Over the weekend I went to visit a dear friend and her beautiful triplets. On the way out of her neighborhood, I stopped at an estate sale. I always find it interesting to see what kinds of items are being sold. Furniture, old family photographs, fashion from across the decades. As I was browsing, another customer was negotiating a sale with the woman running it. He wanted the book case, but would have to pick it up later since there wasn’t room for it in his vehicle with his kids in tow. “Unless you want to watch them?” he teased. “Hey, you can even keep them if you’d like!”
The woman replied, “No, I can’t have my own kids. I’m certainly not going to watch yours.” Internally, I shouted to her, “You go, girl! Good for you for speaking up!”
The man responded by telling her he believed children were a gift from god. It’s all according to his plan who gets them and who doesn’t. Some people have 12 kids, and some don’t get any, he explained.
I’m imagining after reading the lines above, you are having a similar reaction to the one I had, and I imagine the woman who was running the sale had. Cringing and filling with both intense anger and sadness. I was immediately filled with a desire to educate both of them about The Art of Infertility. The woman, for support, and the man so he might think about how the words he speaks could affect the people who hear them. They both received my business card and an elevator speech about the project.
After that experience, I thought it might be a good time to re-run a list of hurtful things and helpful things to say to those with infertility that we’ve compiled from ART of IF participants. We originally ran this content in December of 2015.
Which of these items have you heard the most? Is there anything you would add?
1 “’Oh, you are still young, you have time’. Being young and having time has nothing to do with what caused my infertility. Infertility is not a disease that only happens to women over 35, it can happen to any woman at any time.”
2. “When are you going to make your mom a grandma?”
3. “‘You can always adopt.’ This minimized that pain that I was experiencing at the possibility of not being able to have a child that was genetically mine.”
4. “’Once you stop trying you’ll probably conceive naturally’ – by countless people who apparently can’t comprehend that when you don’t have tubes this is impossible. And, yes, I am a strong Christian woman and believe anything is possible for God – but without a delivery system, if I became pregnant it would be with the 2nd coming of Christ and I don’t really know that I could handle the responsibility.”
5. “Infertility is nature’s way of population control. ”
6. “I had a coworker say to me ‘no one else in the office is pregnant… I think you should be next!’ I had to just try to laugh it off and made some sort of reply like ‘yeah, yeah, maybe soon!’ When she made a comment after that about maybe I’m ‘just a dog person,’ that is when I felt like telling her about our struggles, and although I am a ‘dog person,’ I also hope to be a mother someday as well.”
Inconceivable by Aine Quimby. Oil on canvas. Part of the ART of IF collection.
7. “‘Who has the problem with not getting pregnant, is it you or your husband?'”
8. “Variations of, ‘I don’t know what I’ve do without my kids’, ‘My life wasn’t complete until I had kids’, ‘Being a parent is all that matters’, ‘Being a parent is the most important job in the world’, ‘You don’t know love until you have a child of your own'”
9. “We got them all! ‘You’re doing it wrong.’, ‘Maybe you weren’t meant to be parents’, but my personal favorite was from an old man who told my husband ‘Let it soak.’ – Still to this day have no clue exactly what he meant but we laugh about it.”
10. “We are Christians and regular attending members of a Seventh-Day Adventist Church. We had people say to me/us ‘well if it is in God’s plan you will become parents.’ The people who said this were parents. My thoughts were: so God thinks you will be a better parent then me? – I doubt it. So for all the people who abuse their children and have them removed from the home, and traumatized by their parents are apart of God’s plan, but me not being a parent is? – I doubt it!”
11. “‘You can borrow my kid(s) if you want.’ or ‘Do you want some of my kids? You can have them!’”
12. “Sometimes it’s what people don’t say that hurts the most. My friends have had more babies than I can count in the last 4+ years. Every time I go to the baby department and buy them gifts. It rips me up and takes everything I have to hold in the sobbing until I get to the car. I think people take it for granted. Not once has anyone ever said, ‘Wow, that must have been really difficult for you. Thank you for loving us so much that you would subject yourself to that hurt.'”
“Don’t say, ‘My life wasn’t complete until I had kids’, ‘Being a parent is all that matters’, ‘Being a parent is the most important job in the world’, ‘You don’t know love until you have a child of your own'”
13. “‘Everything happens for a reason. It will happen when it is meant to happen.'”
14. “A lot of people always refer to the most common phrase during the infertility journey, which is to ‘just relax and it will happen.’ As much as I wish ‘relaxing’ would cure that, it doesn’t.”
15. “‘I know it will happen. You just have to give it time.’ No one can know that the treatment will work and I felt like it minimized my pain.”
16. “’My friend was going through the same thing, and when she just stopped worrying about it, she got pregnant.’”
17. “The worst thing people have said is implying that my energy created the infertility like through fear, emotional stress, emotional barriers, etc., and to simply get over it because we could adopt or do IVF or surrogacy without knowing the financial and emotional costs of our options. They completely negate the emotional aspect of infertility and how it rocks your world as you know it.”
Grief in Black and White by Sarah Gough. Photography. Part of the ART of IF permanent collection.
18. “I was told I was being dramatic. ”
19. “I cannot remember the comment exactly, but it was something along the lines that I should try to have a baby ‘at any cost.’ As if it wasn’t okay to be concerned about protecting my marriage, our finances, the health of my body, etc. I also recall someone saying, ‘I know you don’t want to talk about it, so I won’t ask you.’ That wasn’t true for me. It’s true for many women, but I did want to talk about it.”
20. “‘Maybe your husband is cheating on you and giving all of his good sperm to someone else.'”
21. “This isn’t a terrible thing to say by any means, but a very common question is: ‘Do you have kids?’ It’s a little uncomfortable. It’s a quick response, no we don’t. But so much comes behind saying those few words. People don’t know – is it because you didn’t want them? Because you tried and couldn’t? What is behind that statement? People don’t usually follow up and ask why not (not that they necessarily should). We’re still trying to figure out the best way to answer that question without the uncomfortable silence that follows.”
22. “‘Flip her over. It’s a whole new ball game.'”
23. “Complaining about how hard your pregnancy is. You get a baby in the end! It does not make me ‘feel better’ about never getting to experience pregnancy. I’ve been through far worse pain and misery, and I never received a miracle in exchange.”
24. “I think that some of the worst things actually came from my mom. With the initial troubles, she’d repetatively tell me that she didn’t understand why I couldn’t get pregnant because my dad just had to look at her funny. Gee, thanks mom for that image.”
25. “‘Drink a ton & enjoy some recreational drugs’ because that’s what worked for them.”
1. “When I was going through my miscarriage my husband’s grandmother called me, and told me her story about her loss. We sat on the phone and cried together. She knew no words could help but she just wanted to be there. To share a story she didn’t share a whole lot made me feel supported.”
2. “Understand I’m doing the best I can with a total shit situation.”
3. “Be open to discussion and listening. Most days all I wanted or really needed was someone to listen and really HEAR me. I needed someone to say it was okay to be upset, it was okay to cry, I was grieving a major loss.”
4. “I found that telling people what I needed from them helped. Many times they were clueless as to how to help me. Just knowing I had someone there willing to hear me out whenever I need was amazing.”
5. “Say ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this.’”
6. “Ask me about it and about my losses…. Sometimes I would feel like my babies only mattered to me. It wasn’t until my sister wrote me a letter and told me that she felt their loss too that I truly felt like someone else cared about it. And that meant so much more than she probably ever will realize.”
7. “The best way my family and friends have supported me is to educate themselves so that they can at least understand the medical aspect of what is happening to me.”
8. “Be there when I need to talk or cry and on the opposite end of that, allow me the time I need to myself, to understand that I may not always be up to hanging out with them while they were pregnant… or with them and their children.”
9. “Our parents would stop asking us questions about doctor appointments and wait until we told them info. They didn’t want to bombard us with questions and they were respectful of our choices.”
10. “Just doing things to keep my mind off of what I was going through. Inviting me out to do things I enjoy, like getting spa treatments, going to sing karaoke, going to wine tastings, etc. Many people asked if they could pray for me and I really liked that.”
11. “My family: mom, sister and aunt all gave me the progesterone shots through both of my IVF cycles.”
Failed IVF #1 (September 10, 2015 – October 9, 2015) by Sara Nelson. Mixed media. Part of the ART of IF permanent collection.
12. “One of the most memorable ways people helped support us was fundraising for IVF. We set up one of those health donation websites and had a garage sale. Family members and friends had bake sales, everyone donated items for the garage sale, and even coworkers from family members helped out. It was really really humbling and brought us to tears once to see all the support we were getting.”
13. “The people who have shared their experiences of infertility with me have been extremely supportive.”
14. “Honoring my request that if I wanted to talk about it I would and not ask questions otherwise. When I needed someone to talk to and they really listened vs. trying to make me feel better or talking about their own fertility struggle.”
15. “Financial help was hugely important to me. I wouldn’t have opportunity to seek alternative therapy, like acupuncture, without help from my parents. To me, there are already so many costs of fertility treatments, and I was unwilling to try acupuncture because it was just another cost.”
16. “The best ways that our friends and family have supported us is just by listening and encouraging us. They are positive, but they are realistic in having the same expectations as us, which is hey, it might happen, it might not happen, but you have to give it a try.”
17. “They never tell us we should or could have done things differently, and instead point out to us that we are just one step closer to having a baby. You guys found out what doesn’t work; now you get to move onto the next thing.”
18. “Letting me cry. Taking me out to dinner. Letting me avoid baby showers and kids’ birthday parties with understanding and not exasperation or frustration. Giving me space to vent and grieve.”
19. “I have discovered some very special friends through this process. They have best supported me by being present and listening, not judging or offering suggestions/opinions. They ask me what me what I need and strictly follow any guidelines that I set out. For example: I hate it when people offer solutions so I’ve asked my friends to never offer solutions. The ones who listen warm my heart.”
Participants at the ART of IF Women Write the Body Workshop in East Lansing, MI.
20. “Help me to feel I’m still me even though I might feel a piece of me is broken.”
21. “When I would talk about the idea that there are many ways to be fertile, that bearing offspring is one way, but not the only way, and that fertility encompasses so much more – there were people who ‘got’ what I meant and people who didn’t. Those who ‘got it’ were excited for me and excited to see what other endeavors I might pursue in life. That made me feel supported.”
22. “Many friends have tried to support me just by asking what we need. Usually I tell them I just want to be allowed to hurt. The best friends I have are willing to let me hurt, are willing to sit through awkward silences and haven’t been hurt or offended when I’ve politely declined to attend their baby showers or their children’s birthdays (there are some, believe it or not, who take it personally and have made me feel bad about it).”
“Letting me cry. Taking me out to dinner. Letting me avoid baby showers and kids’ birthday parties with understanding and not exasperation or frustration. Giving me space to vent and grieve.”
23. “Please spare me any conversations about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. These situations make me incredibly uncomfortable and I’ll just find a chance to try and run away. It’s painful to hear these conversations, they tear at your heart. And if I know that you are aware of my situation & you bring up these topics in front of me, I feel even more hurt & isolated.”
24. “Do not complain to me how exhausting and hard it is raising your children. Nothing in life is easy that’s worth something. Think about how that sounds to someone who has been to hell & back trying to have children.”
25. “Really, I just wish people could think twice before they speak. Try for a minute to put yourself in our shoes. Be compassionate. If you have a friend or family member that can’t have children, don’t ignore them. Do tell them you are thinking of them. Do tell them you understand they’re going through a hard time. Do tell them you’re praying for them if that’s what you do. Just try to understand and be more sensitive.”