Saturday, April 12, 2014

What Not To Say To Someone With Infertility

"You can always do IVF!"

Firstly, IVF is very expensive and isn't usually covered by insurance, much like adoption. We have even discussed, if it came to IVF, would we spend the money on adoption, instead? One cycle of treatment can cost anywhere between $12,000 and $25,000, and one cycle is rarely enough. Most couple need multiple cycles, if it ever works at all. One study found that the average cost of successful IVF is $61,377 ($72,642 when using donor eggs). The total cost including the multiple cycles needed for success.

    Secondly, IVF isn't a cure all. Even if a couple can afford it, it may never be successful. Women under 35 only have a 39.6% success rate per cycle, which varies depending on the cause of their infertility. Success rates for women 42 - 43 is only 11.5% per cycle. Some couples infertility diagnosis includes poor egg or sperm quality, which makes the price of IVF go up even more. Donor eggs, sperm, embryos, and surrogates are substantially more expensive, raising the cost even more.

    Thirdly, not everyone wants to go through IVF. It's emotionally draining, physically invasive, and not without risks. IVF is not for everyone.

"Just adopt!" 

    Adoption is a beautiful, important, wonderful thing, but it's not a decision that should be made lightly. Suggesting adoption as a cure all for infertility is ignorant and insensitive. It's just as emotionally and financially draining as invitro-fertilization (IVF). On top of that, adoption is not always possible. Couples have to apply and be approved, and just like there's no guarantee that IVF will be successful, there's no guarantee that everyone who wants to adopt will pass the screening process (not passing the screening process doesn't mean that someone can't or isn't a great parent, it's far more complicated than that.)
    Adoption also doesn't cure or take away the pain of being unable to conceive and give birth to a biological child. It doesn't replace the children an infertile couple has lost or been unable to have, but is instead another way to build a family.

"Be glad you don't have kids!"

    We're not clueless. We've been seated at the restaurant next to the loud messy family with the screaming disobedient children. We've sat on plane rides with the toddler that constantly kicks our seat, seen the mom who hasn't had more than 3 hours of sleep for the past 5 months. We know they're messy and loud, that they cry and puke, that our lives will change drastically when (if) we have kids. Please don't downplay our loss by making your blessing sound more like a curse.
    Also, don't make this comment in front of your children. I know someone who constantly tells me as she gathers up her kids for dinner or the drive home "You're so lucky you don't have kids." If I had ever heard my mother tell someone over and over "You're so lucky you don't have kids." I would have been hurt beyond words.

"Be glad you get to sleep in!" or "Enjoy the time you have to travel, go to dinner, etc"

    This is like telling someone whose father just died that they're lucky because they no longer have to buy father's day cards.

"Just relax."

    My' favorite'. One of the the cruelest, most ignorant comments a person can make (honesty here people, there's not enough of it. Sorry I refuse to just 'get over it' and say, "Well they mean well." BS!).
    Stress does not cause infertility. One study looked at 3,000 women from 10 different countries and found that high levels of emotional distress before a medicated/treatment cycle did not negatively affect the outcome. Let me repeat that:  high levels of emotional distress before a medicated/treatment cycle did not negatively affect the outcome. 
    To put it bluntly: stress didn't cause my miscarriages and stress isn't keeping me from getting pregnant.
    You should also consider what came first; the stress or the infertility. I wasn't stressed about getting pregnant until I saw that it wasn't happening.

"Maybe you're not meant to be parents" or "God doesn't want you to have kids [yet]."

    This one really hurts. Common sense should tell you that this doesn't make sense. If it's true, how can you explain why truly evil and abusive parents manage to have children? Sadly, being qualified for the job is not required.
    Please don't play God by telling us why we haven't conceived.

"As a parent, I think that....."

    These few words are so hurtful. They are said out of ignorance more so than malice, but I wish you knew how painful they are. Not only are they a reminder that we don't, or can't, have children, but it's a not-so-subtle way of saying that I'm ignorant and not qualified to join in your conversation or disagree with you simply because I haven't had the experience of giving birth. If someone is struggling with infertility, that means they've been trying for more than a year. During those many months we've researched pregnancy, motherhood, symptoms, labor, and hospital vs home births. We have a secret wish list on Target with the stroller and crib we want. Our nursery is ready to go on our private Pinterest board and Etsy list. I know what "crowning" means and I understand the controversy behind public breastfeeding and society's obsession with celebrity's postpartum baby bodies. I want to chat with you, to be involved in the conversation. To preface your comments towards me with, "As a parent..." you are telling me that my opinion is void and meaningless because I'm not physically capable of becoming a parent.

Don't complain about your pregnancy.

    I, and many others, would give almost anything to be pregnant. I think about being a mom every single day and mourn the children I cannot have. We also understand that not all pregnancies were planned, and not everyone squealed with joy when they saw that second line, or are excited about the huge life change that will be taking place in just a few short months.
    That being said, please don't complain about your pregnancy to someone when you know that they're having trouble getting pregnant. Don't sit across from us at the table and go on and on about how you're "trying so hard to actually be excited about this pregnancy", or "I cried when I found out I was pregnant, I really didn't want to have another baby", or "I'm so mad that it's a boy when I wanted a girl [and vice versa]", or "I don't know how we managed to get pregnant! We were using protection and everything, God must really want us to have a baby!" (This one really hurts because you're telling me that being infertile means God really doesn't want me to have a baby.)
    I understand that you may say these things to people that you don't realize are having trouble, and unfortunately that happens. But when you know the pain that someone is going through and you chose to sit there and talk about the curse of your fertility anyway, that's really hurtful. It's also ok to feel that way, but again, have compassion when speaking to someone who wants so badly to be a mother or father.

When someone says something about struggling with infertility, don't complain about being fertile.

    I recently put an article on Facebook called "It's None of Your Business How Many Kids I Have". The result was mothers with 4 + children talking about how much they hate people asking them why they have so many kids, if they're going to have more, etc. Yes, that is frustrating. But do you realize you just hijacked a post by someone who CAN'T have children? Who posted that article in hopes to stop the painful questions? Again, it's not that you aren't allowed to feel that way, but think about who you are speaking to before you say it. I don't complain about marriage being hard to a friend who wants desperately to be married, and you shouldn't complain about your kids to someone with infertility. I could go on and on, but instead I'll just leave you with a comment written by a dear friend of mine: 

"There is a HUGE difference in how the question is received by women who currently have children and by those who have experienced a loss or have not been able to conceive. Yes, as one who is already a mother, the question comes across as judging or quietly condemning. 
But as a woman who is trying to conceive, who is struggling every day, who may have had failed IVFs or miscarriages, that question isn't just invasive, it's PAINFUL AS HELL. It rips the bandage off the wound and exposes it. And how do you answer that question when you've had losses? How could you possibly answer that question in a way that won't create uncomfortable conversations or pitying looks? There isn't a way to respond that doesn't hurt, that doesn't ache. 
We need to never ask these questions. We need to be mindful that infertility is COMMON. And isolating. And sad. And it's none of anyone's goddamn business unless we want it to be (and quite frankly, we often choose to not share because people say the wrong things)."

"But you're so young!  You have time!"

    Actually we have a medical diagnosis of infertility. Meaning; no amount of time will give us a baby. Stop saying this. It's not encouraging and it hurts. It also comes across as negating the time that has already passed. 3 1/2 years is 3 1/2 years regardless of whether you are 23 or 43.

"At least you already have a child!" or "Be thankful for the one you have!"

    Secondary infertility. Infertility that comes after you've already had a child is a big deal to the women who face it. I don't personally suffer from this (now, though I may in the future), but I know that having a child or children wouldn't take away the pain of being unable to have more. And before you tell them to "be grateful" for the children they have, don't assume they don't. Couples who suffer from secondary infertility truly know what a blessing it is to have had a child. Believe it or not, but it is possible to be grateful for what you have and mourn what you don't at the same time.

"It could be worse. You could have cancer or something."

    This is about as comforting as telling someone who's mother just died that, "It could be worse. Both your parents could have died."
Interestingly enough, research has found that the emotional distress that women with infertility experience is not dissimilar to the distress experienced by those with cancer, HIV, and chronic pain.

"Don't give up! It will happen!"

    This seems like a reassuring thing to say, but it isn't. The problem with this is that it makes it sound inevitable that everything will work out in the end, but the truth is, it may not. "Don't worry, it'll happen," tends to be translated to "Stop complaining, it's not a big deal anyway."

    And finally, when someone's had a miscarriage:

"At least you know you can get pregnant!"

    It's sad that I even have to address this one. Do people not realize that it doesn't matter if you can get pregnant if you can't carry the baby to term? My own doctor said that to me after my miscarriage last July. It didn't make me feel better, in fact it broke my heart. Even if I can get pregnant again, I lost a child. I will never get that baby back. And I will carry that child with the fear that it could happen again. A woman at church told me that it was in fact good I had a miscarriage because the left over hormones will be good for the baby when I get pregnant right away, again because that's what happened to her. I haven't been able to speak to her since.
    There's not much more I'm going to say on that comment, because I shouldn't have to. Please use common sense.


    So what should you do if you have a friend that is going through infertility?

Use Google.
    Do some research about what they're going through; medications, IUI, IVF, sperm morphology and motility, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies, or even just the basics of reproduction. It's sad how many people truly have no idea about how their body works.

Act Interested.
    Some women don't want to talk about infertility, but some of us do. We're going through hell, and we want you to be genuinely interested in our ovaries, how it feels to give ourselves daily injections, what the fertility drugs are doing to us, our emotions when we see another pregnancy announcement on facebook, and how we deal on a day to day basis.
    You might have no idea what progesterone is, what an HSG is, what IUI stands for or entails, how medications work, or how to track your ovulation and luteal phase, but we're happy to explain it to you. Others wanting to know helps us feel normal and less alone.
    Ask me how I'm doing, and mean it.

Don't offer advice unless I ask.
    This one's important. Just read the above list and you'll know why.

Let me know that you care; listen, and let me cry.
    I cried in the middle of church yesterday while I was holding a friend's baby. My husband and my pastor stood with me and just let me cry. They didn't rebuke me or tell me to get over it. I was embarrassed, but I needed it, and I'm so thankful that I have people in my life who will let me cry without making me feel like a lesser person.

Light a candle, say a prayer.
    National Infertility Awareness Week is April 20-26. Light a candle for your friends, and keep praying for us. We need it.

    It really all comes down to common sense and courtesy. Think before you speak. You might just be saving someone you care about a lot of pan.

"A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in a time of need."
Proverbs 17:17


  1. you are a star... very true and very honest precious words. happy for you on the coming blessing. God bless you dear.

  2. Thank you for all of your posts - I've read them multiple times and it helps to hear others' stories. I'm on my own (unsuccessful so far) journey and it's tough so thank you.

  3. Thank you for posting this. It's like you are speaking to my heart. Thank you. ❤️

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