Five things you do not say to a woman (married or otherwise):
1. “So, when are you going to have a baby?”
Well, the bottom line here is asking such a question is rude, to say the least. This question is based on the assumption that everyone has the physical ability to conceive, carry, and deliver a healthy child. If only that were the case, infertility therapy/medication/treatment/procedures wouldn’t be a BILLION dollar industry! I have no idea whether Susie Q next door has been trying to conceive for seven years, or if she has had twelve miscarriages, or seventeen failed IVFs (in vitro fertilization), or thirty failed FETs (frozen embryo transfer), or if parenthood is just not for her. Furthermore, it is none of my business.
2. “You better start trying to have a baby soon before you get too old and can’t.”
See previous explanation.
3. “You just need to relax.”
This is usually something a woman struggling with infertility hears from someone she has chosen to confide in about her struggles. If relaxation was the cure for infertility, again there would not be a BILLION dollar infertility industry in full swing across the globe. This statement assumes that she didn’t do what everyone usually does when they initially begin to try to conceive. Most fertile couples simply stop preventing pregnancy, have sex when it sounds good, and within a few months a pregnancy occurs. That is certainly how it happened for me the first time around. Once women quit “relaxing” about conceiving, it is usually because there is something wrong! There is a reason to be upset! Telling someone to relax doesn’t make that problem go away. When someone told me to relax, I wanted to ask her if she had heard a single word I had said. It definitely didn’t seem she had, or she wouldn’t have told me to just relax.
4. “Let go and let God.”
I do believe in God. I also believe we have technology and medicine for a reason. The person saying this statement probably wouldn’t hesitate to take a Tylenol or an Advil if he or she was in pain. The person saying this statement has most likely taken antibiotics for an infection at some point in his or her life. Maybe next time he or she is sick, they should let go and let God, too.
5. “As soon as you stop trying, you’ll end up pregnant.”
This is usually accompanied with an anecdote about so-and-so’s neighbor’s cousin’s sister who tried to have a baby for years and finally got pregnant when she quit trying. As soon as you quit working, you will become a millionaire. The above statement and the statement I just made are based on the same principle–dumb, indiscriminate, one-in-a-billion-chance luck. I don’t play the lottery, but it sounds to me like maybe every infertile woman out there should give up their dream of ever having a child of their own and put all that money they would have spent in playing the lottery. Then every infertile woman can be a mom AND a millionaire!
Five things you DO say to a woman:
1. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
When a friend tells me something that she finds upsetting, it doesn’t really matter if I happen to agree that it is something to be upset about. It isn’t my issue to deal with, but it is my job as a decent human to be compassionate. This simple statement could change her day. This statement could, even just for a moment, make her feel like someone cares and she isn’t alone. I want to be a friend, because someday I will need a friend, too.
2. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Again, if I’m upset, and my friend asks me this question, I don’t feel quite so alone with my troubles. Sometimes that is all I need.
3. Say nothing, listen.
Body language can say so much when accompanied by silence. Sometimes I just need someone to sit attentively and listen while I spill all my frustrations, hurts, and fears. This outpouring can be better than several therapy sessions, at least a bottle of wine, and several bubble baths.
4. “I’m not sure what to say, but I’m sorry this is happening to you.”
Honesty is such a funny little thing. Being honest makes my statements genuine and heartfelt. If I truly have no idea how to approach a situation, or an outpouring as discussed above, it is okay to admit it. I still want her to know that I care, even if I don’t have the right words. I never expect someone to have all the answers, and sometimes implying they do by giving me advice when I just need an ear will just add to my frustration.
5. “I can’t tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel about anything, and I’m listening if you want to tell me how you are feeling.”
This one statement can be so powerful! Sometimes, I feel like I need permission to feel what I feel. Sounds like psycho-babble, I know. Sometimes I try to suppress a feeling if I don’t think it is appropriate for the situation, though. For example, feeling sad is to be expected after another failed attempt to conceive. Feeling relieved that a particularly rough cycle is over is less expected. Then feeling relieved can make me feel guilty and even blame myself for the failed cycle. Maybe I secretly didn’t want it work. Maybe that is why I feel relieved. Such a horrible cycle of damaging emotion. If I can feel my feelings without negative judgement, especially judgement placed on me by others, I have a better chance of working through all my conflicting emotions.
Obviously this only scratches the surface a bit. Assuming I know someone’s situation, and then making statements based on those assumptions, will undoubtedly end with me looking foolish and callous, and the other party feeling defensive and possibly injured. I can’t ever expect to know how someone else feels unless that person tells me. I also don’t expect someone else to know how I feel unless I tell them. The next time someone says one of the above insensitive statements, I know I won’t hesitate to politely let them know how rude and thoughtless such a statement can be. Before I struggled with secondary infertility, I was guilty of thoughtlessly asking those I considered friends if or when they would be having children. If only things were really that simple, and if only someone had told me the world isn’t always so black and white.