Dear Fertile People
It’s National Infertility Awareness Week! Count me in.
Been trying to have a kid for over three years, gotten treatment for two. Two HSGs, 4 IUIs, 3 failed IVFs, one hysteroscopy. Got pregnant once. Didn’t last. That was two years ago.
Not ready to quit, but close.
I’m infertile. Infertility means not being able to get pregnant after 1 year of trying (if you’re under 35) or after 6 months (if you’re over 35, as doctors advise against risking more fleeting fertile time), OR conceiving but being unable to carry to term. I’m in numerous company; about 10% of women will have trouble getting or staying pregnant. About one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 will have fertility problems.
Haven’t been telling many people. Keeping it secret is wearing me out. “Do you want kids?” and “enjoy this [childless] time while you have it” are pissing me off. And I’m already worn out and pissed off. My injection sites are itchy and my patient demeanor sucks. Infertility treatment has been, as one forum-poster said, “the second job that takes my money.”
But telling people is a grab bag. Some people are beautifully compassionate and kind and generous and loving. Other people say the first thing that pops in their head.
Dear fertile people, I’m all out of smile and nod.
So here’s what you can do for me, if you choose to speak to me on this subject:
1) Face your fears.
Suffering is frightening. I get it. We hear about someone else suffering from something beyond their control–disease, natural disaster, loss of a loved one–and we instinctively look for the reasons it won’t happen to us. It’s how we make sense of the world.
Sometimes the search for reasons makes us eager to blame the person it’s happening to. This can lead to thoughts like:
- The person is doing sex wrong.
- The person waited too long.
- The person did something wrong that caused losing the pregnancy.
- The person isn’t relaxing correctly.
- This is all part of God’s mysterious plan.
I get it. I do this basically every time I read the news. It’s how we as a thinking species help ourselves feel safe. I also get that it’s frightening to feel your deeply-held beliefs are being called into question. When we see someone do something other than what we think we’d do in that situation, we may feel threatened. This can lead to a desire to convert others to the belief that:
- Adoption is a good idea.
- Adoption is a bad idea.
- Adoptable kids are behind every cabbage leaf.
- Adoptable kids are damaged goods.
- Donor eggs are a good idea.
- Donor eggs are a bad idea.
- Every possible infertility treatment option should be pursued.
- Infertility treatment is pointless/unethical/against God’s will.
- Multiple births are irresponsible.
- Multiple births are a bargain.
- Acupuncture is a good idea.
- Acupuncture is a good idea but you have to take the herbs, too.
- Acupuncture and Chinese herbs work if you use them multiple months.
- Acupuncture and Chinese herbs work if you use them multiple months before doing IVF and also do yoga and eat pineapple.
This is human nature and I have absolutely done both of these in the face of someone else’s suffering. I have also said Absolutely Nothing. Absolutely Nothing is not great, either, but I realize that’s a rock and a hard place if you don’t know what to say so if you really don’t know what to say then Nothing is cool.
Looking for reasons and looking for converts both come from a place of fear. They don’t come from a place of compassion. Compassion would help a lot.
But compassion ain’t cheap! Where does it come from?
2) Stretch your imagination.
Imagine this scenario:
- You are a person.
- You at least vaguely want a child.
- You have a partner and have become somewhat attached to the idea of having a biological child with that person.
- You also become somewhat attached to the idea of experiencing pregnancy, birth, and nursing.
- You don’t expect it to be easy, but you do expect it to be possible.
- You open the door to conceiving. But month by month, you fail to conceive.
- Around you, many people announce pregnancies, births, and milestones of small children. (Many people suffer pregnancy losses and fertility struggles as well, but these, like your own, are kept quiet.)
- If you’re already carrying baggage about feeling Not Good Enough, maybe baggage gets a lot heavier.
Now imagine what you’d want to hear.
- “You should just relax. It’ll happen!”
Until someone holds their child in their arms, they have to live with the reality that it might never happen.
In the face of uncertainty, other people’s certainty is not comforting. It’s isolating. For me, it makes me feel unheard and unseen and it summons my Hate Librarian that carefully logs every hurtful moment and I really do not like the Hate Librarian and I wish she did not work here.
Advice in general is pretty isolating. Got enough. Really all stocked up on advice here. You could fill four sharps containers with all the advice I got. FWIW, I already secretly believe this is all my fault. Don’t need anyone else telling me what they think I’m doing wrong.
I know people with advice are coming from a good place. People just want to make things OK. But when people try to put a happy face on me it just encourages me to keep hiding the sad one. And for me hiding is no bueno.
3) Respect my right to hurt.
I don’t compartmentalize emotions like I used to. I keep ’em close to the surface, and that’s actually better for me. So if I speak honestly, you might see tears (not a crying jag, but tears) or hear a raised voice (not attacking, but raised). Maybe not! Hard to say.
But I’ve noticed, when people get surprised by other people’s strong emotions, sometimes they try to make those emotions go away with either a bright side (“you can always adopt”) or a hand-wave (“it’s not like it was a real baby.”)
That feels bad.
Let me be more specific.
For me, getting dismissed or minimized is like setting a 24-hour rage timer. In the moment, I smile and think, “This is going to piss me off later.” And, lo, 24 hours hence I find myself in a deep black mood of raw-edged hate until I do the work to get rid of the resentment.
I can’t take any more resentment homework. I am all booked up. I know a lot of that’s on me to be more vigilant about protecting my boundaries.
But you can help.
Please, if you can’t do the three items above…
4) Give me a chance to protect myself.
If you really, really want to tell me what your friend tried that worked, please give me a chance to decide whether I’m comfortable hearing it. Show me that you understand the words you speak stay with me after we part.
Basic ways to do this:
- “Are you looking for advice?”
- “Can I tell you a story about a friend of mine?”
- “Are you comfortable talking about what you’ve tried?”
(If you want to tell me your personal infertility or loss story, I am all ears. I promise not to give advice.)
If you need another infertile POV questions:
- How Not To Be a Dick to Your Infertile Friend [via xojane.com]
- 25 Things to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone Living with Infertility [via resolve.org]
- Infertility Etiquette [via resolve.org]
Nobody’s perfect, and nobody knows the perfect thing to say. But knowing you care enough to try helps a lot.
5) Get Involved
Some states mandate health insurance covering infertility treatment. Some states don’t. It would be neat-O if infertile couples didn’t have to choose between their nest egg and an egg in their nest.
There are lots of ways to volunteer and spread the word. Write. Tweet. Talk. Every little bit makes a difference.
Hope this helps. It helps me, anyway. Hope that’s OK.
- (4/28) Dear Infertile People (This Is What Saved Me)
- (4/29) Dear Self, One Year After IVF [the reason I’m writing this post, because without context it will be very confusing]