It’s Thanksgiving Day. You and your spouse drive for hours through icy road conditions to make it in time for turkey day dinner at your Grandparent’s house. You two have made this journey before, having been married for two years now. The smells, place settings, and faces are all familiar. You look around the table to see your Grandmother, Grandfather, Sister, Brother, Aunt, Uncle, Sister-in-law, Brother-in-law, and baby Niece.
As you gaze lovingly toward the newborn with a hearty helping of mashed potatoes on your spoon, your well-meaning Grandma blurts out, “When are you two going to get pregnant?” She motions towards you and your husband with the kind of stern yet loving gaze only a southern homemaker could give. Your spoon of fluffy potatoes falls onto your plate, and you utter the same lie that you’ve told countless times before, “We don’t want kids just yet.” Your Grandma nods understandably and says, “Well, you are so young! You have plenty of time.” As the dinner conversation drifts towards football, you can feel a pit form in your stomach as you recall the last negative pregnancy test you took.
The truth is, you do want kids, and you have been trying for two years now. Your husband squeezes your hand underneath the table to comfort you, though the comment will sting for the rest of the night.
While this story is hard to read, the reality is that infertility is quite common in the US. Roughly 6-12% of US couples struggle to get pregnant according to CDC data. Though the cause of infertility varies significantly from person to person and couple to couple, being unable to have a child is emotionally debilitating. Symptoms like anxiety, depression, lack of sex drive, and low self-esteem are common for those with infertility, and sadly many treatment options are far too expensive to undergo.
The Grandma in the story above was not trying to be malicious and, in fact, likely had positive intentions. Feelings of shame associated with infertility can lead individuals to lie about their true feelings towards having children, leaving relatives, friends, and co-workers blissfully unaware that they are putting salt into a wound. The remedy to this kind of interaction is to educate. The more people know about infertility and how to interact with infertile loved ones, the better. This list should help.
1. "Trying to get pregnant is the fun part! I bet you are enjoying it." Try this instead: "Not getting pregnant is difficult. I am here if you need to talk."
2. "Just remember, there are worse things that could happen." Try this instead: "This is challenging, but I am here to support you."
3. "Why do you want kids? You get to sleep in late and do whatever you want." Try this instead: "I know how much you want to be a parent. Whatever path you choose, I am here."
4. "Be thankful you miscarried early before you were too attached." Try this instead: "Losing a child at any stage is difficult. Take your time to grieve."
5. "Take my children for a while, that will change your mind about having kids!" Try this instead: "What can I do to support you right now?"
6. "You got pregnant once, so I know you can do it again." Try this instead: "This hurts, but I am here to talk whenever you want to."
7. "Why don't you adopt? There are lots of children who need a home!" Try this instead: "What do you want to do next?"
8. "You are so young! You have plenty of time." Try this instead: "How do you feel about all of this?"
9. "You are so lucky. You don't know how hard it is to wake up every two hours to feed a baby." Try this instead: "I am hurting for you. Do you want to vent about it?"
10. "Isn't it funny how people who want kids can't have them but people who don't want them seem to have a bunch?" Try this instead: "It's hard not to know what will happen but know that I am here for you no matter what."
11. "Think of all the money you're saving on birth control." Try this instead: "I wish I could take your pain away."
12. "Aren't you worried that the IVF drugs will give you cancer?" Try this instead: "IVF isn't easy, and I admire your strength."
13. "I bet you wish you hadn't waited so long." Try this instead: "I am so sorry you are struggling. Do you want to talk about it?
14. "You're over-stressing. When you least expect it — BAM, it'll happen." Try this instead: "Would it help to do ______ and take your mind off of it for a while?"
15. "It must not be God's will for you to be a mother." Try this instead: "What are your options?"
Supporting Your Infertile Loved One
So how do you avoid unintentionally hurting your infertile loved one? In addition to educating yourself about infertility, try changing how you communicate with your infertile loved one(s) about their struggles.
Words are powerful so avoid using language that invalidates their feelings like, “I guess it wasn’t meant to be” or “You need to relax.” Additionally, refrain from giving them unsolicited advice like, “You just need to start using essential oils” or “My other friend had success with IVF. You should try that.” Forcing your own opinions on them isn’t helpful and can make them feel worse.
When it comes to supporting someone struggling with infertility, the best thing you can do is acknowledge their feelings and offer support. This can be as simple as saying, “I know you are hurting, and I am here for you.”
Infertility affects men and women of all backgrounds. The pain can be all-consuming, so educate yourself and offer your support whenever you can.
Please consider donating to help fight the stigma attached to infertility.
Gift of Parenthood’s mission is to encourage conversation, spread hope, educate, and empower couples who face difficulties with conceiving.
To donate, visit www.giftofparenthood.org/donate