For friends and relatives of people experiencing the inability to have a child, exhibiting infertility etiquette is important
More than seven million women of childbearing age in the United States experience infertility according to Resolve, the National Infertility Association. This statistic translates to 1 in 8 couples experiencing infertility. Undoubtedly, this means you or someone you know has been affected by infertility. Even though it may impact a huge number of Americans, as a whole we are uninformed about how to best provide emotional support for our loved ones during this painful time. That’s why learning some infertility etiquette is so important.
The pain of infertility is a recurring pain similar to that stemming from the loss of a loved one. However, when a loved one passes away, we move through the stages of grief, eventually accepting the loss and moving on with our lives. The grief of infertility is not so simple. For women or couples who are in this struggle, they continually grieve the loss of the child they may never know, while holding onto the hope that it may one day happen. It is this hope that makes the process truly difficult. Each month, there is renewed hope that a child will be conceived, but there are no guarantees. This cycle may continue month after month, year after year depending on the success of treatment.
Well-meaning friends and relatives may not realize the impact of what they say.
For those who have not experienced it, there is often a lack of understanding or “infertility etiquette.” It is easy to say something well-meaning without realizing the negative impact the words may carry. Below are a few tips on “infertility etiquette” from real couples who have experienced this pain:
Don’t Tell Them to Relax
Everyone knows someone who had trouble conceiving but finally became pregnant once they “relaxed.” Most couples do not seek the aid of a reproductive specialist until they have tried unsuccessfully to become pregnant for a full year. At this point, there is a very high probability that the problem is medical and requires more than just relaxation.
Don’t Minimize the Problem
Failure to conceive a baby is a very painful journey. Infertile couples are surrounded by families with children. These couples watch their friends give birth to two or three children, and they watch those children grow while they must go home to the silence of an empty house. These couples see all of the joy that a child brings into someone’s life, and they feel the emptiness of not being able to experience the same joy.
Comments such as, “Just enjoy being able to sleep late,” do not offer comfort. Instead, these comments feel as though you are minimizing their pain. You wouldn’t tell somebody whose parent just died to be thankful that he or she no longer has to buy Father’s Day or Mother’s Day cards. Losing that one obligation doesn’t even begin to compensate for the incredible loss of losing a parent. In the same manner, being able to sleep late does not provide comfort to somebody who desperately wants a child.
Don’t Say There Are Worse Things That Could Happen
Along the same lines, don’t tell your friend that there are worse things that she could be going through. Who is the final authority on the worst thing that could happen to someone? Is it going through a divorce? Watching a loved one die? Losing a job? For the person or couple to whom you are speaking, this may very well be the most difficult thing they have ever experienced.
Don’t Say They Aren’t Meant to Be Parents
One of the cruelest things anyone can say to someone struggling with fertility is, “Maybe God doesn’t intend for you to be a mother.” Although it may be unintentional, the implication is that this person is unfit or would be a poor mother and is incredibly insensitive. Even a comment such as “maybe it’s not meant to be” is far from comforting.
Don’t Complain About Your Pregnancy
This message is for pregnant women: Just being around you is painful for your infertile friends. Seeing your belly grow is a constant reminder of what she cannot have, so please do not complain about your pregnancy. When you are pregnant, your hormones are going crazy and you experience a lot of discomfort, including queasiness, stretch marks, and fatigue. Of course, you have every right to vent about the discomforts, but don’t put your infertile friend in the position of comforting you.
Don’t Gossip About Your Friend’s Condition
Infertility treatments are very private and embarrassing for some, which is why many couples choose to undergo these treatments in secret. One recent survey shows that almost two-thirds of couples try to hide their infertility struggles from friends and family. Men especially are very sensitive to letting people know about infertility testing, such as sperm counts. Gossiping about infertility is not usually done in a malicious manner. The gossipers are usually well-meaning people who are only trying to find out more about infertility so they can help their loved ones. However, it is important to respect your friend’s privacy, and don’t share any information that your friend hasn’t authorized.
Don’t Push Adoption (Yet)
Adoption is a wonderful way for infertile people to become parents. However, the couple needs to work through many issues before they will be ready to make an adoption decision. Adoption social workers recognize the importance of the grieving process. You do, indeed, need to grieve this loss before you are ready to start the adoption process, which is very long and expensive and is not an easy road. Before they can love an adopted baby, a couple needs to be very sure that they can let go of the hope of a biological child.
Let Them Know That You Care
The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. Send them cards. Let them cry on your shoulder. If they are religious, let them know you are praying for them. Offer the same support you would offer a friend who has lost a loved one. Just knowing they can count on you to be there for them lightens the load and lets them know that they aren’t going through this alone.
For more infertility etiquette tips, visit this page especially for friends and relatives on Resolve’s website.