Though infertility can seem like a lonely row to hoe, I have managed to make some valuable and comforting connections with others who suffer similarly. We share tips about how to ease the searing pain of intramuscular injections, agonize over ridiculously pale lines on home pregnancy tests, and empathize heartily when a long time friend or sibling turns up pregnant without even trying. Sadly, many women I talk with have dozens of stories involving being hurt or offended by loved ones in regard to their infertility status. I like to think that, in most cases, the faux pas was entirely accidental (and largely unnoticed), but we infertiles have a special set of sensitivities that many cannot anticipate. I think the miscommunications can be broken down into three categories:
1) This is not a time for humor. I know you're just trying to help and lighten the mood, but it feels deeply offensive and distasteful when you jokingly offer us your own misbehaving kids or tease "You sure you want kids?!" Many of these women have experienced repeated miscarriages. And those who haven't often liken the painful years of waiting, the disappointments, the ever widening gap, to a kind of death. "It's like you're a mother," a friend told me one day, "but someone has locked up your child and won't let you see or meet him. You walk around feeling like you're incomplete, bereaved, haunted by the baby you can't find." If you wouldn't joke about someone's child dying, you probably shouldn't joke about their child failing to be born.
2) Don't minimize the problem. The worst. possible. thing. to say is, "Just relax, and it'll happen." SHUDDER. Other vile variations on the same theme include, "Just adopt, and then you'll get pregnant," and "Lots of women have healthy babies well into their 40s." Similarly, providing anecdotes of people on TV or someone's brother's aunt's boyfriend's hairdresser who had triplets naturally at 45 or who got pregnant as soon as they stopped treatment....not helpful. We know our chances. They're not good chances. Shaking a lucky rabbit food at us doesn't make math and science go away. It just tells us you don't get it. Relaxation and dumb luck are luxuries for the healthy.
3) Don't tune us out. If someone screws up the nerve to confide in you such an embarrassing, taboo problem, please be a good listener. It's a big deal to reveal that kind of medical and psychological pain. Yes, it may make you uncomfortable to hear about sperm or shots or ultrasounds, but think about how we must be feeling, facing all that invasive craziness mostly alone. This is a good time to put other preferences to the side for a moment and listen with your whole being. And finally, once you know, be sensitive about bringing it up again. Yes, many women would be relieved to have a genuine, "How are things?" volleyed their way. However, a brash text message like, "Hey, pregnant yet?! ;-)" is pretty much salt in the wound of a failed cycle.
If you're reading over this and thinking, "Whups! I've done one of those," it's okay. We forgive you. (Donations are a good way to avoid a karmic shin-kicking, however.) For those of you who've been awesome all along, and you know who you are, a million thanks.