Monday, February 6, 2012

Infertility: Dos and Don'ts

My eyes water and my chest gets all tight just looking at this picture.
(Photo taken from the movie "Up."  I love that infertility is being portrayed in the media more and more.)

I know some people struggle with what to do to help their friend or family member during this trial.  So, I've enlisted the help of several friends who have experience with infertility, to help me come up with a good list of general "dos and don'ts."  Many of these are word for word quotes or experiences from other women facing infertility.  

I apologize if some of these are blunt, but these posts are meant to raise awareness and if we don't come out and say it like it is you may not know what is hurtful or offensive.  At the end of the day we understand that it is our responsibility to not be too easily offended or hold grudges, but you can really help by doing your part to be sensitive and kind.

Watch what you say
  • It's probably not wise to ask someone, "So... when are you going to have kids?"  Even if they aren't struggling with infertility!  
  • "You'll be able to start your family someday."  See, we've all already started our family.  Just because we don't have kids, doesn't mean we aren't a family. 
  • "This [pregnancy] is what happens when you stop taking birth control."  Obviously this equation doesn't work for everyone.
Don't make assumptions
(I feel like a lot of these issues arise when people assume something) 
  • "When are you going to let her have a baby?"  Directed at the husband as if he's holding up the process.
  • When someone tells you they aren't feeling well, it's best not to say, "Are you pregnant?" or "Do you need some saltine crackers *wink*?"
  • "We're waiting too" or "It took me a while to decide to have a baby."  Don't assume that just because someone doesn't have kids it's some sort of life decision they are making.  Infertility affects 10% of couples of reproductive age.
Don't make fake pregnancy announcements
  • April fools jokes, or any other jokes that involve announcing a fake pregnancy aren't appreciated by those who get a stabbing pain in their heart every time someone announces a "real" pregnancy.
  • Several women also said that a heads up from family members, if they know you're struggling, before they announce a pregnancy is always appreciated.
Avoid making suggestions
  • Suggestions like, "just relax" or "take those prenatals" or "try yoga" or "take a vacation" are well meant, but not helpful.  There is no magic formula for getting pregnant.  Trust me, infertility is ALWAYS in the back of my mind, so I know all the tricks and tips about timing, diet, etc.
  • If you know the person well and they have told you everything about their situation, you may consider asking them if they have ever considered trying ________.  There are different types of infertility, so making a suggestion about timing to someone who can get pregnant every cycle, but miscarries, isn't very helpful.  Just be cautious. :)
Steer the conversation away from babies
  • I think there is a happy medium on this.  I realize that if you are pregnant or raising little ones this is a large part of your life and avoiding it completely can be more awkward.  But, try to ask them questions about themselves or steer the conversation to other parts of life, i.e. hobbies, politics, shopping, marriage, etc.  Sometimes it's easy to feel alienated in a room full of moms talking about babies and pregnancy and it reinforces the perception that "everyone but me is pregnant."
  • Discussing family planning (i.e. how long to wait before having kids, how many kids to have, how far apart to have them, desired number of kids), no matter how well-intended, can come across as selfish to those of us who will take anything we can get!
Don't complain
  • If you are pregnant, don't act like pregnancy is the worst nine months of your life.  Sorry if this is a little blunt, but those facing infertility don't really want to hear you complain about being nauseated because you're pregnant.  All they are thinking is, "at least you're pregnant."
Validate their feelings
  • If someone does open up to you about their infertility sometimes it's nice to hear someone say, "I can't imagine how difficult that must be" instead of, "Oh, don't worry, you'll have kids soon enough."
    • One woman said, "I think one of the hardest things for me was when I was brave enough to let a sister in Relief Society know my struggles, and she hardly regarded it as a heavy trial I am dealing with. That has shut me down completely from letting my ward members know what we are going through, and has only made the problem worse because now I feel more disconnected from my Relief Society than I did before. I know it is not easy for other women to understand, especially if they have never dealt with infertility. But love is always the answer. Maybe all I really wanted was for her to put her arm around me and act like she cared. I am comfortable talking about it when someone asks in a respectful way. In fact, it often helps to talk about infertility and have a friend to sympathize with."
  • It's also not a good idea to say things like, "It's good that you don't have kids yet since your husband is still in school," or "you're so young, there's plenty of time to have kids."  
  • It IS a good idea to relate personal experiences.  It has always made me feel better when a friend says, "It took us six months to get pregnant and even THAT was difficult."
Do invite/involve
  • Many women said that they appreciate the opportunity to "borrow" their niece or nephew for the night and being invited to their friends' kids' birthday parties and other events.
Do become educated!
  • Do a little reading.  Infertility is pretty common, affecting approximately 10% of couples of reproductive age.  Knowing the basics of infertility and treatments can help you relate to those facing this trial.  This is a great website if you're up for a little light reading.  :)  You may even learn the meaning of some of the acronyms like IUI, IVF, ICSI, PCOS, FSH, etc.

I don't know about you, but I know I have probably done some of the "don'ts" on this list!  I think it's just a good reminder to never make assumptions because we never know what someone is facing behind closed doors.

I'm really looking forward to the next stream of posts where we'll have guest posts from other women sharing the ways in which they have found to cope with infertility.  These are some of the most incredible women I have ever met and I have no doubt they will be able to share insight for any trial you are facing.


Marie said...

Great job! I'm trying to think up a tactful way to send this link to some family members :)

Andrea said...

I think this is a great idea:) I'd have to say the comment about love is universal. I happen to be on the far opposite spectrum and that stabbing pain you talk about I get regularly and can last a long time...but it deals with watching my child in pain dealing with cancer. I think in general we as women or really people can feel alienated by any circumstance unique to us and we are consumed by it...b/c it's what we want's our greatest desire. I liked your friends comment about love. Certainly with infertility I can't imagine how heartbreaking it is but have MANY friends that have confided in me with it and I agree and feel it's SOO important to validate their feelings. Every one of us needs validation for what we are suffering with. When I hear someone say you're doing a great job it'll be over before you know it. It can be my head I think really...interesting seeing as you have no idea what it's like to watch your child suffer from cancer and cry and say hurt hurt and point to the port in their chest every time you try to change their shirt for the day. Right...18 months sure seems short. I think we should all seek more to validate others b/c thats we want. I know many think it's "helpful" to say Oh it will happen someday or such "encouraging" comments but most the time we just want a good hearty "wow that's hard" validation that your infertility is not some silly insignificant thing. Such a huge deal. I had a friend the other day who's dealt with infertility a long time and put immense amounts of money/effort etc and another month came with no success. She told me she wanted implants b/c if her body wasn't going to work right she wanted to feel beautiful. I told her I'd love her no matter what and her body is doing amazing things and has saved me in my darkest hours. She shared with me that she had been feeling like her body was worthless and couldn't fulfill what Heavenly Father had wanted. It broke my heart. I with you hope we can all be more sensitive, caring and validating of one another. We have so much more power to heal with our words or hurt than we often realize. Sorry for the novel!

Rach said...

Yay I've been anxiously awaiting for this. Love it and love you, Steph. So proud of all you're doing. :-)I am excited for more!

Ali said...

Stephanie Thank you so much for sharing this. I feel like so many times people don't realize how much simple questions can hurt. I can't imagine how hard that must be. It took my mom four years to get pregnant with David and she has told us many times how those were the longest and hardest four years for her, and how hard it was seeing other people with babies. I have some family members right now who are struggling with infertility, and she dreads the questions everyone asks. She hates it when people say, "When are you guys going to try to have kids." She knows they mean well but always wants to yell WE ARE TRYING! Thank you for sharing this, and making people more aware. I will keep you and Matt in my prayers.

Kristin said...

GREAT post. I loved this completely. A lot of the things said in the comments are gold as well. Can't wait for your upcoming series. I'd love to be a part of it.

Bryan and Sarah said...

I love this! I think it's always important to be aware of others feelings and situations and try to be sensitive. Thank you for compiling this.