Monday, April 25, 2011

Lessons in talking to someone who has fertility challenges

So your friend/family member has told you that they are struggling to conceive. What do you say (or not say) next. First of all, if they chose to tell you about their challenges, they are willing to talk about them with you, but it does not give you permission to talk about them with others. You should also remember that if your friend is going through fertility treatments she is injecting or swallowing varying levels of hormones on a daily basis, which means her emotional ability to chat with you with or without tears is questionable from one day to the next. (Side note: If I have shared this blog with you; you aren't the people I'm talking about in the "what not to say" examples)

Some things are just meant to be left unsaid.
#1 Infertile-In any form..."I didn't know you were infertile", "how does it feel to be infertile?" Pretty much, the word infertile implies CAN'T conceive, not will have trouble and need help better examples would be "I didn't know you were having trouble getting pregnant", or "Wow, how are you feeling about all of this?"
#2 "If you just relaxed..." I can't tell you the number of people who just think I've stressed myself into not getting pregnant, or thought too hard about it. Sorry kids, I have a diagnosable medical condition that affects the fertility of thousands of women each year-relaxing is not going to make it go away and therefore relaxing is not going to get me pregnant, not to mention I've managed to stay pretty chill about the whole process so it's just plain silly.
#3 "Why don't you just adopt" or "You'd be a great adoptive mom" The first and simplest answer to this is that insurance covers the $3000/cycle treatments that we're doing right doesn't cover the 30,000 that we are facing if we adopt. You can't just say "I want a baby so who's got a baby for me." The process is long and expensive and we are more than willing to go down that road and would be happy to do so, but please,  don't imply that becoming a parent by adoption is something you can "just do." As for the second statement, I really hope that I'll be a great mom regardless of how we get there.

As for what to do:
#1 Listen: If a friend has shared their struggles with you, lend an ear, not advice.
#2 Inquire on how it's all going. One of my good friends says, " so where are you guys at today?" instead of the "are you pregnant yet?" that I've gotten from others. Most days of this process are not about being pregnant, they are about getting your shots right, knowing how your lining or follicles are doing, and what appointments that you have to be at. Focus on how your friend is feeling overall, not on whether or not she is pregnant.
#3 Think positive with them and for them. Tell them about what a great mom (or dad) they will be, dream about baby names and nurseries with them, tell them success stories from other families and friends who struggled--not the urban legend ones "as soon as they filed for adoption, they got pregnant," although some of our good friends are real life examples of that (and now have 2 beautiful babies that are very close in age), the realistic stats for that happening are not promising. So when I say share success stories, I mean actual people in your circle of friends, coworkers or family, not my neighbor's, daughter's boss stories!
#4 You are allowed to bring the subject up, but also be prepared to drop it. For me, most days I am pretty free about what we're going through with the people that I've chosen to share with, but there are days here and there where I just can't go there-I have to live my life without thinking of fertility that day or it's been an extra bummer of a day and I can't talk about it without being a blubbering mess and I will make it pretty clear when the subject is off limits. So don't be afraid to bring it up, your friend has shared their struggles with you because they would like or need your support, but understand that if they shut the subject right back down, it's just one of those days.

This post is already getting very long, but I have one last short, but very important piece to add. If you have friends who have been together a while but don't have kids, please stop asking them "when are you guys going to have children?" or saying to them at family functions or gatherings with your circle of friends, "you know, you guys are next..." They may just be seeking pregnancy and struggling and every time those questions are asked, it's painful and uncomfortable to come up with an answer. Sorry this post is kind of a rant, but I really meant it, friends that I've shared this blog with, don't feel like you have to go back and analyze all of our conversations for the last year, you've all done just fine, but some of you have admitted you don't know what to say or what not to say so I figured this could help!


  1. I couldn't agree with this more. One thing I've learned about having kids (or *a* kid) is that it's such a personal journey and can often be a sensitive one, whether you have a hard time conceiving or not. It's really tuned me in to be more sensitive to other peoples' journey b/c you never know what someone is going through.

  2. Being a single woman and not having any kids sometimes makes me feel awkward in certain conversation with friends regarding pregnancy and even parenting in general. When I want to express concern, support and at the same time, learn from my friends who have become mothers, I just sometimes don't know what to say or how to say it in order to not offend. So seriously, thanks for shedding some light on this Ariane. I think its wonderful that you are sharing your experiences with us!

  3. Thank you for writing this! You hit the nail on the head and I've shared this post with friends. The journey is so emotional and different everyday but support is key. Congrats to you and your hubby on your upcoming arrivals! Many prayers for you and your babes for a continued healthy pregnancy.

  4. Thanks ladies-I was a little apprehensive about writing this post the "right" way and am glad that I said it in a way that worked for you!

  5. I remember reading this when you first posted it, Ariane. Now that I am walking in similar shoes, this post means a lot to me. I remember reading it clear as day when you originally shared it which is why I came to read it again today. Since I am dealing with treatment now and my friends are becoming more aware that we're having difficulty TTC I am to the point that I am so sick of hearing what they perceive has "comfort words." I'm glad I had this post to refer back because it's getting close to the time that I am going to need to share some of this advice with my own female friends/family that all have kids and think that getting pregnant is as easy as drinking a glass of water. haha Thank you for sharing this it helped me on a rather rough day today.