasn’t meant to be” or “This is God’s will.” How do you know what God intends or what is meant to be? Imagine if you lost one of your children to an incurable disease or a fatal accident and someone said that to you; it would not be the slightest bit comforting.
- Do not suggest that your friend “just get a surrogate.” Two of my most sensitive, caring friends have made this not-so-helpful suggestion. Shame on Hollywood and the media for making a borrowed womb seem like such a casual, easy alternative. First, infertility can be attributed to a variety of factors, many of which have nothing to do with womb issues. Infertility can be male factor (e.g. sperm quality or motility), female factor (e.g. egg quality, womb issues, or hormonal), combination factor (e.g. both partners have issues), or unexplained. Second, surrogate pregnancies can be expensive.
If you have experienced infertility, what are some other things that friends or family should avoid doing in order to be considerate and respectful of your situation?
For additional support, consider attending one of our many peer led support groups throughout New England.