In the 3 years prior to conceiving my daughter, I spent 7 months on clomid, did what seemed like endless months of injections and ultrasounds through failed IUI’s and IVF’s, had 4 early miscarriages, and had 3 surgeries just months apart on my pelvic region. There were also complications like ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, 4 ovarian cyst ruptures, one pregnancy/miscarriage I shockingly didn’t know about until I hemorrhaged badly the night before my second surgery, mysterious things growing inside of me… Sadly, I could go on and on. Each of the three surgeries uncovered new problems that hadn’t been addressed, and revealed that the prior fertility treatments were completely futile, which only added to the pain and frustration. In the end I was told to give up and have a hysterectomy at the age of 33, but persevered and had the third and final surgery, which was successful and I was pregnant with my daughter 2 months later.
After having my daughter, I had two more losses, with my 6th most recent miscarriage being in the fourth month of pregnancy. So I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve been around the infertility block, and that I can provide an insider’s perspective on the issue.
Online forums were a tremendous source of support for me in the beginning, before I became more outspoken about our issues to help lift some of the taboo surrounding them. I have witnessed numerous posts where women vent about the well intended advice that has been bestowed upon them. I’m finally going to speak up for all the frustrated ladies out there I know - you know who you are.
This post is for those women. I am not saying that the people who say these things are not well meaning, or that they don’t care about the person involved. However, someone needs to come forward and let these people know that the things they are saying are not as helpful as they intend for them to be. So here it is –
The Things You Should Never, EVER Say to Someone Experiencing Fertility Issues:
“It’s part of God’s plan/God has a plan for us all.”
OK so first, they may or may not even believe in God, in which case you could be supremely irritating them if they don’t. On the off chance that you happen to know for sure that they do, I’m sorry, but that’s pretty sadistic to make people go through such a thing to have a child. If God exists and what we’ve gone through is his plan for me, then I have a few things to say to God, and the conversation isn’t going to be pretty. I’ve heard many (not all, but many) who DO believe in God that are equally troubled by this completely uncomforting statement and share this sentiment.
“When it’s meant to happen, it will happen.”
If you have ever uttered this phrase, then LISTEN UP! When you say this to a person, chances are they are smiling politely while envisioning in their head that they are kicking you in the shins and running away. Seriously people, this is definitely one of the top peeves among the infertility forums when we rant about this stuff. JUST…DON’T…SAY IT! It’s not comforting, it’s not helpful and it’s kind of implying that I’m meant to lose a baby at 16 weeks, have a failed IVF, have a chemical pregnancy…whatever the situation is at the time. Don’t say it – that is all.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
This is a variation on the phrase above, and people love to offer their omniscient wisdom regarding the tragic events of your life. Yet another solicitor for fantasized shin kicks, this unhelpful phrase will guarantee that the person you are speaking to will probably never seek solace in your words again.
“Just relax and it will happen!" -or- "I know 'so and so' and when they stopped trying they got pregnant!”
I feel obligated to add this after the overwhelming response, mostly because I forgot it and feel as strongly about it as the rest of you. For us, "relaxing" was not an option, because without assistance I sometimes couldn't even get my period on my own, much less ovulate, so the notion that we should "stop trying" to get pregnant was out of the question. I would like to find a person who finds it relaxing to inject yourself twice a day with emotion altering hormones, squeeze ultrasounds every other day into your schedule, have your swollen, tender ovaries stabbed to remove eggs, try to recover before embryos are implanted, and then wait for results. Might as well be in the Caribbean sipping Pina Coladas... It sounds SO RELAXING! Furthermore, I was playing beat the clock on losing my uterus, and in intense pain from my afflictions like adenomyosis. Whatever the situation is, you never know if that person has the option to simply "stop trying" and you certainly can't guarantee they'll be just like your Aunt Maureen and get pregnant when they do, so please keep these anecdotes to yourself.
“You can always adopt./Have you considered adoption?”
Well thank you, Captain Obvious! If you find yourself saying this, then you might as well stamp your forehead with a sign that says, “I’m completely ignorant and unsympathetic to your need to have a child.” We all know adoption is potentially an option, yet may not be financially attainable for some. Regardless of whether it’s a viable possibility or not, many of us have an aching in our heart to be pregnant, and to give birth to a baby. Bringing up adoption only widens the gaping wound in our soul that we may never be able to give birth to the baby that we long for.
So what CAN I say, you ask? For starters, don’t say anything. Listen, wipe their tears, give them hugs, check on them, and try to understand that their pain is very, very real, even though there may not be something tangible like a terminal illness or the loss of a person everyone knew that is causing it. Second, realize that they may be out of their minds under hormonal influence! I was never myself on those awful shots and pills, and it made it all the more difficult to cope with the emotional pain.
Ultimately, just show them that you care. Don’t offer them platitudes. Instead, offer to cook them dinner when they get home from their IVF egg retrieval and their ovaries are swollen like grapefruits. Drag them out to a funny movie when they find out that yet another cycle and round of daily injections in the belly have failed…again. Call them to check on them weeks after they’ve lost a pregnancy, just to see how they’re doing. Caring about their pain and not wincing or changing the subject just because it may involve mentions of ovaries or semen is the absolute BEST thing you can do! Overall, just be present. We get it that you will never be able to be truly empathetic to our suffering if you haven’t been through it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be there for us.
Amy Serotkin is dedicated to sustainable living and finding ways to eliminate toxins in her home. She is an avid organic gardener and cook, and is always looking for more ways to challenge herself to lessen her family's ecological imprint.
Her website, www.themindfulhome.blogspot.com, shares with consumers the information she's found on toxins and eco friendly products that help eliminate disposables or toxin exposure. She also hopes to highlight smaller retailers, crafters and manufacturers.