1 in 8 women are facing infertility, and yet the basic knowledge of “what it is” and “what it means” is still widely unknown. The questions are vast and desensitized due to the perceived misconception of what it means to be infertile.
Does infertility equal IVF? Does it mean that they can’t ever have babies? Like, never ever? Is that the petri-dish thing? Should I mentioned Betty’s daughter who ended up adopting?
No. No, you really shouldn’t.
The days of uneducated comments and hurtful ignorance are over. The importance of being in-the-know about this topic is imperative. The chances of one of those eight affected being someone you adore is high. So how do you be there for the person you love who wants more than anything in the world to have a baby?
The answer is simple: learn, ask and listen.
Google is your friend. In fact, it’s there for all of us when we don’t have the answers. When we aren’t quite sure of the details. When we need the cold hard facts. There is nothing more hurtful than a careless comment when you’re trying to conceive.
Understand What It Means
Things like, not understanding what IVF stands for (in vitro fertilization), or that there is a lot more to it than fertilizing an egg in a dish, can cause unnecessary angst for the one you love who’s suffering. Does that person expect you to understand the process in-and-out? Of course not. But they do expect you to know the basics. Even if you didn’t when they first told you, they expect that you will have done your due diligence since then to gather some facts. To have cultivated a general knowledge for what they’re facing and what that means. To be prepared with intelligent questions that pertain to their specific journey, such as, when will your shots (stims) begin? and, are you planning to do a natural or frozen embryo transfer?
Less specific questions like, how are you feeling? And, is there anything we can do to help? are also great baseline comments to cultivate the conversation in a positive direction.
Treating infertility as the disease it is, one of the mind, body and heart, is a good place to start.
Ask Don’t Tell
Ask your loved one for updates. Regardless if they are in the beginning stages of fertility consultation, or they are knees deep in needles and ultrasounds, verbalizing the steps in which they’re enduring will help them move forward. A small weight is lifted with every word spoke, with every card received, with every embrace.
Don’t Assume Adoption
“You can always adopt” is not only jumping the gun, but also a jab to the heart for the person who has just discovered they are infertile. Why? Because they are at the beginning of a journey that has many avenues, avenues they are planning to explore and exhaust, until every corner is turned. Avenues that with a little (or a lot of) extra work can lead them to a pregnancy, to the dream they’ve always had.
Adoption, although perhaps a great possibility down the road, is not the first thing they want to consider. If adoption IS the path they are hoping to go down, trust me, you’ll know. If they have never mentioned, trust me, neither should you.
Instead, ask what their plan is and what their doctor recommends from here. Inquiring about the “next steps” is far more supportive than suggesting them.
Don’t Share Their Story
Use your ears not your mouth when they have chosen to open up to you. They didn’t have to share, in many cases it would have been easier for them not to, so when they do, do them a favor and listen. Let the words sink in and treat it like a secret, because in many ways it is. It is the most private thing he or she is going through. The most personal experience they could have. And whether they choose to share on social media, start a funding campaign or shout it from the rooftops, it is still their fire to spread.
And when that glorious day does come, when they have the best news ever, don’t call Nana, Karen and brother Jimmy the second you get off the phone. Remember that they have waited years to tell Nana, Karen, brother Jimmy and EVERYONE else that they are pregnant, so don’t be the person who robs them of that joy. Be the person who screams with excitement, who is happier than words could articulate.
Don’t Compare Them to Yourself or to a Stranger
Don’t tell them how easy it was for you or your sister or your friend. I know this seems like a no brainer, and yet you would be shocked at the number of times I’ve heard something like, “I can’t believe you’re going through this, it was so easy for us.” Sounds like an asshole thing to say right? Right, because it is.
Don’t tell them you read about Chrissy’s infertility struggles, or saw Gabrielle Union on the morning show IF you are only mentioning it for the sake of being relevant. We are a society who has become desensitized by the norm. We hear about something enough and suddenly it’s no big deal. But here’s the thing…it IS a big deal to the person who is going through it.
The fact that Michelle Obama went through IVF, or that Carrie Underwood struggled to conceive, may be an interesting fact, but it’s likely not very helpful to your loved one who’s in it. Because at the end of the day, Michelle and Carrie found their happy ending, and your friend/daughter/sister is still waiting for hers.
So in the moment, try to balance the hopeful tales with the reality of where she’s at in HER process. Keyword here, HERS. Not theirs. Not someone famous that we don’t even know, but HERS. Or quite possibly worse, resist the urge to tell them about a friend-of-a-friend who did IVF. Unless this is a tried-and-true comparison (i.e. so-and-so was missing an ovary and found success through xyz), please keep the story to yourself. I realize you think you’re trying to help by sharing the story of the person you know, but instead, you are wasting valuable time talking about a stranger when you could have been hearing what your loved on is going through.
The stories are endless and similar to cancer in the sense that everyone knows “someone” who’s been through some form of infertility. But also, like an illness, no case is the same. No person’s story is alike and being told “she had three miscarriages before conceiving their beautiful baby girl” does not make you feel better. In fact, it may make things worse. The thoughts in her head become dark rather quickly when unnecessary heartache is placed in her path. Does that mean I have two more to go before having a full-term pregnancy?
The need to hear ourselves talk is real. We all fight it as the natural born narcissists we are. How you counteract your desire to share is what’s important.
Don’t Offer Unsolicited Advice
Just relax, it will happen. If my husband and I had a dollar for how often we’ve heard this over the past several years, we wouldn’t be in debt up to our eyeballs.
At this point the person you love has likely A) seen a doctor, B) been diagnosed with something that is not allowing it to just happen and C) would really appreciate you NOT telling him/her to relax. There’s a good chance that those words coming out of your mouth will actually have a reverse effect as her shoulders tighten, her jaw clenches and she forces a smile to find the appropriate words to respond to this incredibly unhelpful advice.
Along these same lines of things not to say, stop trying and it will happen. I swear! Have you tried acupuncture? Not that traditional Chinese medicine won’t help, but it likely won’t make it happen without further effort – trust me, she’s considered it. Just have sex every day. Not only is this something your doctor would advise against (the majority advocating for every other day), but it is likely something they’ve experimented with in the FORTY SEVEN months trying to conceive.
They are the expert, you are the friend, the relative, the coworker, the one who is along for the ride. Infertility is a lonely roller coaster with only two passengers. Be there to fill up the seats.