Friday, June 15, 2007

Been feeling like a bit of a hypocrite (infertility related)

I belong to several message boards that are focused on infertility. It's a funny difference between woman and men isn't it? When I found out we were infertile I raced to the Internet to find information, to read everything, to find people who could relate and I reached out. I don't think Marco would even begin to know who to talk to about his "feelings" online. Mars and Venus.

Throughout the years we've been struggling I've read many posts from other infertile couples talking about their hurt feelings when a loved one just doesn't say the right thing. I've read furious posts from women who have been told to "just relax" one too many times. Time and time I again I would try to comfort my "friend" and let them know that somebody who hasn't struggled through infertility just really can't relate sometimes.

But the hurt feelings kept happening. I even had them happen to me at times. Over and over I would read the same things. So I decided to make a list. A list of things you should never ever in your craziest wildest dreams ever think of saying to an infertile couple. I took all of the hurtful comments that I had been reading over and over again and put them in a list. I shared it with my friends and they loved it. It spoke to them. It said what they've always wanted to say but never could. They all had their input, their little extra do's and don'ts. They all tweaked my language to fit their true feelings and emotional needs.

I often times encourage these "friends" to copy and paste the list and send it to the person who has hurt them. (This is where the hypocrisy comes in to play.) I encourage others to share the list in order to spare themselves some hurt feelings because sometimes people just really don't know what to say so they say the first thing on their minds. Lots of times people shy away from sharing "the list" because they don't want to cause waves. They don't want to hurt the other person's feelings. They just don't feel like getting into it.

So I have encouraged countless numbers of people to try to share a little bit of what it's like to deal with infertility, how your words can really hurt but I haven't had balls enough to put it on my blog. Part of the reason was because we weren't openly talking about our struggles until this year. But the other part was just knowing that I could potentially make somebody who really truly loves me and TRIED to say the right thing feel bad. But on the flip side, maybe somebody could read it and take somthing away from it? Maybe somebody will stumble upon my blog and think "hey my ___ is dealing with infertility and I don't know how to help or what to say."

So after encouraging another person to stand up from themselves yet again today I believe it's time for me to put on my brave pants and post what I've encouraged so many other women to post in the past.

****disclaimer: This list is not things people have said to me directly (although many of the things have been said to me in one way or another) although it is written in my voice. It is a compilation of common things infertile couples hear. This post is NOT directed at any one person specifically******

So here it goes:

5 Things NOT to Say to Infertile Couples (and some better alternative suggestions in italics)

Firstly, please don’t mis-interpret the meaning of this writing. It isn't to yell at you if you have said any of these things in the past or verbally spank you. It isn't to make you feel bad for having said the wrong thing before. It isn't because infertile couples are pissed at the world. The point of my writing this is to give you, your friends, your loved ones a little insight on how your words may actually come out, although they are said with the greatest of intentions.

Most of the things below have been said to me and other infertile couples by people who absolutely love us, by people who wish nothing but goodness for us, by friends and relatives who care for us deeply. Do I think people say these things out of malice? Absolutely not. I think people have pure hearts when they give the advice they give below, but no matter how good your intentions, sometimes it's just not the right thing to say.

So please read this knowing that I am writing this not to make you feel bad but in order to spare another infertile person from having their feelings stepped on. I am writing this in order to help you understand how painful infertility is and how you can help ease that pain if even just a little bit. I am writing to spread the word. Please do the same. Copy this, hand it out, send it to others, send it in an e mail, put it on a bumper sticker. In this day and age we all know or will know somebody who will have fertility issues.

1) "Just relax and it will happen." or "Maybe you're trying to hard." or "Maybe you guys should just get drunk and take a vacation, that's how it happened for ______." Those statements sting, aren’t always true and are very hurtful when you are honestly infertile (explained or unexplained). Telling a couple to relax places blame on the couple, as if it is their fault for not getting pregnant. (if you weren't so worried you'd get pregnant). It also minimizes the couples concerns/fears and feels like you're blowing their fears of never having a child off. (quit your crying, it will happen. RELAX!) Basically that statement says to me “Geesh infertile friend, if you didn’t WANT a baby so badly you surely would have one by now.”

Don't tell the story of the one couple who adopted and then got pregnant right after. This is another version of the "relax" comment. You have to realize that that is NOT the norm. You hear about it because it's unusual. It's like telling somebody out of work not to look for a job because they could win the lottery.

No amount of relaxing would have gotten me or the millions of other couples who suffer with fertility issues pregnant. Infertility is (often times) a health issue that requires action. You don't relax to get rid of pneumonia and you don't relax to deal with infertility.

A more appropriate response would be something like, "Wow that's really awful you're having such a hard time." or "I hope things turn around for you quickly." or even just "Geesh (insert infertile friends name) that really sucks, you guys don't deserve that at all."

2) Be careful how you bring God into it no matter how harmless you think your statement is or how strong your faith in God is or how much you absolutely believe in what you’re saying. Try not to say things like "Everything happens for a reason" or "God has a plan, you have to be patient" or "God never gives you more than you can handle."

Although you really do have GREAT intentions and are trying to justify or make sense of something that doesn’t make sense, these statements are hurtful and frustrating. When somebody says to me that "everything happens for a reason" I think “what the heck did I do to deserve this then?" or "Why does God give a 13 year old a baby but not me?" or "Why does that crack head have a child but we can’t have one?” It doesn't help me have peace, which is what I think the intention is... it's like saying "oh well" and shrugging your shoulders.

Also keep in mind that not everybody is on the same page with God as you are. Believe it or not, fertility issues can even shake a person’s faith. Unless you know the person has the same faith as you (goes to your church perhaps) these statements should be avoided.

If you do have a strong faith in God then that is truly wonderful. I don’t know anybody (and I have asked around) who is offended by a person offering to pray for them.

Alternatives to the abovementioned could be something like "I'm so sorry you're having a hard time. I will pray for you." or "That must be so hard to go through, I will pray for strength for you and your husband." or "I'll keep you in my thoughts and prayers." I loved when one person said to me “I will pray for strength, peace and healing for you and your husband. I will also pray for your doctors.” Basically pray for me, say prayers, offer prayers, but never try to predict what God is planning for me.

3) Be encouraging without direct comparisons to other infertile couples. I have had numerous people say things like "yeah my cousin had problems too, they gave her clomid and she was pregnant 3 cycles later. It'll happen for you." Well since I am ovulating just fine I don't think clomid will do anything at all. Another helpful soul said "hey look at so and so, it took them 4 years and then all the sudden BAM they were pregnant!" Four years and BAM? I don't want to wait 4 years to have a child, did you when you were having a kid? Four years equals about 55 cycles. If I went on 55 jobs interviews and didn't get one offer people would be more sympathetic and encouraging then they are then I try having a child for 55 cycles and failing. That's just a lot of failing.

Another extremely hurtful comment is "well if you can't there are always other alternatives" Yes, there are, but I just shared with you that we're having difficulties, I can't even wrap my head THAT sometimes let alone thinking about other alternatives right now. And let’s not forget the fact that we’d like to have our own biological child if at all possible. I want to see my own eyes looking back at me, smiling my husbands crooked smile.

Have you ever looked into adoption? It's not like you can just get in a line and order up one small child with a side of happiness. It's extremely costly, emotionally draining and sometimes doesn't even end in a child being placed in your arms. Please don't make the alternatives sound like easy peasey second nature. They are very tough emotional decisions.

Some alternatives to these phrases would be "That's really terrible news but I hear they’re making leaps and bounds in medicine these days, hopefully there is something out there that can help you guys." or "I'm sorry to hear, I know how badly you want to be parents. I'll be here to listen any time you need to talk." Anything that encourages without direct comparison to other couples is great.

4) Please do not tell me I should be thankful for what I have and to count my blessings. Just because I am telling you I am infertile does not mean I am not thankful for what I have. To say such a thing is insulting.

When you hear your best friends dad has cancer do you say "oh that's too bad, but look at how much other stuff you have?" No, of course not, so don't do it to somebody who just found out her lifelong dream of becoming a mother may not ever happen for her. And yes, some people do dream of being a parent all of their life, both men and women.

Alternatives to these types of statements are simple things like "I'm sorry, I know there isn't anything I can do, but just know I am here." Or “You’re good people, hopefully good things will come.”

5) Do not say you know how I feel if you have not had fertility issues yourself, because honestly, you don't know how I feel. And REALLY don't say that if you already have kids.

I used to think I could really sympathize with women who couldn't have kids. I honestly thought I could feel a little bit of what they were going through. I could IMAGINE how hard it would be to deal with that... then I actually lived it.

I will tell you it was NOTHING like I thought it would feel like. It was not at all what I imagined those other couples to be feeling. It was worse. It is indescribable and unimaginable. I had NO IDEA what it felt like until I heard those words from the doctor. As heartfelt as I thought I was being before, living through it made me realize how little I actually could relate in the past.

Alternatives are things like “God I can’t imagine how that must feel. That's really bad news.” Or “I know I could never understand how that must feel for you guys, but I am very sorry.” Even “my heart is breaking for you guys” is a nice alternative if that is how you really do feel.

I don't mean you have to walk on eggshells with me or other infertile couples, really don't. But please think before you say anything and if you are even in doubt a simple "I'm so sorry (insert infertile's name)" is so much better and often times much more welcome.

There. I am no longer a hypocrite.


Leigh said...

Sarah, your commentary is heartwrenching in its honesty. I'm sorry to hear of the pain that you and your husband are going through. I think that everything you mention is wonderful advice for anyone, regardless of the issue at hand - sometimes it's best to just listen and show empathy. You're right, no one can know what you're going through, and you're not looking for advice or a solution. Sometimes, "I'm sorry" is (and should be) more than enough. Blessings to you and Marco, and courage. Best, Leigh

Livy said...

Good on you for finally saying what you REALLY think. I have been guilty myself for saying some of those things. I don't feel guilty. I feel better informed! For that I say thankyou.
Maybe I could do a post on "Things NOT to say to fat people". I could think of heaps!
Really outstanding post. I read every word, and feel like I have come away with a much better understanding. Thankyou.

Anonymous said...

Thank you............. wonderful blog and so so true. I too could not imagine what infertility really meant until I experienced it myself. Hopefully this will open up some eyes.- Katy

Ellen said...

Sarah, you are amazing. I had tears in my eyes reading this, and I've never had to deal with infertility. I could feel the stregth of your emotions through your writing, and want to thank you for opening up and pouring yourself out like this. I think this list should be included in the booklet "How to Be a Respectful and Responsible Person" that should be given to people in high school. Ok, that's not a real booklet, but it sure as hell should be!! There are so many hurtful or just plain dumb things people say often without realizing how they affect others. Seriously, you rock, this is incredible.

Cherry Dolphin said...

All I can say is "wow". Thank you for finally putting in words the things my heart and soul have been wanting to scream at people for years! Thank you for writing this post, and especially this list.

Jess said...

I've followed your blog for a while now and find you to be thoroughly inspirational. I am so sorry you are going through this. I will pray for you and Marco.
You are in my thoughts!
Best, Jess

AGirlWorthLosing said...

As someone going through infertility issues...Thank you!