A Do and Don't List: Ways to be Sensitive Towards People Going Through Infertility Treatments
If you have never personally dealt with infertility then you very likely may be unsure of how to support, or what to say or not say to, someone who is going through the process. As a veteran, and we'll say seasoned infertility patient, I thought I would compile a list of do's and don't's to help provide more insight into how to best communicate with someone you may know going through the process.
1. Tell them to think positive.
EVERYONE told me this ALL OF THE TIME. Yes, of course I want to think positive! No kidding! I want this to work more than anyone, but the reality is for me it was a defense mechanism, I did not want to get my own hopes up too high and set myself up for an even greater disappointment. Many infertility patients want to be positive but often there is going to be some degree of skepticism; we just can't help it.
2. Ask too many questions, or ask too frequently.
I had very good friends that I knew were just trying to be supportive and would check in on me often. However, the reality of the infertility treatment process is everyday is different. You can go in for an ultra sound and they see tons juicy follicles (that means you likely have a bunch of good eggs growing in there), great day! Then you can go have them taken out and none or only a couple actually fertilize, bad day. It's such an incredible roller coaster and to explain the day to day emotions and procedures can be exhausting. Best advice is to let the person know you are there whenever they need them and have them call you or check in less frequently.
3. Talk about babies or pregnancy in front of the person.
The reality is if we have a friend or family member who is pregnant while we are undergoing infertility treatments WE ARE HAPPY FOR YOU. It is not that we aren't happy for you, but it is INCREDIBLY painful to hear about and be around. You can never possibly imagine this unless you have gone through it yourself. We genuinely want to be there and support you as if everything is normal, but there are crazy things going on with us emotionally, preventing us from acting and supporting you how we would under normal circumstances. You don't have to understand it, we don't expect you to, but please respect and be sensitive to it.
4. Complain about pregnancy
Truth be told and infertile person would take take the worst pregnancy and birth you can give a person. If you are complaining about being nauseous, feeling tired or bloated in front of us we feel bad, but not really. Like the quote on Pinterest says, "things we take for granted other people are praying for". We don't mean to downplay your discomfort, but in the grand scheme of things you are pretty damn fortunate to be pregnant. Shout out to one of my best friends Jamie who before, during, and after her pregnancy was incredibly sensitive about how she communicated things to me.
5. Say "oh you're young it will happen"
I was young, I was 27. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you are young or not. When I hear people say "oh you're, young don't worry it will happen just give it time" I wanted to believe them, but the reality was they were not in my doctor's meetings nor did they know the extent of my situation. Often times we make comments to people not being fully aware of the details of their life circumstances. I recognized that people want to be encouraging and say things to try to reassure me that things will work out, but when you are in the midst of it comments like those actually end up not being helpful or supportive.
6. Tell them to "just relax it will happen".
SO many people said, "you just need to relax and have a glass of wine and not think about it." Sorry but no. If you do a little research the reality is that in order for stress to cause infertility it has to be a pretty significant amount of stress, not your typical everyday stuff. I was not that stressed; relaxing with a glass of wine is NOT a prescription to treat infertility. My husband would actually tell me to relax all the time because throughout the process I would get pretty tense. I tried to explain to him, just like the think positive thing, I want to be relaxed and positive but it's not like a light switch. I wish I could just say "oh you're right being worried all the time about not being able to conceive stinks let me just let it go!" If only it were that easy. Infertile people don't want to be stressed and although its something we can cope with and manage it's not necessarily something you completely get rid of.
7. Expect to be told immediately whether or not their cycle has worked.
As I mentioned earlier the roller coaster of highs and lows during a treatment cycle is extreme. If you find out you are not pregnant you are devastated and need time to process. If you find out you are pregnant you are excited but also very cautious. People who get pregnant naturally and relatively easily often wait until they are 12 weeks to tell people. Couples who have undergone infertility treatments are that much more wary and cautious due to all of the stress and worries about whether or not the pregnancy will continue to hold. Be patient and allow the person to share with you in their own time.
8. Ask "why don't you just adopt".
My husband and I considered adoption. I was, and still am, completely open to adoption. However, our health insurance fully covered infertility treatments and even when we had to pay cash for our surrogates the cost was about the same as the cost of adoption. Truth be told for us it was important to try to have our own biological children first. If that did not work out then we certainly would have adopted. However, when people off the bat ask you "why don't you just adopt?" as if it is as easy option and choice, it does come across insensitive.
9. Gossip or spread information about the person
I knew people were talking about my situation. I knew some people at my job were questioning why I had to come into work late. Fortunately my employer was very supportive, but it certainly did not help to feel that colleagues were gossiping about my situation. It's not gossip and it's no ones business. Some people end up quitting their jobs to do cycles of in-vitro because it can be so demanding on many levels. It is an incredibly private and personal struggle that should not be gossiped about. If you aren't friends with or don't want to actively support a person dealing with infertility that is totally fine, but be a kind person, mind your own business, and let them deal with their situation without unnecessary added stress.
10. Tell them they are lucky
I was told I was "lucky" for all kinds of things. Some people with kids would say "hey you're lucky at least you can go home and take a nap" or "enjoy it now because everything changes once you have kids". My all time favorite is when I was told I am lucky that I did not have to be pregnant or birth my kids myself. I had two different gestational carriers who carried our first and second sets of twins. They are our biological children, but my uterus could not hold a pregnancy, thus the carriers. Reality is to this day I would much prefer stretch marks, extra weight, a c-section scar - you name it - I'd take it over the inability to carry my own children. What I am lucky for is the amazing women who supported me and my family by carrying our babies like they were their own. I am lucky for an amazing team of doctors and nurses who for three years stood by me and worked hard as heck to help us create our family.
I know sometimes people don't really mean what they saying and are trying to say something to make the person feel better about the situation, but this is why I wanted to write this post. I hope this list does provide some perspective on communicating with someone going through infertility.
So what can you do? Here is a list of suggestions to help support a friend going through infertility.
1. Distract them!
For me going to work was the best thing I could have done because I am a teacher and focusing on my work and my students was a fantastic distraction. On your down time though a whole lot of thinking takes place and it can get bad. Offer to take them somewhere, somewhere where there aren't going to be small children or baby paraphernalia. Out for dinner and margaritas! To one of those painting classes, a girls night out at a local vineyard, a mani/pedi or spa day, a craft class at your local craft store, a fun exercise class, an adventure room, a fun dinner (like hibachi or fondue), the movies, a cooking class, or just a girls night in where you chat it up about everything except infertility stuff.
2. Protect them
If someone is asking too many questions about your friends situation or a co-worker isn't being too nice about someone you know that is dealing with infertility, I would suggest to very diplomatically and respectfully tell them to mind their own business.
3. Be open to or suggest a girls' getaway
I was literally about to lose my soul. I had been doing work out classes like crazy to stay distracted and had kept it together for a while, but I was starting to lose it. This was before I was about to start a round of In-Vitro with our first gestational carrier. I was a nervous wreck because if this didn't work then it was game over. I needed to get away. April break was approaching and I asked one of my best friends if she's be interested in going to...Miami?! She was totally all about it and said to book it and to let her know what she owed me (she trusts my deal hunting). I ran across the hall at work (we work together) and asked my husband if he was okay with it. He was not. I ran across the hall and booked it anyway. I typically do not recommend nor is that how I roll in my marriage, but at that time I knew what I needed for my own mental health and I needed to just make the executive decision and go with it. Now let me tell you nothing boosts the soul like a little booty dropping in the Miami clubs. I was losing touch with who I was and I needed to be reminded that I was more than just a desperate pin cushion for fertility meds (which is what I was feeling like). I came home recharged and ready to get back in the game. My husband now knows how important this trip was and was happy that I overruled him. So if you are game for it, get your dancing shoes on and go on a girls' trip.
4. Offer to take them to appointments
Some people may or may not be open to this. I know my husband's work schedule was not always conducive to him being at all of my appointments. My mother took me to many of them, but my aunt also offered and was there if I needed her. Knowing you have options and a "team" of supporters helps relieve some of the stress.
5. Offer to babysit
During my second cycle with our second gestational carrier (at this point we had our son Greyson) I would often need childcare so that I could go to an appointment, or on the days I needed to be on bedrest after a procedure someone was going to have to care for my son. Offering to help out with childcare is also a HUGE way to help and be supportive.
6. Make food
When I am depressed I like to eat, but it takes a lot for me to get up the motivation to cook. If someone is going through infertility and is having a hard time or just suffered a loss or miscarriage, food is ALWAYS appreciated.
7. Give the person space
As I mentioned in my don't list, it is hard when people smother a little too much. I know when it came to communicating the loss of our son Preston I only wanted to text one good friend from work so that she could pass the information along to the rest of our friends and co-workers. Although technology is a blessing in many ways, when you are going through hard times sometimes that text and feeling pressure to respond to everyone just adds to your stress. Intermittent check-ins or saying something like "just thinking of you" is nice because the person does not have to provide an elaborate response but the sentiment has still been communicated.
8. Support the men (or other partner)
Although the burden of the stress is often carried by the women, in this situation the man (or other partner) is very stressed as well. It is still very scary and stressful for the other partner involved. Additionally they often don't know what to do in terms of being supportive because it is a situation so far beyond their control that it only adds to the stress. Guys don't like to talk about things as much, but if you ask a buddy to go out for a drink, play a round of golf, whatever I am sure they would appreciate the thoughtfulness and support.
9. Know your facts
If you know that a friend or someone close to you is going through infertility and you really don't know very much about it, instead of asking them a million trivial questions, do a quick google search. It can be exhausting to not only have to explain your own personal situation, but also provide a mini-lecture on the basics of infertility to everyone you come across. Even reading a list like the one I am writing here I am SURE will be helpful and appreciated.
10. Be mindful in how you communicate your own pregnancy
Inviting your friend to a big gender/baby reveal party when they think it's just a picnic is NOT the way to go. As I mentioned in my "Don't" list, the person is happy for you but is going to process it in a different way. Tell them personally, and without an audience. Be sure YOU tell them and don't just avoid telling them because you are scared of hurting their feelings; if the word gets out and they weren't told by you it will be that much more devastating. I had a great experience with someone close to me telling me they were pregnant and it started with something like, "listen I feel so awful telling you this and I am so incredibly sorry for what you are going through but I need to tell you that so an so and I are expecting". I was very happy for them and truly appreciated the delicate manner in which she told me. You may NOT want to say something like, "I am pregnant, oh my god we weren't even trying". That's pretty much the worst thing you could say; be aware of your audience, please.
Ok, so that is my long-winded explanation of the do's and don't for helping to better communicate with a person challenged with infertility.
To all you ladies in the struggle...my heart never forgets and deeply feels for you. Stay strong.