I don’t know if Ms. Manners, Martha Stewart or any other blond anal-retentive woman with a well developed Super-ego who is keen on handing out the rules of genteel and polite society has come out with a primer on things best not to say to women who have been pumped full of mind altering hormones, and endured an alphabet soup of invasive procedures(ART, IVFs, ICSI’s, IUI’s,), miscarriages and/or had failed adoptions.
So even though I am only a redhead who occasionally confuses my desert fork with my salad fork, I thought I would take this matter into my own hands and create a guide of what not to say to someone who is infertile, going through infertility treatment or has just had a miscarriage. Perhaps if I do this I and others who are in my position will stop enduring these comments that hurt more than a progesterone shot in the ass.
For those of you who have endured any or all of these statements you might want to print this and pass it out to all your family and friends to stop them from further inappropriateness. And, those who work in a reproductive endocrinologists office you might want to give copies of this to each patient and have them give it out to their friends and family as they begin treatment. I am only half joking about this. Really, people need to learn what is okay and not okay to women who have extremely high levels of stress and estrogen.
These following statements are just not okay:
1. “You must not really have wanted to have a child or you would have one.” Really, is that the problem? Me and Hillary, we just didn’t want it enough. Thanks.
2. “You must have some psychological block that is preventing you from getting pregnant.” I am guessing that means Jamie and Britney Spears are totally free and clear of psychological issues. Good to know.
3. “If you would just change your beliefs about all of this you would get pregnant. Have you seen “The Secret”? This question always makes me want to ask the well-meaning questioner if they have seen my middle finger? I believed I would get pregnant—-I mean I believed. I believed so strongly that I had names and furniture and preschools picked out. If I didn’t believe I wouldn’t have shelled out $100,000 in my attempt to conceive and I certainly wouldn’t have endured that kind of pain and suffering.
4. “If you would just quit trying you would get pregnant” or “if you would adopt you wouldget pregnant.” No, this anecdotal myth is just that, a myth. According to RESOLVE, “Studies reveal that the rate for achieving pregnancy after adopting is the same as for those who do not adopt”. I find the notion of adopting in order to get pregnant totally unconscionable. If you want to adopt then you adopt but you don’t do it as a means of getting pregnant.
And I will have you know that we haven’t been trying to get pregnant for almost four years and not once in all of these years of not trying have we managed to get even a little bit pregnant.
5. “God has another plan for you. God doesn’t want you to be pregnant” or, my personal non-favorite, “God wants you to be in service and if you had a child you couldn’t do God’s will.” Please, please, I beg you, unless God has phoned you up or shown up in your living room with choirs of angels, would you please do me a favor and not be a spokes person for any deity on my behalf. Oh, and if God has visited you and given you an inside scoop to my life purpose I would suggest you put your tinfoil hat on and find your way to the nearest psychiatric hospital.
6. Another of the God ones that needs to go unsaid, “Maybe God knew you wouldn’t have made a good parent.” Following this logic one would have to infer that all the people who have children are great parents. One trip to Mc Donalds will disprove this absurd theory. “God” gives all manner of incompetent people children. I know many parents that any higher power in its right mind would have never chosen to care for a houseplant let alone a helpless child.
7. “Do you want to throw me a baby shower?” No, I don’t. I love you. I love you very much, but I just cannot throw you a shower or even go to your shower. Sometimes the mere act of taking a shower makes me cry. Going to a party to celebrate someone else having a baby is out of the question. Also, I am not going to birthday party for children 0-12. Once they are 13 and are driving you to drink I will happily attend and I will come and celebrate your suffering. I hope you understand.
8. “I am thinking about having an abortion.” No, do not tell me this. I am all for choice. Really, I am. I just cannot hear about your choice just now.
9. “Do you want to go to Chucky Cheese, Disneyland, Toys R Us or to the American Doll store with me? No, no I don’t. I want to go to a bar and drink a bottle of Vodka and smoke a carton of cigarettes—and I want to end the evening with a Super Size Ambien, would you care to join me?
10. “I had six kids and as soon as I had them I realized I didn’t want to be a mother.” It was 6th child that made you realize this? When talking it is important to be aware of your audience. This is not something you say to a woman who was not able to have one child.
11. ” I have a very small family, I only have four kids.” Shut up.
12. “You can be a mother to your friends kids”. I know people mean well by this. But, to those of you who say such things, let me tell you that babysitting for your kids is not the same thing as being a parent. It just isn’t.
13. “Well, why didn’t you try and adopt?” I did and it hurt more than the IVF when the mother decided she had changed her mind and she would instead go on welfare and drop out of school so she could keep her child. I can’t do it again. And by the way even if I managed to adopt I would still be grieving the loss of not being able to have my husband’s child.
14. Or, the one I am getting a lot of lately, “Get over it”. No, I am not likely to get over it. This is a wound and emptiness that will be with me forever. Infertility is, as Shelagh Little writes, “like a low-level, lifelong bio-psychosocial syndrome. My physical inability to produce children has emotional and social consequences that I struggle with, at least to some extent, every day.”
15. “You are soooooo lucky not to have kids.” I can take this one now and then, but on the day after a failed IVF I could not stand to hear how lucky I was and how horrible kids are. I know it may be true. I know the statistics about how childless couples are happier and have more satisfying marriages—but we were going to be the couple with the house filled with kids, bikes on the lawn, and a tree house in the yard. We would not be the couple who spends holidays at others homes—we were going to have a family, or so I thought.
16. “Don’t ever give up. Keep trying. You can’t stop now. Maybe just one more IVF and you will get pregnant.” This is one that really gets to me. I once asked a friend of mine who has worked with the terminally ill if when people in the late stages of cancer decide they can’t bare any more treatment if they are met with this same kind of attitude. She assured me that they aren’t. With cancer and other terminal diseases there seems to be a collective understanding that at some point that the compassionate thing to do is give up and die with dignity. The same kind of understanding does not seem to be there for us infertiles. I suppose that it seems to an outsider that there is always something more you can do and that if you “really wanted a baby you would do it”. We did IUI, IVF, and ICSI. That is as much as we could do. We could not do egg donor or hire a surrogate or attempt another adoption. There was a time when we could do no more. There was a point when trying to have a baby started to feel like it was killing my spirit, damaging my relationships and draining our finances. However since there are more
things we could have tried I often get the sense from some insensitive others that I don’t deserve to grieve over our childlessness. That we should keep going and only when we have exhausted every option do we then deserve to grieve.
Infertility treatment, according to the statistics, is likely to cause anxiety and depression equivalent to those with Cancer or H.I.V./ AIDS. With infertility there is guessing, hoping and odds that are often different in theory than in practice. Infertility treatment takes a significant toll on your body, relationships and finances—and it is up to each individual to determine when they can take no more.
My suggestion on what to say when you learn that someone is suffering from infertility is very simple, if you find yourself at a loss what to say or an impulse to say any of the previous things that you shouldn’t, just say a heartfelt “I’m sorry”—that is plenty.