Sometimes It's Best to Say Nothing!
While growing up, and even throughout my adult years, I never thought about having children. In fact, in my twenties and thirties, when people asked me if I ever wanted to have children I would answer them with a very emphatic "no!" Of course, this was always followed with the usual barrage of questions as to why I don't want children, and how terrible it would be for me if I didn't experience the joy of a little me running around. These questions and arguments would be thrown at me as if that persons' happiness and very existence depended on whether or not I procreate. I never understood this. I guess I've always been so busy attempting to navigate my own life that how other people lived theirs really made no difference to me. But that's a topic for another discussion.
What I'm here to discuss is what l encountered after I met my husband and changed my mind regarding children. How I suddenly began thinking about the joys of creating a half Mini-Me, half Mini-Him. Oh boy! He/she was going to be the cutest, smartest, most talented child to eventually walk the face of this great planet! And how easy was this going to be? Both of us are perfectly healthy. My cycle runs like clockwork and I never had an abnormal pap. We were going to start trying this very second and by next month, BAM!!!
How cute and naïve were we, right?
A Novel About Love and Starting Over
And Then Reality Sets In!
Let's fast forward to three years later. Our savings account has officially been depleted, I've gained about twenty pounds and I'm so pumped full of hormones that I once burst into tears during an episode of My Name is Earl. Not to mention, the act of sex had now been reduced to a chore that's done when that stupid smiley face appears on the stick you pee on to see if you're ovulating. Let the romance begin!
We didn't get it! We should have had our perfect Mini-Me by now! Where was he/she? I had some big plans for him/her! I even had the perfect "coming home from the hospital outfit" for him/her. (That's right, I had an outfit for a boy and a girl!)
I had known people throughout my life that suffered from infertility but didn't know much about it. As mentioned before, I've never been one of those people who asked much about another's personal life, so if I knew a couple that was married for several years and still didn't have kids, I assumed they had their reasons and if they wanted to share them with me, they would. It never crossed my mind that one of those reasons might have been the fact that they tried and were unable to conceive. It wasn't until our experience with infertility that we realized what a common issue it is for so many people.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 6.1 million women ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. So I think the chances are pretty good that you know at least one person who is dealing with or has dealt with, the harsh reality of infertility.
When we have a friend or a family member going through a tough time we may feel obligated to do or say something to make them feel better. That's wonderful! I'll bet nothing makes you feel better than when you can bring a smile to the face of a distraught friend!
However, I feel I should warn you about giving advice to someone who is in infertile. Only someone who has been through this themselves knows what it's like. Unless you have walked the same mile as that person who fell apart after looking at that negative pregnancy test month after month; or who spent one month after another being poked and prodded and had one needle after another stuck in them, you have no clue what that person is feeling. As well-meaning as your advice and input may be, there's a good chance you may be inadvertently upsetting them.
Just Don't Say It!
I'm going to give you some examples of the statements a lot of people make when they find out someone can't have children and what's going through that person's mind when they hear that question or statement.
Advice: "You need to relax. "
What we hear: "It's your fault." I'm sure if you've given that advice to someone this was not the intended message, but sadly, that is how it comes across. Women who experience infertility already feel terrible about themselves. They feel like they're doing everything wrong, their body is failing them, their hormones are going ballistic. If they're getting treatments, let me tell you, those treatments are so invasive you no longer feel that there is anything sacred or private about your body. Think of a pap smear times ten! Would you be able to relax? That statement would be like telling someone whose parents died, don't be sad." Just a little ridiculous, don't you think?
Something else to keep in mind; the whole "relax" belief is a myth. If that myth were true, no one would get pregnant! Who isn't stressed at one point or another? There were many times the husband and I went on a relaxing beach vacation while I was ovulating and zip, nothing.
Question: "Have you thought about adoption?"
What we're thinking: Because it's just that easy? The husband and I did look into adoption during our journey; we were in no way opposed to it. However, given the red tape, amount of money it costs, and the amount of time you need to invest to adopt a child, you had better be 100% sure this is a process with which you are ready to proceed! We all hear about celebrities who adopt left and right with seemingly no issues, but I'm sure if we were all able to walk into an adoption agency and make it rain millions of dollars there would be no issue for us, too. The sad reality is this: there are many, many children out there who are in need of good homes but the way laws are set up, it is extremely difficult to adopt. The adoption laws vary from one country to another; they can require that you and your partner be married for a certain amount of time, you both be of a certain age, etc., and if you adopt outside your country, there's a good chance you will need to fly out to that country more than once.
If the couple has already been going through fertility treatments, they've most likely have shelled out a lot of money even if their insurance covers it. There are still out-of-pocket costs. Some couples are able to swing it, others aren't. No one entirely knows another person's personal and financial situation. Be sure to keep that in mind when talking to someone about this.
Statement: "You may be too old to have kids."
What we're thinking: Thank you! There's always room to feel more inadequate than I already feel! First of all, this is just rude. Second, as long as a woman hasn't gone through menopause there is a possibility she can get pregnant. Again, the woman who has been through the infertility journey has been through enough, she doesn't need to be reminded that she's not getting any younger!
Statement: "It wasn't God's plan for you or wasn't meant to be."
What we're thinking: So I wasn't meant to have children but the couple on the news who murdered their child was? For all we know, you may be right. Maybe God or the universe, or whatever has something else in store for us. But ever hear of the expression "the heart wants what the heart wants?" Allow your friend to grieve, be angry or complain, they need to feel this way right now. They may be consumed with the fact that seemingly less responsible and deserving people are able to have what they can't have, this statement will only add insult to injury.
Ok...So What DO I Say?
It's simple: let them know how sorry you are and if they need to talk, you are there for them. Everyone one of us, no matter what we've been through, sometimes just needs to have someone to listen to us without the other person giving their two-cents.
The pain of infertility includes the frustration of your body not cooperating with you, financial difficulties, depression, hormone issues, and this doesn't just affect one person, but the couple. It can cause a tremendous strain on a relationship. Simply being there to listen is the more helpful than you realize.
(C) 2014 Brenda Thornlow
Brenda Thornlow was voted one of the 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading for 2015. She is the author of the new fiction series My Life as I Knew It; The Revolving Door; A Godless Love and her memoir, My Short-Lived Life at Being Perfect. Available at Amazon. (Link below)
Support Group: Infertile With No Chance of Conceiving
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© 2014 Brenda Thornlow