I am not going to give you advice on how to overcome infertility... if I had that magic answer, I'd be pretty rich by now (not that the money would make me any happier!)Instead I wanted to address how to talk to someone struggling with infertility. It seems like it is hard to know the right thing to say, or whether to say anything at all. When I became pregnant with my second child, my sister-in-law was desperately trying to get pregnant, and it was really difficult for her to hear my news, not to mention rather awkward for me to know how to tell her about it. I wasn't going to insult her by not telling her I was expecting, but how to do it delicately was complicated... I wanted to empathize with her pain and own my joy at the same time.
Infertility seems to be everywhere. I wondered if it is more common now than it used to be, but this article says that fertility rates are pretty much the same as they were 50 years ago, and that it is an extraordinarily common disorder - 25% of women will experience an episode of infertility in their lifetime.
I talked to my friend Jen, who is also a psychologist, about how to talk to someone about infertility. Jen struggled for years to get pregnant. She gave me permission to use some of her wise words on this very subject.
Here is a great summary what she said, along with some of my own editorials:
- Acknowledge that there is an elephant in the room... usually...
For Jen, she preferred her silent suffering to be mentioned. For my sister-in-law, it was almost always best to avoid talking about it, depending on the day (especially with me, since I was pregnant at the time). So my advice would be to feel it out... these are your friends and your family. Just say out loud that you want to be sensitive to their situation, and ask if they want to talk about it, or would rather not, and then respect that.
DO NOT SAY TO A WOMAN STRUGGLING WITH INFERTILITY
- Don't worry, it'll happen soon
- Maybe you need to try harder
- Well, at least you get to have fun trying
- Just be patient
- It'll happen when it's supposed to...or it'll happen when God wants it to
- Who has the problem, you or (your spouse)?
- Adopt and you'll get pregnant
- Just adopt, there are plenty of kids that need a good home
- Are you doing it right?
- Enjoy the time you have with your husband... it'll be over before you know it
- Enjoy it now because you'll be hating life later.
- It is hard when everyone asks us to babysit and then when we're leaving they say things like: "Wasn't that great birth control!"
- It is hard that I went to 17 baby showers last year and each time someone felt the need to educate me about child rearing as if I've never watched a child in my life! People often treat me like I know nothing about children just because I don't have one of my own.
- It is hard when people take my schedule for granted because they think I just work during the day and then my life is freed up for (anything else). I finally realized last month that my life is JUST as busy or busier than those with children so I don't have to take responsibility for all the planning and preparation.
- Added from a comment: Don't ask couples (even friends) when they are going to have a baby! That is a private matter, and you never know when someone might be having fertility problems.
- Are you okay?
- I'm so sorry you are going through this.
- I know you are struggling with infertility and I don't know if it's better or worse to mention it, but I want you to know that I'm thinking about you.
- Do you want to talk about it?
- If you don't want to talk about it that is fine, I just want you to be comfortable and to know that I am thinking about you.
- Do you know any more about what is going on? I just want to check in with you.
- How do you feel about it all?
- I hope you are okay.
- I am here for you.
- This must be really hard. I am so sorry.
- (Give them a hug).
- (LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!!! INSTEAD OF TALK!)
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER TIPS TO POST ABOUT WHAT TO SAY/WHAT NOT TO SAY? Or do you agree/disagree with anything here? Please leave a comment! I would love your feedback!
P.S. My friend Lisa is going to write a post about secondary infertility - the difficulty or inability to become pregnant or carry to term a child after successfully and naturally conceiving one or more children. Thanks Lisa, we are looking forward to it!