My husband and I have struggled with infertility for almost six years now. I have tried to be very frank about our experiences and how our recent decision to stop pursuing pregnancy in any fashion has lifted an enormous weight off our collective shoulders. We are still hopeful that someday it might happen for us but we no longer want our lives to revolve around its pursuit nor do we want to be defined by such painful experiences. I am currently working on a research project about fertility and the family, particularly how social pressure, taboos and stigma affect childless couples and it got me thinking about all of those painful conversations I’ve had throughout the years. Discussing infertility makes people uncomfortable, so I know in my heart the people who said these things to me were not trying to hurt me. Regardless, here are the top six pieces of unsolicited advice I have received over the years and why you should NEVER use them.
Have you tried x, y or z?! Trust me, this is not helpful. If you are so arrogant to think I haven’t researched and/or tried everything from enduring painfully invasive procedures to ancient rain dances to standing on my head, you’re sadly mistaken. There is nothing you could suggest that I don’t already know…plus, your desire to point out where my efforts have fallen short leaves me feeling blamed.
You’re worrying too much. Again, accusing me of “worrying too much” sets the blame square on my shoulders and serves to make me feel even more stressed. If you want to alienate, aggravate, and frustrate a woman struggling with infertility, tell her to “calm down”. Better yet, tell her a story about how you know someone who knows someone who went on vacation and got pregnant, that’s always a good one.
Just stop trying. This suggestion is on par with the “just take a vacation” advice. By implying that us trying “too hard” is in some way hindering my ability to get pregnant will definitely get you put on my short list. I can’t tell you how often people have said this to me, and how often I wanted to punch those people in the face. Minimizing all of the effort I/we put into trying to get pregnant is the ultimate betrayal.
Silence. Yes, this has happened. I know it sounds contradictory to the purpose of this list but this one hurts more than anything anyone has ever said to me (because at least those people are trying). To say nothing, or to perpetually ignore a couple who is enduring one of the most painful things you can experience, especially after they’ve been so vulnerable with you, well, let’s just say you’d better thank your lucky stars if they didn’t immediately cut you out of their lives.
You should just do IVF. I have had people suggest this to me so matter-of-factly that it makes my head want to explode. This incredibly invasive and expensive procedure (often costing up to $15,000 per cycle, which is likely not covered by insurance) requires multiple hospital and clinic visits while you inject an obscene amount of synthetic hormones into your body to “stimulate” egg production (fingers crossed you don’t hyper stimulate your ovaries) which then need to be extracted, fertilized and then transferred into your *hopefully* receptive uterus. Not to mention you will be poked and prodded like a science experiment, have your blood drawn so many times the bruises on your arms won’t have time to heal and on top of that you only have about a 25% chance of getting pregnant. But it’s just IVF, right?
You can always adopt. This is one of my favorite all-time shitty things to say to a women/couple struggling with infertility. People who have never been faced with the reality that you may never carry a child of your own like to suggest adoption as a “last ditch effort”. Let me school you a little bit on what adoption truly entails: You are likely a couple who has endured years of painful, invasive and expensive fertility testing and treatments that have either failed or led to miscarriage and now you are faced with the choice of spending $30,000+ on legal fees and home visits while a stranger combs through your medical and financial history with a fine-toothed comb only to judge whether or not you are capable of raising a child. You are then placed on a wait list where you compete against countless other couples (sometimes for years) who have endured the same pain as you and just want to start and/or add to their family, too. After that, if you are lucky enough to be chosen by a birth-mother you are put in the precarious position of whether or not you want to offer financial assistance to said mother all the while trying to forge a relationship with this person (because in MN adoptions must be “open”) and hoping she doesn’t change her mind (the birth mother has up to 90 days to take the child back after the child has been placed with you). So yes, there is always adoption. Oh, and if you want to make this piece of advice especially painful you can always add that a friend of a friend of a third-cousins co-worker got pregnant when they were trying to adopt.
As I mentioned above, I understand people like to offer advice when they don’t know what else to say. I have seen my fair share of people squirm in their seats after we told them I had been officially diagnosed as “infertile”. You can always see the panic in their eyes as they try to find something comforting to say and it usually comes out as back-handed advice. The tricky part about all of this is that I can’t give you advice on what you can say. Dealing with infertility is exhausting and makes you emotionally raw. As a woman, it left me feeling betrayed by my body. It also left me feeling like a social pariah. The best thing I can tell you is be gentle, focus on the couple, not your own discomfort and be honored they told you about it in the first place. Unfortunately, many couples dealing with infertility do so silently and if you are an important enough person to be let in on the secret, take that responsibility seriously. Let her/them know you are there to listen, not to advise. Offer your love, support, a shoulder to cry on and lots of hugs. Sometimes chocolate helps!