December 29, 2011

WHAT NOT TO SAY TO AN INFERTILE FRIEND

I really enjoyed the book The Empty Picture Frame.  It struck just the right tone between mild sarcasm and heartfelt anguish.  CVG got it for me a long time ago, and I held on to it and then read it at just the right time, I think.


I have scoured the internet for a summary of the last chapter, but no luck.  I hope the author won't mind if I copy excerpts here, because she did such a good job writing a chapter about what not to say to an infertile person.  And I think everyone should read that chapter, not just people who have the need to buy that book.

OK, things not to say to your friends who are having trouble conceiving.  Ever.  Just really, don't go to these topics unless you've been having a conversation for over and hour and then you very tactfully work them in.  But it's probably safer to just avoid it altogether.

1) The story of "the person I know who was in your situation and it worked for them"

Jenna's words:

I think it's part of the human experience to want to connect with those we love.  We want to let them know they aren't alone and that there are others out there who have gone through this.  The problem is, unless you were one of those people, the anecdote about the friend of a second cousin who had twins after her IVF isn't a story that's going to help.

She goes on to explain that if you have to resort to your second cousin's friend, you really don't understand what the experience is like in any meaningful sense.  Plus, telling someone an anecdote about success while she is still living the journey of failure just makes her feel worse.  I also think it's dismissive of the agony.  Glossing over a story by saying "they had to do IVF twice but then they had twins!" cannot possibly convey the years of heartache and struggle and pain and expense that couple had to go through to get those twins.  And how lucky they were in the end to have it work.

2)  "You are so stressed out about having a baby. Why don't you try to relax; go on a vacation, take a break from thinking about this."

My least favorite by far.  

Jenna's words:

Many infertiles, like me, live in a perpetual state of fear, excitement, and crushing disappointment.  To suggest that a vacation is going to fix their problems does nothing more than trivialize those feelings.

She goes on to accurately say that many fertility problems, like irregular ovulation or balanced translocations, are actual medical issues and not something that going to Hawaii will make go away.  If there were some magical place on the planet where my chromosomes would get sorted out, trust me, I would fly there tomorrow.

It's also rude to suggest that infertility is all in someone's head.  Telling them not to stress out, or to relax, implies that they are somehow creating their own infertility.  When you want a baby very badly, being told that you are causing the problem by stressing out makes you...stress out.

3)  "I know someone who adopted after years of trying, and then they got pregnant on their own."

Yep, we've all heard of someone like this.  My own grandmother did this: my mother was conceived after her older brother was adopted.  It does happen.  Unfortunately, anecdotes are not statistics.  As Jenna writes, "Adoption isn't a cure for infertility, no more so than a wig is a cure for cancer."  I am lucky that my translocation only affects my ability to procreate.  Some women who have severe endometriosis or other medical issues, their infertility affects their entire medical wellbeing, not just their ability to have kids.  They have to manage their pain and disease all the time.  Adopting a baby may solve the "not having a baby" but it doesn't solve the "having to have repeated surgeries to scrape unwanted growths from your guts" problem.

Furthermore, it is completely insensitive to offhandedly suggest adoption as a solution.  It is offensive to everyone involved.

Jenna's words:

Adoption is a lifetime commitment to a child.  It is not a consolation prize for the loser of a game show.  Children are a blessing, and adopted children are as much of a blessing to infertiles as they would be to fertile people.  Yet many assume that adoption is reserved only for those who cannot conceive naturally.  If you are a fertile parent to biological children and have made a suggestion of adoption to someone who is working through infertility treatments, you should ask yourself why you didn't adopt.

Word.  If it's so easy for you to throw it out there as a solution, why didn't you consider doing it?

I also might add that it's just simply not that easy.  "Why don't you just adopt?" sounds like you think you can just waltz into the Baby Store and pick up a kid on discount.  Adoption is expensive.  It's time-consuming.  It's a personally invasive process where your whole life is under scrutiny to make sure you're "fit" to raise a child.  And it's not a guarantee either: adoptions can fall through, biological parents can change their minds, a lot can happen.  You don't just decide it's time to adopt and then get a baby next week.  It should not be mentioned as "the easy way out".

I would like to add another one here that was not in Jenna's book:

4)  "Why don't you just do IVF?"

I have been getting asked this a lot lately.  As if it's simple.  As if it's a no-brainer.  Just do IVF and then you'll have a baby.  Except it's not that simple either.  IVF is expensive.  The form I would have to do with the preimplantation genetic diagnosis costs about $20,000.  And there's no guarantee of success.  Poor Julia did IVF with PGD three times.  People keep acting like it's a simple process of tossing out my bad eggs and implanting the good ones.  It has really started to upset me, because there is nothing simple about it.  IVF is painful.  It is "unnatural" (in the sense that you have to pump your body full of drugs to create extra eggs and then you have to force your body with more drugs to become a receptive home for embryos.)  That is not easy, and I am amazed by the women I know who have gone through it.  It is not simple at all.  And it's not a suggestion to throw out there offhandedly, unless you have 20 grand lying around that you'd be willing to contribute, and you'd be willing to give the lady all her shots in the backside.  And take shots in the backside yourself.

And please, it's not a suggestion to bombard me with 30 minutes after I learn this current baby is dead.  If the old baby is still inside your friend, please don't harass her with your ideas of what to do for the next time.  It's too soon.

5) "Have you tried..."

Jenna is right: if your friend is serious about conceiving, she has read every tip there is to read.  My body has gotten better at getting pregnant over the years, but back before BabyGrok I was reading obscure data from a study about the optimal timing for both male and female orgasm, to give the best push for sperm forward before the woman's body releases a hormone around her cervix that prevents new sperm from competing.  So yeah, your suggestion of "are you sure you're timing intercourse with ovulation?" is pretty basic.  I was well beyond that in knowledge and experimentation.  Ask your friend what kind of things they've tried before you offer Conception 101 advice.

Oh, and that brings us back to stress: when your friend is so desperate for a baby that she cries because the timing is a bit off and they missed the window for the best time for her to get pregnant (within two minutes after female orgasm, less than 24 hours before ovulation), then we're well past her being able to Just Relax! and Enjoy Yourself!

6) "Be grateful for what you do have" aka "things could be worse"

Jenna's words:

Minimizing someone's experiences is no way to be a good friend.  Everyone has a story to share and a struggle that, to them, feels like the most they could possibly handle.  Telling them that their issue is essentially not that big of a deal...isn't the way to make them feel validated or empowered.

Most people with infertility issues have done enough googling to know that it can always be worse.  I have a translocation and have had six miscarriages that end in the very beginning.  I know of a worse translocation even: Julia's had 11 miscarriages that drag on for weeks longer than mine do.  With heartbeats and everything.  I know of many ways it could be worse; I don't need other people to remind me of it.

7) Don't use the "look on the bright side" approach

Jenna explains how someone tried to point out all the silver linings to never having kids, like that you could always sleep in and you won't have to save for college tuition.

The only thing I can equate to this would be to suggest that if your house burned down, and someone said to you, "Well at least you won't have to worry about a heating bill" or if you lost a loved one and someone said, "Think of the money you'll save on birthday presents."

Absolutely never ever ever use this line of reasoning.

This applies to miscarriage as well.  Just last week, one response I got to telling the news that our baby was dead was "At least now you can drink on New Year's!"  Really?  Really?

Jenna goes on to say that it probably sounds like nothing you say will be right, and I have written before that sometimes this will be true.  But her advice is to listen and to ask questions.  Don't give advice, don't recount anecdotes, just be a friend and let her talk.

And ask her how she's doing, instead of waiting for her to bring it up.  

Some people are private about these things.  I am not.  I love cashing these chips.  I need to, repeatedly, as many times as you'll let me.

And I appreciate that you listen.

Posted by: Sarah at 11:35 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
Post contains 1759 words, total size 12 kb.

1 Love, prayers and hugs to you and your family.

Posted by: Tracey at December 29, 2011 11:19 PM (wKx+4)

2 Well said. You and your family are in my thoughts.

Posted by: To the Nth at December 30, 2011 09:49 AM (z4WHR)

3 I tend to also not be private about this situation ..
So I read the entire post on my iPhone and was talking to myself with Preach it! Amen! Oh Sarah!!! and my hubby kept sticking his head into the room with 'What's going on?!' ... and than he heard and agreed wholeheartedly. Now I'm going to have to add this book to my Kindle.
It's funny how after all that we go through it's still far too easy to think 'Maybe we'll get pregnant the first month back from deployment because we are at an awesome upswing after the fertilitydrugdriven relationshipalmostdivorcespiral. Because a lot of people get LUCKY and the planets lineup and doctor's diagnosises and my invsible unproductive eggs be DAMMNED.'
Maybe there's another way ... she says as she prepares herself to barrel headlong down the adoption rabbit.
This truly sums it up "Unfortunately, anecdotes are not statistics." Neither are they golden eggs, fairy godmothers or the lucky ones.
Air high five from one dysfuncitonal girl to another!

Posted by: Darla at January 04, 2012 07:44 AM (s4dCG)

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