Last week, I wrote a post about some of the craziest, most insensitive comments that infertiles receive as we struggle with trying to get pregnant. In that post, I promised a follow-up that would explain some of the things our fertile friends and family members can do to help us during these difficult times. As I am writing this, I am struggling with the (very tactful and gentle) announcement of a close friend’s pregnancy. She asked about how to go about breaking the news to her other infertile friends, and her question reminded me that I owe this blog a post! My friend’s announcement, although extremely painful for me, was a reminder that there are people within the fertile community who are sensitive to the struggles of infertility. Hopefully, those of you who are not struggling with infertility will discover ways to care for your friends who are.
Don’t Brush Us Off
I remember what a shock and crisis of conscience I felt when I first began sharing my struggles with infertility. Some people that I shared with made my journey feel so trivial. I was told that I was too young to be worried about it, that things could be worse, that I should be happy that I don’t have children and can have time to myself, I was told to “just relax” or to have more faith – I was even told by someone to stop complaining! It had taken me quite a long time to come to terms with the fact that I might never be able to produce children, and when I finally opened up about it – I was shot down. The truth is, infertility is a disease. It is a disability. When my body is unable to do something that it was designed to do – there is a real problem. No amount of “relaxing” is going to help me get pregnant if my insides are defective. In my experience, the desire to become a mother is one of the strongest desires on earth. This is what I believe I was made for. And I shouldn’t have to feel guilty about that. If someone opens up to you about their infertility, it is likely that they have been stewing over it for quite some time. There is a good chance that your friend is in deep, deep pain. Do not brush it off with platitudes.
Listen and Learn
When a friend comes to me with a problem that he or she is facing, my first reaction is to try to fix it! I hate seeing people in pain and I always want to be the one to save the day. That being said, I totally understand the temptation to give advice to your infertile friend who opens up to you! After all, this person is frustrated and unhappy and you hate to see them feeling so down. But resist the urge to give advice. Chances are, your friend has already tried it all! I didn’t really open up about my infertility until about 2 years in! By that time, I had tried everything I could think of (and could afford) that didn’t go against my moral code. It was rather insulting when someone said something like, “Well are you having sex during ovulation?” or “You need to get more exercise!” By the time your infertile friend is opening up to you, they have probably tried nearly everything. All they need from you is an ear.
What you CAN do, however, is a little basic research on infertility. There are so many thoughts and feelings I have about my infertility that I cannot adequately put into words. Sometimes, though, I find that others have done the hard work of expressing the pain of infertility for me. By reading others’ accounts of their experiences, medical problems, and emotions – you can get a glimpse into what your friend is likely dealing with and be better equipped to listen. Doing a bit of research on infertility is a great way to show that you care and are interested in what your friend is walking through.
Sympathy that Counts
There was one time where I thought to myself, “Why am I the one who has to go through this?” No sooner than that thought crossed my mind, I immediately asked myself if I would have wished infertility on someone else. And when the answer was no, I realized how grateful I am that it is ME dealing with this, and not the people that I love. My friend who announced her pregnancy mentioned that she wished she could say she understood what I was dealing with, but that she doesn’t. The good news for her (and for all you fertile friends out there) is your infertile friend doesn’t want you to be able to understand!! Most of us wouldn’t wish this on our worst enemies. Yet, although we know you can’t understand the pain of infertility (and don’t want you to be able to!) there are some things that we wish you would do to show your support and sympathy.
– Be careful about how you announce your pregnancy. Most of us prefer that you tell us first, privately, so that we can process our grief before the rest of the world clamors around at your fertile feet, singing your praises. Having a baby is such a beautiful, life-changing, wonderful, miraculous event. And we have been robbed of that miracle. We are genuinely happy for you and want to see you grow your family, but we are devastated with grief, anger, frustration, and sadness at every pregnancy announcement. There are a lot of feelings to process before we can respond appropriately. Give us that extra time by letting us know as soon as you can, and before the big reveal.
–Don’t be offended if something “suddenly comes up” on the day of your baby shower or child’s birthday party. Events like these are huge triggers for us, especially if we have recently miscarried, started our period, or found out some devastating medical news. Attending an event like this under our circumstances for even twenty minutes can literally ruin an infertile’s entire week. If we do show up, it wouldn’t hurt to let us know that you see our pain and appreciate us for being there anyway. Although we aren’t showing up in order to earn your gratitude, it helps to ease some of the pain of being there when we know that our pain didn’t go completely unnoticed.
–Be a good parent. There is nothing more maddening (to me, at least) than when I hear about the abortion, abuse, or neglect of a child. When I hear things like this, I sometimes tell God – “I would have treasured that child!” On the other hand, when I see my friends being good parents, it honestly makes me feel so happy. I am grateful when I see people treasuring the gift that God has given them, instead of taking those gifts for granted. I pray for my parent-friends constantly in their journey through parenthood. And I am proud to be associated with people who are such loving mothers and fathers.
-Remember that adoption is not a replacement for having biological children. While an infertile who adopts loves the adopted children and most certainly considers those children to be their own – it does not erase the pain of a broken body. While, for some people, the pain of infertility may subside for awhile because of the joy and excitement of adoption – don’t assume that your friend has completely come to terms with their infertility simply because they’ve adopted.
Don’t Assume that We are Ungrateful
With infertility – as with any struggle – there are good days and bad days. When I am having a good day, I generally don’t talk about my infertility because there is no need to “vent,” so to speak. When I am having a bad day, on the other hand, I have pretty much all but melted on the ground. What this means is that you – as a fertile person – are more likely to hear your friend’s troubles on a day when things are really bad. This might give you the impression that your infertile friend is ungrateful or a complainer – when in truth they are only venting because it just happens to be a bad day. Infertiles count their blessings all the time. We know that there is so much to be grateful for. I have many things that I am grateful for and I remind myself of those blessings multiple times each day. I am growing and I am becoming more spiritually mature than I ever would have without infertility. But growth is a process, and every day is not a good day.
Pray With Us!
If you are the praying type, don’t hesitate to pray with or for your infertile friend! Of course, we want you to pray that we will have a baby – but there are other things you can pray as well. Pray for our faith. Infertility shakes your faith to the core. If you believe in a God who can walk on water, make blind men see, and raise Himself up from the dead – the natural question that follows is why won’t He heal my body? Pray for our patience. With some medical issues, a person can see the “end of the road.” They can receive treatment that will heal them, and that will be it. No such luck for those of us with infertility. We don’t know when – or if – our suffering will ever end. We need patience and trust to deal with everything that comes our way during this journey. Pray for our finances. Infertility wreaks havoc on your bank account. It doesn’t help that most insurance companies don’t cover anything infertility related. Pray for wisdom of our doctors. Doctor visits are scary. Invasive surgeries are scary. The fact that we have to go through all this just to do something our bodies should naturally do is scary. Miscarriages are scary. Infertility related diseases are scary. Medicines, shots, suppositories – all of those are scary. We just want to be cared for by a medical professional that we can trust to do what’s best for our health. Pray for our emotional health. It has been said that the stress and depression rates of infertiles are similar to the stress and depression rates of cancer patients.
Ultimately, we all have struggles in life and need to learn to how to deal with one another in the most appropriate ways during times of difficulty. I am so grateful that my infertility has brought me to new levels of compassion that I had not known were possible. I hope to personally do a better job of the Biblical command to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15).
And to my wonderful friend who just announced her pregnancy yesterday – congratulations! You are an excellent mother and I know your children will absolutely thrive because of who you are and the role you and your husband are playing in their lives.