It's day number two of national infertility awareness week today. I've mentioned in the past that part of our journey to adoption came out of a struggle with infertility. Adoption has always been a part of our life plan, so I want to be careful to emphasize that we wanted to adopt regardless of the state of our biological family, but our adoption time line has definitely changed because of our struggle.
Still, infertility is a topic close to my heart. Over the past few months I have been privileged to have many women open up to me and share their infertility stories; most much longer and more painful than my own. There is nothing quite like the silent empty ache of infertility. Most women will describe it like a "rollercoaster" of emotions; every month brings with a cycle of hope, then anxiety, fear, anger, and sorrow. These women know the dread of a basal body temperature dip, the sting of a negative pregnancy test, and the wind-knocked-out-of-you feeling of seeing another cycle start again.
The road to conception is a very private journey between a couple which often plays out as a beautiful secret between the two. But when the conception journey turns into an infertility struggle that privacy quickly turns into a devastating loneliness. The decision to share an infertility struggle is a personal and difficult one. For years before we tried to conceive, I dreamed of how we would share the "we're pregnant!" announcement with our families. I had lists and lists of fun ideas. I envisioned the surprise, the delighted screams and happy hugs from our parents and siblings, over and over again. I was especially excited because I knew our announcement would be the "first grandchild" announcement as well. When we shared our struggle, I was keenly aware that I had lost that dream. Instead of crying with joy, I shared our struggle with a broken voice and hot painful tears on my cheeks.
One in eight couples has struggled through infertility. Even if you haven't heard the stories, someone you know has dealt or is dealing with this pain. Trying to "be there" for a friend who is going through infertility is very similar to being there for a friend who is grieving. Just like we never know what to say when a friend looses a loved one, it is hard to know what to say to someone who is struggling through infertility. As someone who has been there and who will be there again someday, here's my best advice:
Just say, "I'm so sorry. I'm here for whatever you need."
Most of us want to offer solutions when we face a problem. In the face of infertility those "solutions" often come in the form of well-meaning but insensitive comments like, "Just relax- it will happen!" or "Have you thought about adoption?" or "My cousin did xyz treatment and BAM got pregnant right away." Let me just tell you- hearing these things in the midst of infertility sucks. Saying "just relax" doesn't make me relax. Adoption is not a replacement for fertility. And every couple's journey through infertility is different; just because your cousin got pregnant doesn't mean we will.
Also, be sensitive about pregnancy and kid-talk. Personally I still love hearing my friends talk about the joys of their pregnancies and the blessing of their children. But some women won't. For me, it really hurts to hear women complain about pregnancy or kids. I don't mean things like a close friend honestly sharing her trials, but things like a facebook broadcast saying, "PREGNANCY SUCKS! I can't WAIT for this to be OVER!!!" That may be good and true, but to an infertile like me, it's salt in a wound. So is saying something like, "Be glad you don't have kids because mind are driving me crazy!" or "You're sooooo lucky you still get to sleep in!!!"
Trust me, I'd rather be throwing up or awake at 5am with a screaming baby than nursing my broken heart. Please hear me: I'm not saying pregnancy and motherhood aren't difficult. I'm saying be sensitive about how you share those trials with someone who would give anything to have them herself.
That's the best response.
I'll end with my favorite infertility related quote- one by Laura Bush who herself endured this trial:
The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence. For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child or friend, we have all manner of words and phrases, some helpful some not. Still we are conditioned to say something, even if it is only “I’m sorry for your loss.” But for an absence, for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent ephemeral shadows over their lives. Who can describe the feel of a tiny hand that is never held?
If you are reading this and you are struggling through an infertility journey, I am folding my hands and closing my eyes and whispering many ferverent prayers for you this week. God hold you and keep you and give you peace. I'm so sorry for your pain.
With tenderness- xo.