What not to say to the fertility-challenged

So I decided to put together a little list of things that people have said to me so far, which have been quite hurtful or mean. Now, in every single one of these cases, the people saying them, were not trying to be hurtful at all. I think it comes from a place of trying to be helpful or understanding, combined with a complete lack of understanding of the process, as well as just not knowing what to say. I’m not putting this list together to hurt anyone, or make them feel bad for what they said. I just want to make anyone who might be reading this, who is a friend of the fertility-challenged, aware of what not to say 🙂

When are you going to stop? This is the last thing we want to hear or talk about. I had a coworker ask me this, after I explained everything to her. I had to tell her what I was going through, as my absence from work for appointments, directly affected her. When she asked me this, I was kinda taken aback. Especially because it kinda came across as if she was judging me. Here are the two different ways I interpreted her question:

  1. When are you going to stop…doing this to your body?
  2. When are you going to stop…wasting your money? 

You see how neither of those questions sounds all that positive? First of all, I would do a TON worse to my body if necessary to have a baby, and second of all, I do NOT by any means feel like this process is a waste of money. I don’t even think I answered her because I was flustered. I think if anyone is ever insensitive enough to ask that again, my answer will be “I guess when I’m bankrupt or have a baby in my arms”.

Can’t you adopt? This one everyone hears a hundred times. Adoption is great, and YES we have all thought about it. It is however, very different from being pregnant. For someone, like me, who really really wants to know what it feels like to be pregnant, adoption takes that away completely. It is also EXTREMELY expensive, and the wait times can be up to 8 years. Yes we know IVF is expensive also, but at least then you have the chance of being pregnant yourself. Here’s the thing……I want to be pregnant. Right now, that means we are using my eggs, and donor sperm to try and make that happen. If I was told my eggs were no good, then I would even go to embryo adoption next, so I could still experience pregnancy. Adoption is OUR last step. Not to say it should be everyone’s, but I emphasize our, because this, like everything else, is a completely personal decision. 

(after any bad news) You seem to be dealing with this pretty well! Don’t say this. It makes me feel like somehow I am minimizing it. Like I should be appearing sadder than I am. When I hear this, I feel like the person is saying “you seem to be dealing with this pretty well…so I guess it wasn’t as important to you as I thought”. Yes, I know I’m adding the rest in there, and I’m SURE that’s not what the person is thinking. However, when people say that sentence, that IS what I add afterwards and fear the person must be thinking. So don’t say it! That way, I won’t add the ending, and somehow feel like you’re judging me. The key word in the original sentence is SEEM. I SEEM to be dealing well, because I don’t want to be the constant crying mess of a person, that all my friends and family start wanting to avoid. No one wants to be around someone who cries all the time, so yeah…..I put on a mask, and SEEM to deal with things well when I’m around others. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t already had one to ten uncontrollable sobbing mental breakdowns that day. It doesn’t mean that the worst case scenarios aren’t on my mind constantly. When I SEEM to be dealing well, it’s because I’m putting on a brave face for you. That is all.

Who’s fault is it? This one should be a given. Fault implies that someone is to blame. Would you blame someone who has leukaemia? How about blaming someone who was born without the use of their legs? Or someone who is blind? When it comes to infertility diagnoses, usually it is the result of how we are made. It is NOT something we did to make us this way. In the case of my husband, it is the way he was born due to a genetic abnormality. Someone with PCOS does not DO something to cause it. Endometriosis is also not caused by certain actions. Never imply that infertility is someone’s fault. The better question to ask, is “What’s your diagnosis?” We already blame ourselves enough (even though we shouldn’t) without you doing it for us thank you very much. 

I know of a friend of a friend who…. Everyone has a story of someone they know, who were struggling to have a baby, going through infertility treatments, etc…and got pregnant the month they were taking a break. This is not the norm. I know people tell us this, because they think it will give us hope. Make us relax so it can just happen. What they don’t understand, is that just like every pregnancy is completely different, every infertility journey is completely different. No 2 couples’ diagnosis is the same, and therefore their journey will not be the same. In my case, if we stop trying, we don’t get pregnant. It’s as simple as that. Hubby doesn’t have sperm, and since sperm is necessary to get pregnant…..it’s not going to happen. No amount of relaxing, or break taking is going to change that. Stop telling me these stories, they don’t help me. They don’t give me hope. Instead they remind me that other people are getting pregnant and I’m not. 

Just relax! Ok, so maybe this one works for people who aren’t fertility-challenged, but for me, if I relax, and don’t think about it, I don’t get pregnant (as I mentioned above). Also, telling someone who’s going through fertility treatments to “relax”, is like telling someone who is angry to just “calm down”. It doesn’t work, and makes it worse. There are ZERO parts to fertility treatments that are relaxing. You are either stressing about: 1. keeping track of your medication cycle. 2. Your next scan…will the follicles be big enough? are there enough follicles? Lining thickness? 3. Blood tests and hormone levels. 4. The horrible side effects of all the meds. 5. Egg retrieval!! 6. Did the cycle work? 7. Am I doing everything/not doing everything I’m supposed to? etc. It’s exhausting! Don’t tell us to relax. It’s physically impossible.

The last thing that people keep telling me, that is honestly the one that bugs me the most, is: IT WILL HAPPEN!! Don’t say this. Ever. Unless you are some sort of magical, psychic person, who can see into the future, you do NOT know this. Yes, I know the odds are in my favour. Yes, deep down, I believe it will happen, because if I don’t, then why the hell am I even doing this? BUT, no one know, with any certainty, that it will happen. Saying this just makes me feel like somehow I shouldn’t be worried about it, and that my feelings are not valid. Instead tell me that you hope it will, and that you are wishing/praying/crossing your fingers (whatever you believe in) for me. That is great, and super appreciative. It validates the uncertainty of the whole process, and is supportive. 

So there you have it. Again, if anyone is reading this who is a friend of someone going through the process, and you have said these things in the past, don’t worry. We know that it comes from a place of concern, and a genuine feeling of trying to help. However, maybe now, you understand a little more and will change your vocabulary.  The things that people have said/done that I have found the most supportive are:

  • Ask me questions about the process, and be genuinely interested. It gives me a chance to talk things out, and kinda normalizes some of the process.
  • Be angry or sad with me when things don’t work. I remember after my second cycle failed, and I was a complete and utter mess, all my best friend said was “wtf, this isn’t fair! This totally sucks, you shouldn’t have to go through this crap”. It was exactly what I needed her to say. 
  • Don’t take it personally if I seclude myself and don’t want to talk to you. I still care about you, and want to hear about your life, but when I need to be alone and go into my dark place, don’t hold it against me. 

For my fertility-challenged friends reading this. Hope you had a good laugh, as I’m sure you have been through the same questions, and hope that once again, you feel less alone going through this. 

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