You are here
Infertility Etiquette (for your friends and family)
a blog by Jay Pal
I’ve seen quite a few articles on what to say or not say to someone who is dealing with infertility. After reading many of them, I’m stunned at some of the things that were left off of the list and frankly, I disagreed with some that were on the list.
On the surface, because I’m me and can’t help but make jokes about it, my list would consist of things like:
- All movies and TV shows must have a PG label: Warning storyline contains numerous pregnancy related topics.
- Strollers should have bell so we know when they are coming and can turn the corner.
- People addicted to crack should not be allowed to have their seventh child
- The word Duggar shall never be uttered in our presence.
- Never make a pity face when you talk to me.
- Save the sonogram photos — don't post them in public
- Understand if you're pregnant and I don't talk to you for awhile, it's nothing personal, I just hate your uterus.
However, that list is more for my fellow infertile women who can relate to my situation. In terms of what one can send to the outside world, I’ve composed my own version of what the etiquette should be when a fertile person is dealing with an infertile person. You’re more than welcome to cut and paste to your friends and family and, of course, if you have some suggestions as well, please put them in the comments section!
First and foremost, I know that whenever any of my friends or family tries to offer their words of wisdom of my struggles with fertility, they have my best interest at heart. I also know that everyone, no matter who they are, is trying to be helpful.
Dealing with infertility is a very sensitive issue. Your emotions can range from feeling like a failure, to worrying about the future, to being optimistic, to feeling hopeless. Also, quite often when you are friends with someone who is fertility challenged, on any given day, they could be worried about money and insurance bills, or they could even be in the process of a fertility treatment where emotions and hormones are running high. You just never know.
Therefore, since many of you might not be aware of what can be unintentionally hurtful when dealing with infertility, I have put together the below list to help out:
- Please no anecdotes and no advice. Trust me. If you’re struggling with infertility, you’ve heard every anecdote you can hear; we know what so-and-so did with cough syrup or how what’s-her-face adopted and then got pregnant. We need to focus on ourselves and our own situation and ultimately, we have doctors to best advise us on our specific situation.
- Please don’t suggest using donor sperm or donor eggs. I’ve heard more stories than I can count of my fellow infertile women being asked if they want to use their brother-in-law’s sperm or their sister’s eggs. What’s amazing to me is people make these suggestions even before the couple in question has exhausted all their options. Until it’s determined that that is even a factor, the only person who should be offering a woman sperm is her husband.
- Please don’t suggest adoption or even giving up. Again, I’ve been shocked how many times people have asked me about adopting even before we did our first infertility treatment. Adoption is an option, but it’s one that is something for most couples down the road. The same goes for suggesting that they let go of trying to have kids. That’s a big decision, and many seem to suggest it way too early. In the end, both adoption and deciding not to have children is between the couple having fertility issues and their doctor. End of story.
- Please don’t suggest a reason why this is happening. Whether you think it’s God’s will or fate or that there’s some reason the universe has decided an infertile couple should have these issues, kindly keep it to yourself. Trying to apply logic to an inexplicable or illogical situation is simply not helpful. I personally have been dealing with this long enough to know that some couples get lucky, and some don’t. Even the most religious infertile couples will tell you that sometimes things happen when you’re going through this journey that don’t make sense. You just have to do your best and accept the outcome. Plus, when someone struggles with infertility, they often blame themselves. You trying to provide a reason as to why it might be their fault, only makes it worse.
- If you have children or are pregnant, please don’t talk about the downside. I know you’re trying to be comforting, but this can be the equivalent of telling a blind person they are lucky because you have to spend so much money on your eyeglasses.
- Please DON’T acknowledge Mother’s Day/Father’s Day. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be very difficult for those who desperately want to be a parent but aren’t yet. Some recommend that you send someone struggling with infertility a card or somehow include them on the day’s events. I personally disagree. Although the gesture is sincerely appreciated, to me, it just highlights the situation. I would much rather focus on MY mom and how much I love her more than I would care to focus on how I'm still NOT a mom. I would just be respectful that it’s a tough holiday.
- Please don’t mention celebrities who went through infertility. They have money and advantages that most don’t. They can adopt, do as many IVF cycles as they want, hire a surrogate or even rent a child if they so choose! The point is, whether they struggled with infertility or not, their situation is different from many women. Fertility treatments are very expensive, so telling someone all about how a celebrity got pregnant on her 20th IVF when most can barely afford the fertility medication isn’t wise.
- If you find out your pregnant or you find out a mutual friend or relative is, please put it in an email and be sensitive about it. To be clear, it’s not that people who have fertility issues are incapable of being happy for those who are fertile. It’s more that they themselves feel like a failure. It’s one of those cases when you’re “happy for them but sad for me." An email will give the person dealing with infertility a moment to deal with their feelings privately.
- Even if someone who is struggling with infertility confides in you about their issue, please don’t ask them about it constantly. Some days, it’s harder to talk about infertility than others so it’s best to let the person pick their moments to discuss how they are feeling.
- Understand that there are some events that are difficult (baby showers being at the top of the list). Again, it’s nothing personal toward you. You never know where an infertile woman is either emotionally, psychologically or physically. Imagine finding out your IVF failed, and then the very next day going to a baby shower where they talk about pregnancy the whole time. Sometimes, the timing is off and the person just needs to protect their own feelings.
Here are a few key phrases that are good to say:
- I’m sorry you’re going through this.
- I can’t imagine how you must feel.
- Hang in there.
- I’m here for you.
- I’m thinking of you.
- Please let me know if you want to talk.
In general, the key is to be supportive. That’s one thing people struggling with infertility do for each other. If you post on a fertility-related chat board that you’re down, you get an endless amount of support. If you post that you’re about to start hormone shots, everyone will wish you luck. No one makes judgments or tries to make it all better: We just support and encourage each other, and that really is the most helpful thing a person can do.