What we'd like our friends and family to know about infertilityJul 04, 2022
Infertility is a beast. Going through it is hard. But watching your loved ones deal with the loss and disappointment that comes with infertility, is hard too. Trying to support someone going through such a soul-destroying time in their life, is an impossible task. There are so many minefields out there. I have seen infertility rip families apart and destroy friendships.
And none of this is anyone’s fault. There is no one to blame. Because we haven’t been taught the most basic and important skill in humanity. And that is how to be there for someone, without trying to fix them. It’s hard to have difficult conversations, without judging. Or sit with someone in pain, without trying to make them feel better.
Most of us suck at it. I believe that supporting someone through their fertility struggles is even harder, because there is very little information about it, and very little precedent.
It’s different from supporting a friend when their father passes away. Death has a common or typical grieving process. You bring them casseroles, you send them flowers, you go to the funeral, and you keep checking in on them. And although the pain never goes away, there is a distance created between the loss and each passing day. Life eventually goes back to a new type of normal for your friend, they adapt, and learn to live with the loss behind them. And everyone goes on their merry way.
It's a little more complicated when it comes to infertility.
And if you’re wondering why I’m comparing grief for a loved one, with infertility? Because infertility is filled with grief. Grief isn’t just about losing a physical person. It’s about mourning that picture in your head of how things were supposed to happen; it’s about losing a part of yourself; losing time. It’s losing friendships, as you watch those you were close to move forward with their lives and have their own babies, while you’re stuck on the starting line. It’s a deep longing for an experience you may never get.
And it’s relentless. It’s month after month. There is no beginning or end to the suffering. You are living inside it and there are reminders of what you are losing everywhere – every pregnant belly or newborn baby is a catalyst for your pain. You aren’t moving away from the grief; you are stuck inside it. In this perpetual rollercoaster of emotions.
If you have never gone through infertility, this may sound a little extreme, but I can assure you it’s not. It’s hard to explain to other people how it feels, but this is how one of my clients articulated it……
You have finally been let into a restaurant you've wanted to go to your entire life, while being told it's very exclusive. You are excited to sit down at the table, by now you're hungry. Starving. As if you haven't eaten in days.
You ordered some food and it comes out. You were salivating at the sight of it - then the plate fell on its way to you and your food was all over the ground. You have to wait for another meal to be made.
While you are waiting, everyone else at your table is served their food. Then the people who came in after you. Hang on...did that person even order!? They now have a plate in front of them and you still have nothing to eat.
The waiter keeps bringing everyone else their food and they not only start eating it in front of you, but they are talking to each other about how good it is - in hushed tones though. They don't want to offend you, knowing that you watched your food get splattered across the floor. Every now and then one of them thinks to say "don't worry, your food is coming" while they chew.
Would you be ok with people telling you to "let it go" and be happy for those who have already had breakfast and lunch and now devour their dinner, while you wait patiently for your very first meal? Or would you start to resent the restaurant itself? The waiter? And even the friends?
And it’s not just the sadness. It’s the emotional, financial, and physical stress it places on us too.
Research has shown that women with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression, as women with cancer, heart disease and HIV. Yes, a study conducted by AD Domar, PC Zuttermeister, R Friedman, and published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, revealed this.
It’s not because there is something wrong with your loved one. Infertility is not for the faint hearted.
Now that you have an idea of the impact this has on us, here are some things we’d like to ask of you, to make it a little easier for us.
Please stop asking us when we are going to have a baby, when we are going to have another baby, or whether we have any children. And not just those who you know are going through infertility, but ALL people. I know this may sound a little restrictive, but you never know who is suffering. This disease is common, in fact, 1 in 6 Australians and 1 in 4 Americans experience infertility.
Those questions are awkward, and painful. They cause a lot of anxiety, fear and inadequacy. And it’s no one’s business. I always say – if you wouldn’t ask someone about their sex life, don’t ask them when they’re going to have a baby. It’s not appropriate conversation.
While we’re at it, please also stay away from these comments……
You better get moving, you’re not getting any younger.
You’re lucky you don’t have children because……
You can look after my children whenever you want – they’ll make you get over it.
It was so easy for us - my husband just has to look at me and I get pregnant.
They don’t make the other person feel better at all. In fact, your attempt to make light of it is dismissive and a little insulting.
Our automatic reaction when people tell us a problem is to try and fix it, right?! We don’t want them to be in pain, so we try to provide advice. But it doesn’t work.
Please stop providing empty, impossible advice. These are the common ones we hear….
Just relax (this is harder than you think).
Just stop stressing (how, when studies have proven we are living with the stressor).
Just go on a holiday or get drunk (this doesn’t work, we’ve all tried it).
Just stop trying (telling us the story of Sally, who stopped trying and then got pregnant doesn’t help. It may be true, but there is no way we are going to stop trying on purpose).
Just be positive (this comes into toxic positivity territory - it’s ok for us to be sad for the things we don’t have and it’s unhealthy to keep encouraging us to push it down).
Just be grateful (this insinuates we’re not grateful, and makes us feel guilty).
In fact, if you’re going to throw the word “just” in front of anything, please stop yourself. Infertility is not a matter of “just”. It’s harder than that.
And while we’re at it, please stop telling us to just adopt or just do IVF. Those avenues are incredibly long, expensive, and emotionally taxing. They are not the cure, nor is there anything certain about them. Before you give out that advice, I’d highly recommend you do some research yourself, to see what it entails.
Rest assured also, all of the things you are going to suggest to us, we’ve probably already tried. If it’s something obvious, like changing our diet, having sex while we’re ovulating, acupuncture, supplements, fertility teas etc. We’re all over it. You suggesting shit we’ve already tried, adds to our frustration, because it makes us feel like you think we’re stupid.
In fact, stop trying to provide advice full-stop.
You telling us stories about other people who tried a special cure and then got pregnant, doesn’t help. It adds yet another thing onto our to-do list. We know you’re just trying to give us hope, but sometimes hope is an asshole. It makes us feel even more alone – because it proves that miracles happen to other people, not to us.
Pregnancy announcements are one of the most painful things on this journey. It’s hard to separate our feelings and be happy for others, and sad for ourselves. It’s not because there is something wrong with us, it’s because it’s hard. A pregnancy announcement is a constant reminder that everyone else is getting their happy ending, and we are not.
I have seen so many relationships destroyed because a pregnancy was announced in the wrong way. So here are some tips –
Please do not withhold the information because you’re scared to upset us – I know it may be a tough conversation, but you must have it. Can you imagine how it feels when your friends and family keep a pregnancy a secret to “protect you” from any pain? It makes us feel even more isolated and left out. It’s a betrayal of trust and proves that people are talking behind our back. And it makes us feel weak – like everyone is feeling sorry for us. It’s just not nice.
Instead, tell us before we find out from anyone else (especially on social media or at a party). Perhaps send us a text message (it’s easier than a public confrontation) and give us permission not to respond straight away. Show understanding, not pity.
Then we have baby showers and gender reveals. These are also a source of pain. Please invite us, but give us permission not to go.
Seeing other people get what we want makes us sad. Not because they are happy, but because we are not. Please try not to judge us for this, or tell us how we should feel. This journey is unique to all of us based on our experience and beliefs. Please don’t compare either. Just because Julie down the road could handle it without shedding a tear, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with those who struggle. We all have our own journey.
Alrighty, well I’ve been telling you a lot of things NOT to do. So how about some things you CAN do.
Listen. Like truly listen, without trying to fix, offer advice, or make us feel better. Sometimes we just need to be heard.
Show us compassion, without pity or judgement. You don’t have to understand how we feel, or connect in any way. Just say you’re sorry we’re going through this.
Forgive us. There may be times when we lose our shit. We are experiencing huge amounts of stress, pressure, uncertainty, fear, anger etc. We are dealing with conflicting emotions, and HUGE emotions that we find it hard to process. In addition, if we’re going through fertility treatments, there are hormones pumping through our body, which make us feel crazy. So, in the times when we take it out on you, please understand it’s not you. And forgive us.
Tell us that you love us.
Tell us that you’re here for us no matter what.
Let us cry.
Because this is tough, but it’s tougher to go through it alone.
Would you like to know more about how you can work with me, so you can get back control of your life and start moving forward? My 1:1 coaching program is packed with information, tools and support. Find out how you can get on the wait list now.
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