For many months, I have wanted to write this post. If I had written it after our infertility diagnosis, it would have been laced with anger, resentment, and bitterness. I knew I needed time to process through my grief and new reality.
Even though adoption has ALWAYS been a part of plan A for us, it was still adjusting the future we imagined in our minds. It is only natural to mourn that our bodies don’t work the way they are supposed to. It is only natural to want to see a little part of you and a little part of the person you love in this world. It is only natural to wonder what this child would look like, act like, dislike, etc.
And when you hear loved ones say that your little niece or nephew looks just like so and so in the family or acts just like so and so, it is only natural to pause, to think, and to realize that those comments won’t happen as naturally with your kids. And that’s okay.
And it’s okay that B and I grieved. Actually, it is necessary and healthy.
Grief isn’t pretty. Grief is messy. Sometimes, grief doesn’t make sense. There were many days I did not feel like myself and wondered why I could not course correct. “Come on M, snap out of it!” Some days, it took everything for me to get ready for work, go to work, turn on my computer, teach class, and go home. Every day, I went home right at 5:00. I was needed at home. I needed to be home. We were hurting. B voiced this same experience.
Like me, I am sure others wondered, “What’s wrong with her? Why can’t she snap out of it?”
In a culture obsessed with immediate gratification, we want others to immediately be okay. But, to expect that of people who are grieving is not healthy. Yeah, sure, it is uncomfortable to see people grieve, but it is necessary that we allow those we love to grieve–to get angry, to be sad, to hurt, to ask the tough questions that don’t have answers, to ask tough questions that YOU cannot answer. In a world of immediate everything, we want to provide immediate answers and reasons why. But, we cannot. We should resist the temptation to.
And most of all, it is important that we do not make light of their situation. On the outside, you might wonder, “Why is it so hard for them to accept their infertility diagnosis?” However, that is easy when you haven’t received that diagnosis–when you have not been in their shoes. And even if you have received that diagnosis, every person is different.
We know that people were sad for us and hurting for us, but that is different than the hurt and grief we had to process through. They are different.
This is not the only traumatic thing we’ve experienced in life, but for us, infertility has been the hardest–not to make light of other things we have experienced. Every infertile couple I’ve talked to has said, “I would not wish this on my worst enemy.”
And this is where the blog post takes an uncomfortable but important turn.
Sometimes, the stuff we say adds to the hurt. Sometimes the stuff we don’t say adds to the hurt.
Walking through this road of infertility, I became aware of my own ridiculous ways of responding to other people in a time of grief. I recognized things I had done (or not) and things I had said (or left unsaid) that can add hurt.
I realize that when people we love are dealing with grief, we feel lots of pressure. I know people around us felt pressure. “What do I say to them?” and “Do I say anything?” “Do I act like I know or is it best to act like I don’t know they are infertile, even though I know they are?” “Do I give them advice?” or “Do I send them scripture?”
Each person is different, but I want to share some of the positive and negative ways people we LOVE responded to us. Why do I write this? Well, I have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of women I know who are infertile–amazing women. There are a lot of us. And, there aren’t many books that give advice about what to say and what not to say to a loved one who is infertile. Second, it is the holiday season, and research suggests that the holiday season is especially hard for those who are going through fertility treatments or those who are infertile and not going through treatments.
So walking through this, I have learned a lot about how I want to respond to those who are hurting. Some of this might only pertain to infertility, but, a lot of it relates to other types of grief. Let me say this, the most rewarding part of infertility has been that B and I have experienced such healing love from people we did not really know before this. However, just as frequently, we heard hurtful things from people. We aren’t angry, but we were.
So what do you do when a friend is told she/he is infertile or (insert other bad news here)?
– Ask what your friend needs. Communicate that you want to be the type of friend that he or she needs and that you want to know what help looks like for them. Then, even if it is uncomfortable for you, be that type of friend.
– For example, both B and I did not want people to send us scripture. That might seem absurd to others, but it felt so cliche. On our own, we were reading through Scripture privately and as a couple, but it seemed like a lot of people just wanted to email us Romans 8:28. Only a couple of friends asked what type of help we needed, and when we said, “Please don’t send us scripture” they listened. This might only be us, but it felt so cliche–that the cliche “Christian” thing to do was to google “Scripture for grief” and copy and paste that into an email. However, there were times when others told me about something they were learning at Bible study, like anguish, and how it was important to process through this–that did not hurt us. It felt like they were saying, “M, it is only natural to feel anguish.” That helped. I think this highlights the importance of my first point–ask your friend what kind of friend they need–and know that this will change during the different stages of grief.
– Don’t make jokes about their infertility diagnosis or light of their pain (even if they do at times). Many times, people said insensitive comments such as:
- Wow, think about how much you’ll save now that you don’t have to pay for birth control (B and I are still making payments on all of our infertility tests. These tests cost far more than birth control, and most insurance plans don’t pay for these.)
- Oh, I am so jealous that you never have to worry, “Am I pregnant?” That would be awesome to just have fun and never worry. My spouse just said, “M and B are so lucky.”
- Just think about the millions of dollars you will save by not having children
- Meh, children are a pain anyways. They aren’t really worth it.
– Resist the temptation to tell your infertile friends about
- Your friend of a friend who, once she adopted, got pregnant. Resist saying, “I bet as soon as you adopt, you’ll get pregnant.”
- Your friend of a friend who, once she stopped trying to get pregnant, got pregnant.
– Don’t tell your friends your personal beliefs about surrogacy, IVF, IUI, Clomid, adoption, etc. unless they ask. Don’t tell them what you think they should do unless they ask. The *only* infertility treatment that *might* work for us is IVF, however, the chances are not good for us because of things I don’t want to say online. We talked about this at length with our doctors, we did our research, we talked to each other, we talked to wise friends, we talked to other couples who’ve walked through infertility, and we made a decision for us–just for us. There were a lot of people who offered unsolicited theological arguments of why we should or should not consider certain options. These comments were never helpful. However, I am so, so, so, so, so, so grateful for all of the families who privately shared with us which fertility treatments they chose or did not. I am thankful they let us ask questions. I am so thankful that these families celebrated with us when we made the best decision for us at this time in our lives, even when that was different from their own personal decision. Walking through this, I learned that each woman needs to listen to her body, and do what she feels is right. I will never criticize another woman for choosing IVF over adoption or adoption over IVF. It is a personal choice. Women, we should support one another. Infertility, without the criticism from others, is hard. Being a woman is hard.
– Don’t say, “Just be strong. Be strong.” Yeah.
– Don’t say, “You need to be joyful” or “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Some people made it seem like it was not Christian to be sad. Being sad and experiencing grief are different than not experiencing joy. Also, I never realized how many women in the Bible are infertile. The Bible highlights their grief and anguish. The Lord uses this in profound ways. He only criticizes Sarah’s response of laughing at God–not Hannah’s and not Elizabeth’s. They hurt. They are angry. I mean, read the story of Hannah. She is in so much anguish that the priest thinks she is drunk. Sometimes, I was drunk with grief. My world was spinning, It did not make sense. I was slower to react and respond. I did not always make sense. For healing to take place, we have to experience grief and anguish.
– I needed to know that people supported me no matter what decision I made.
– When people said, “I’m sorry” it helped.
– When people acted like they did not know, even though we knew they did, it hurt. It was like that big, hairy moose in the room that everyone sees, but no one acknowledges. Just say, “I am sorry.” It is more awkward not acknowledging it, than acknowledging it. If you are worried about bringing it up at work, send a card. That way, the couple can open it when they are ready. I think there are times people don’t want to bring up pain at work, which is legitimate! So, send a card.
– Don’t try to tell them why God is allowing this to happen. A lot of people told us bad theology of why this was happening.
– Just listen. Too often, our tendency is to offer advice–crappy advice. Just listen.
– It is amazing how healing food, dessert, etc. are. When people made me food, I felt comforted. Then, making dinner was one less thing to think about.
– If your grieving friend has the courage to say, “When you say ‘______’, it hurts me because of where I am in my grief.” Don’t respond out of anger. Listen, they are trying to tell you ways to love them, and if you love them, no matter how hard it is to hear, you should honor what they said. Thank your friend for telling you this.
– If you invite a friend to your shower, a friend who you know is going through infertility testing or treatment, be understanding if they cannot attend your shower. Now, I could totally attend a shower. Before, it would have been harmful.
– The hundreds of notes and cards were healing. Lots of you said, “I’m sorry. And, I don’t know what to say.” Thanks for being honest.
– I am so grateful for my tight knit group of friends who would ask, and still ask, “How are you doing with your infertility?” And then they listened. Even if I sounded crazy, they’d say, “That’s a legitimate feeling.” When I decided not to go to a shower, they’d say, “I am so proud of you for making that decision for yourself.”
Walking through the pain of infertility, I became embarrassingly aware of the hurtful things I said to other people, and this experience taught me how I need to change. At one point, I called one of my close friends to apologize for saying hurtful things to her during a life changing event in her life.
If you read any of these, and are fearful you said them to us, don’t worry. B and I are guilty of these.
Please understand that the spirit of this post is not vindictive. I just know so many women and men who are infertile, and I know many more of us who love people who are or will be. We all need help responding to those we love when they hurt.