The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking about Infertility
Picture this: You have been waiting for the perfect moment, and you and your partner finally agree that it’s time for you to have children. Everyone around you has already started having kids and you feel confident that you are at the perfect stage of your life to do the same. So you start to try. Month after month nothing seems to happen, but everyone is reassuring you that everything will be fine, these things take time, and that it will happen when it happens. Yet month after month you’ve been disappointed with the pregnancy test coming back negative. After a year, you and your partner are devastated. You start to worry because the friends and family surrounding you seem to have gotten pregnant, no problem. Even friends who started trying after you are starting to announce their pregnancies.
Shortly after, you finally break down and go to the doctor. After all, they say after a year you should talk to someone, but you try to convince yourself you’re being overly cautious. You’re poked and prodded for blood work and tests, and constantly meeting with different doctors when they finally come back with multiple plans for your infertility issue.
In a split second, what you expected to be a joyous process that you could do in privacy with your partner now involves a team of people trying to help you to get pregnant. Month after month you take your medicine, even giving yourself shots, and visit multiple doctors each week to get blood drawn, all the while hoping that this will be the month it works. In the meantime, you’re attending a family barbecue when the dreaded questions start. “When are you two going to have a baby?” or “It’s about time, isn’t it?”. A knife goes through your heart with each question. They mean well, but they don’t understand that for months you’ve been trying harder than most should have to, to bring a child into this world. Seemingly innocent questions and comments send you home in tears, feeling more defeated than ever before.
Despite the pain and frustration, you continue on your quest to start a family. Doctors visits continue month to month, yet nothing seems to be different. The costs continue to rise with each new form of treatment, most of which aren’t covered by insurance, leading to tough conversations with your partner about finances. When you receive a baby shower invitation for someone who specifically told you they didn’t want another child, it triggers another night of crying.
After a while, you can’t hold it in anymore and you start to tell people about what you’ve been going through. People make comments thinking will be helpful but each and every one of them is another knife in your heart. “If it is meant to be it’ll be.” “Don’t be stressed that doesn’t help the process.” “It was really easy for us to have our first but really difficult for us to have our second, keep trying.” All these things said with the best of intentions, but each one is hurtful and its own way. The statistics tell you you’re not alone, but you feel more alone then ever. No one seems to understand what you’re going through behind closed doors; week after week, month after month, year after year.
The whole time you blame yourself, thinking this is something simple that your body should be able to do. People get pregnant all the time but something that you’ve dreamed so long about just isn’t working for you. Even after all the help and time and money and intervention, there is no guarantee of a child at the end of this journey. Next comes that horrible conversation with your partner, “when do we draw the line or choose another option?” People continue to offer their two cents, but each and every word of advice makes you feel more and more alone since they do not understand the emotional devastation you go through every time you see that negative test. Even though the doctors tell you it’s not your fault and there’s nothing you can do, you can’t help but to start blaming yourself or your partner. You withdraw, you isolate yourself, you decline party invitations because you just can’t stomach the thought of attending a child’s 3rd birthday party knowing that you, too, could’ve had a 3-year-old son or daughter, too.
The grief and loss can be unimaginable and the people around you act like it’s no big deal. They throw out things like “at least you have time to enjoy your life.” They say “at least you can continue to travel and sleep in that must be great.” More and more knives because they don’t understand the emotional toll it takes every time people say that to you. They don’t understand that all that “fun and travel” money is going towards infertility, and your whole life is scheduled around doctor appointments, ovulation, and sex prescribed by a doctor. When you finally make the decision to stop trying, the misguided comments continue, making it even harder and isolating you further from the people who you love the most.
Not everyone gets to the end of their infertility journey with a child. That doesn’t change the hurtful things that happen along the way or the amount of grief that you feel during the process of infertility. These are just some of the emotions people go through as they go through during the journey of infertility. Check out the following statistics on infertility in the US:
- According to https://www.womenshealth.gov, Infertility is defined as a women not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying or six months for 35 or older. Infertility also can include women that are unable to maintain their pregnancies.
- The breakdown is about ⅓ women-based infertility issues, ⅓ male-based infertility issues, and the last ⅓ are couples issues or even unexplained infertility issues.
- Primary infertility is infertility in a woman who has never had a pregnancy or someone that can’t maintain pregnancy. Secondary infertility is infertility in a woman who has had one or more pregnancies, but cannot become pregnant again.
- About 10 percent of women ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant which is about (6.1 million) in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you know someone who is struggling with infertility, it can be hard to know what to say or do. You want to be supportive, but as you learned from the visualization exercise above, many well-intentioned or innocent comments can do more harm than good. Here are a few basic Do’s and Don’ts when talking to someone struggling with infertility:
- Let them know you are there for them. If they decide to open up to you, be there with a listening, non-judgemental ear. Do not offer advice – just listen. This helps show that you are there for them and are willing to listen to them. Make sure you are also reaching out to male friends, as they often grieve in silence.
- Everyone’s needs are different. Don’t assume you have the answer. Instead, ask them what they need or what you can do to help.
- Research what they are telling you they are going through. That way, if they want to talk, you have some idea of what they are going through.
- Have conversations that are not centered around children. At a certain age, this is a huge conversation among friends. However, it can be hurtful and can even exclude them from the conversation.
- Be understanding if they do not attend social events. They are not skipping because they don’t care! Some events can be painful to attend. They also might need some space to deal with the grief of infertility.
- Be understanding if they stop treatment. No one can continue treatments forever. This is not an easy choice for them to make and involves more grief for the couple to deal with.
- Tell people to relax. You are minimizing what is most likely a serious physical issue that they are already feeling guilty about, and this is not supportive statement because the solution is not that simple.
- Say things like “Maybe you are not meant to be parents” or “There are worse things that could happen to you”. These things are hurtful to hear, and you cannot determine what’s important in someone else’s life or decide how they should feel about the situation they’re in. Infertility is a medical condition is not a punishment from mother nature or God.
- Push couples into solutions that you think they should pursue. Couples going through infertility treatments do not need to hear what you’ve “heard” about IVF, or be told they should just adopt. Most insurance plans do not cover IFV and with out-of-pocket costs anywhere between $12,000 – $20,000, many couples can’t afford it. Even adoption requires couples to work through grief and other financial issues before considering adoption as an option.
- Give advice. The couple has doctors that they are having a lot of conversations about what they are going to try and do. You also do not know what things they have already tried or ruled out with their doctor.
- Joke about infertility. Making light-hearted, or inappropriate comments such as “I will donate sperm” is just insensitive and hurtful to couples that are struggling and will not make them feel better.
As hard as it is for you to see someone you love and care about struggling with infertility, it is even harder for those who are experiencing it for themselves. While your comments and advice may be well-intentioned, and delivered with love, it is very likely that you are only seeing a very small part of what the couple is actually going through behind closed doors. Following the Do’s and Don’ts here will help you be a better ally and supporter for those that are struggling.
If you and your partner are experiencing challenges with infertility and need someone to talk to, or if you know someone who is struggling that you’d like to become a better ally for, Solid Foundations can help! Learn more at solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today!