Once upon a time, I got pregnant easily. Three times. I had three babies in just over three years, and it. was. awesome. I never dreamed that getting pregnant, and then staying pregnant, would be at all hard for me since I got pregnant with my three girls, each on the first try. I even got pregnant again on the first try after having Sis, and I might have privately been a little smug about it.
You probably know how that turned out.
I’m giving a super-short-version-recap here to illustrate this point: I have been on both sides of the fertility spectrum. I have been super fertile. And I have been (am) infertile/subfertile.
When I was super fertile, I had friends struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss. I remember feeling guilty about my ease of getting pregnant. And getting pregnant again. And again. I remember feeling uncertain about what to say. What to do. What not to do.
I have at least seven friends who are pregnant right now, and a few more whom I suspect might be (though I would never ask; never, NEVER ask!!). I can think of at least eight more friends who have gotten pregnant and/or had their babies during the time that we have been trying to have another. No one ever said or did anything hurtful to me, but there have been moments when I have suspected those friends felt awkward about telling me their joyful news or talking about it, knowing my struggles.
So, now that I’m on the other side of the fertility spectrum, I have some ideas about what to do and not to do when you have a friend who is infertile. And I’m going to share them with you here. I am absolutely aware that this is a hugely personal issue, but I have heard several other women struggling with infertility mention many of the same things. This isn’t a complete list. And it’s not the same for everyone. But I think it gives some good guidelines and starting points.
The following are my Dos and Don’ts for when you know someone who is infertile/subfertile/experiencing pregnancy loss/can’t have more children due to health concerns. Take it for what it’s worth.
DO – Listen. That’s all. Just listen and offer empathic responses. Women who are infertile can feel very isolated. It’s hard to share the struggles of infertility with someone who hasn’t experienced it. But it’s less hard if that other person just listens.
DON’T – Try to steer the conversation to infertility all the time, assuming that she always wants or needs to talk about it. The majority of the time she’d probably rather talk about other stuff (at least that’s how it is for me).
DON’T say – “You can always adopt.” Deciding to adopt or not is a very complicated and personal decision. Suggesting adoption as an easy solution to infertility is not helpful (the woman has likely already at least thought of the possibility) and it discounts the pain of infertility to suggest that it can all be “fixed” with adoption.
DON’T say – “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” This is obviously a well-meaning comment. It’s probably usually meant to gently remind someone that God’s will is perfect. But when you are in the trenches of trying to figure out how to pray for what you badly desire as well as trusting and following God’s will, this comment just doesn’t add anything helpful. And it gives the impression of trying to shut down the conversation.
DON’T say – “If you stop stressing/worrying/thinking about it, it will happen.” Because -A. This just isn’t necessarily true. and B. It is nearly impossible. Yes, it’s probably good to try to keep things in perspective, and stress probably does have a negative impact on fertility. But it is virtually impossible not to think about fertility issues when you’re infertile. And similar to the above, if you tell someone not to worry/think about it, you might as well be telling her to stop talking about it.
If you’re pregnant:
DO – Share your own joys/trials. If you have a close relationship with the woman who is infertile, be the one to tell her your news. Don’t let her hear of it through another friend or on your Facebook page.
DON’T – Avoid all discussion of your own pregnancy/children. While well-meaning, this will probably result in your friend feeling more isolated and distant from you.
DON’T – Go overboard in your discussion of every single detail of pregnancy, childbirth, and/or life with a gazillion kids. This may seem like an impossibly fine line to balance upon, but imagine:
Good – “I had my 20-week ultrasound today. It’s a girl!!! She looks perfectly healthy. I can’t believe we’re having a girl! Yay!”
Maybe not so good – All of the above plus, “I am so excited to go to Babies ‘R’ Us and register for all the things! Husband and I are going to paint the nursery this weekend and start buying some baby clothes! I just love little girl baby clothes! Oh my GOSH! Can’t you just picture her so teeny and sweet in all those cute pink ruffles? I can’t believe I’m halfway through my pregnancy! Don’t I look enormous? I have to register for our Lamaze class, and my breastfeeding class, and get a carseat, and wow! Having a baby requires so. much. stuff!!! Squeeeee!!!”
Think: sharing pregnancy joys/woes vs. gushing like a teenage girl.
DON’T – Feel guilty. Although your friend may struggle with your news to some degree, she is happy for you. Truly.
DON’T – Be offended if she distances herself from you/your pregnancy a little bit. Let her take the lead on this as she needs to. There are some times that are more difficult than others. She might not “like” all of you belly bump photos on Facebook or your status updates about pregnancy cravings. Frankly, Facebook is a treacherous place for the infertile woman, with all its newborn photos and pregnancy announcements and ultrasound pics. She might just skim over a lot of that stuff for her own well-being. It’s not personal.
There have been moments when I have cried upon hearing of another friend’s new pregnancy. Even in my happiness for her, I have cried to learn that someone else was getting what I wanted.
I used to feel shame about this. About my sadness over another’s joy. But I have since reminded myself that emotions are more complicated than just happy or sad. Joyful or jealous. I realized that I have nothing to feel ashamed about, because I never once wished that my friend didn’t have her joy. I have always felt happy for that friend in her joy. It was simply that her joy reminded me, freshly, painfully, for a moment, of my lack of the same. And though I didn’t wallow in it, I did shed a few tears. And I think that’s okay.
Finally, I just want to say that I didn’t write this post to make anyone feel guilty. If you’ve done some of the DON’Ts and/or not done some of the DOs, don’t feel bad about it. I just wrote this to be a little help to those on both sides of the fertility spectrum, so there doesn’t need to be any sort of divide.
So, what do you think? Did I miss any DOs or DON’Ts? Did I miss the mark entirely?