What not to say to someone struggling with infertility.

It’s Infertility Awareness Week, April 24-30. Judging by the uncomfortable interaction I had last night at, of all places, a church softball game, cyberspace could use a little awareness.

For those of you who read my initial ‘coming out’ post in October, you’d know that by now, April 2016, we’ve been trying to conceive for two years. Not two weeks. Not two months. Two years. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I mean that literally.

About a year ago I started looking into getting testing done to see what was going on. Long story short, we’re ‘fine,’ which translates into a diagnosis called ‘unexplained infertility.’ The truth is that there is still so much more doctors and researchers have yet to discover about the process of conceiving that there aren’t even tests for a lot of possible conditions.

We did two rounds of fertility treatment and suffice it to say, they didn’t work. The resulting imbalance of hormones sent me into a depressive tailspin, and finally I’m coming out of the fog of the past two years of alternating hopefulness and hopelessness.

Many of you know that I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety in the past. About ten years ago I finally went to see a counselor and I was on medication and received counseling for a couple years. I was able to quit therapy and haven’t been back on it since. Not during a deployment, not during any number of military separations, not even after my grandparents died. I found other ways to cope, and came out of those incidents stronger than before.

Despite all other hardships, infertility has been the most difficult, heartwrenching hardship I’ve gone through. Because of the risk to my mental health, which I’ve worked so hard to preserve and maintain over the past ten years, and also because of the cost (our insurance doesn’t cover infertility), we decided to not move forward with more treatment or testing.

I’ve come to terms with this decision, and we know it’s the best thing for us. As soon as an outside force starts to mess with the happiness of my marriage and/or my mental health, it has to go.  It’s a decision that we are comfortable with, and we don’t feel a need to seek out input from more doctors, or endure more invasive testing and treatment.

Now, back to the uncomfortable conversation last night. Might I encourage people to ‘think before they speak,’ especially about something so personal as fertility and the decision to have (or not to have) children. Below are things that are not helpful to say to someone struggling with infertilityespecially if you’ve only known them for five minutes.

“I’ve heard that people can get pregnant if they just stop stressing about it.”

Would you say something like this to someone going through cancer treatment? That if they stop stressing, the cancer will go away? Even pneumonia or, as silly as it sounds, a sinus infection? Infertility is categorized as a disease and requires its own specific diagnostic and treatment procedures, just as any other disease or illness does. The ‘problem’ with us may not even have a name yet.

“Well, maybe it’ll just happen someday! You never know. Maybe years down the line.”

Female fertility starts declining beginning at age 30. Even so, for a couple trying for two years, the chance per cycle of becoming pregnant is a mere 4%. So I highly doubt it will happen years down the line naturally. Because science. And biology. Also, we are not open to becoming first-time parents later in life.

“Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe you’re supposed to just be a big part of other kids’ lives.”

We are already a big part of other kids’ lives. Whether it was ‘meant to be’ or not is between God and myself.

“My [insert female relation here] says she never wants kids of her own, but she might adopt someday.”

Last I checked, if a couple adopts, those children become theirs. Adoption is an expensive, drawn out process with a heartwrenching wait of its own. I’m not exactly hankering to put myself through that right now when I’m grieving and healing from two years of disappointment.

Please think before you ask a man or woman about his or her (in)fertility. Please think before you ask about someone’s intentions to have children at all, and refrain from giving unsolicited advice. It is a very personal matter, and one that requires more education.

And if you find yourself asking, just listen. Provide a shoulder to cry on, an attentive ear, a nonjudgmental glance.

(This post is also very helpful for more information.)

One thought on “What not to say to someone struggling with infertility.

  1. Great post, Elizabeth! Funny too. You listed all of my “favorite” (insert prolonged, earth shattering groan here) things that have been said to me and way too many other people.

    We share a similar perspective on the differences between life’s other trials and infertility. Infertility by far has eclipsed everything I’ve ever gone through. I too have a history of depression due to un-diagnosed biochemical imbalances – it was successfully for the most part treated about 15 years ago. Fertility treatments eventually threatened to flush my mental health down the toilet again and that’s one of the many reasons we stopped.

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