Monday, April 21, 2014

Top 5 Things Not to Say to Someone With Infertility


*Resolve to Know More Blog 2 of 7
for National Infertility Awareness Week 2014

We all want to say that perfect thing when someone we care for is suffering. But sometimes those words can cause more pain than comfort. I have suffered with infertility for five years, and I have heard all of the below comments just after a miscarriage. All of them made me feel worse, though I know they were said with love and good intention. The truth is, the only words that usually mean anything are simply, "I am so sorry this happened," or "You don't deserve this," or "I am here for you." That's it! They are so simple, but words I have cherished when heard, and listened to in my mind when I needed comfort. 

Here are the Top 5 Things Not to Say to Someone with Infertility:

1. “There’s Always Adoption.”

This is my number one least favorite thing to hear when someone knows I’m suffering with fertility issues. I know it is said with good intention, but most people have no idea what goes into adopting a child. (The only time I was not offended by this suggestion was when it was recently offered by an old friend who is a parent of an adopted child. I was given real facts and been-there-done-that advice, and it was good food for thought, and it was not unsolicited.) Anyone else that flippantly offers this advice, or tells me to check out a foster care agency, has only made me feel worse. All I want is EMPATHY, as in, “I am so sorry you are suffering. I am here for you.”

That said, adoption is a long, stressful, astronomically expensive process that is as uncertain as fertility treatments. It is not a lightly made decision, and sometimes the adoption falls through, which can be as devastating as the loss of a baby.

There is an intense screening process that not everyone can pass. It usually involves flying halfway around the world on your own dime to go get your child once the whole year or more-long-process is finally approved. If a couple has spent many years and many thousands of dollars on fertility treatments, there is a good chance they will not have the funds to start from scratch with an adoption process.

Adoption also involves a whole other loss of saying goodbye to the idea of having a child that is genetically linked to you. Adoption can be a wonderful option for family building, but it isn’t something you can “just do.” It is a very long and complicated process that involves a lot. A whole lot. 

If adoption were as easy as just walking into the drugstore and finding a nice selection of racially diverse babies on sale next to the 75 brands of shampoo, I’d probably have more kids than the Duggars. Please do not tell me “I can always adopt.”

2. “Go on a Vacation and Relax, and you’ll get pregnant!”

This one is almost tied with number 1, except I can laugh at the silliness in this comment! Most people, especially women, are quite hard on ourselves when faced with infertility—as if there is something we have done or not done that caused this terrible string of experiences. But infertility is a disease that happens to us; it is not something we bring on to ourselves. So telling us to “relax” implies that we are somehow to blame. Infertility is a disease with specific diagnoses and treatments.  Some pregnancies cannot be maintained without close monitoring and medications. You wouldn’t go tell someone with a terrible cardiac condition to just go to the beach and relax, would you? You would probably want that person to seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

Also, infertility is not just about “getting pregnant.” It is about getting pregnant, staying pregnant, having a normal fetus, and achieving a live birth. If I went on a vacation to relax and get preggers, maybe I could. But I can almost guarantee you it would end in a horrible miscarriage. I’ve already had four losses—one life-threatening—and I don’t need anymore.

On top of that, I can’t tell you how many women I know in the two week wait, myself included, who have meditated, sought acupuncture, lit candles, and have participated in all sorts of voodoo magic to try to just relax, in fear that even a smidgeon of stress would ruin the chances of implantation. The pressure we already put on ourselves to relax is immeasurable. Please don’t add to it by telling us to relax. People with infertility need to be told to “relax” like they need a hole in the head. 

3. "Look at [insert over-40 Hollywood Celeb name Here]! See? Lots of women are having babies in their 40s!"
Oh this one is a doozy. I am not going to list names, but those Hollywood women well into their 40s who are having babies? They aren’t just popping them out! By not being open about their fertility issues, they are perpetuating the horrible lie in our society that women can easily have babies well into their 40s. Here are facts: a woman over 45 has a 5% chance of even getting pregnant on her own, with a 69% chance of infertilty. Yes, women are having babies well into their forties, but that is because of the amazing science of assisted reproductive techniques (ART). 

If you hear of a 47-year-old woman in Hollywood (or anywhere) having just given birth, I will bet you all my living room furniture and a pair of shoes that she used donor eggs. Donor eggs are an amazing option today for women with infertility, but most people don’t even know about this. Even if a celebrity is reluctant to share her experience with donor eggs, she could help countless women suffering in silence by disclosing that she had fertility treatments, and encourage others to do the same. 

4.  “It is God’s Plan.”

 I have had my deepest spiritual searches in the midst of fertility issues, so it isn’t God or His plan I have an issue with. It is that I want you to be angry with me, hurt with me, feel the unfairness of it all with me…and just plain empathize. Telling me “it is God’s plan,” or that it “wasn’t meant to be” feels somehow like a diminishing of my own feelings, or even that I deserve what happened to me. Plus, as most of us know, dealing with grief and loss can test one’s faith.

5. “Just Do IVF!”

Rather than explain to you why people with infertility don’t want to hear “just do IVF,” I will list a few facts about IVF:

  • One cycle costs between $12,000 and $25,000, and is often not covered by insurance

  • IVF doesn’t always work the first cycle

  • IVF involves weeks of self-injecting hormones into various parts of the body, dealing with side effects, and going to the doctor every morning for close monitoring, along with surgery under anesthesia to extract eggs.

  • Sometimes a cycle is canceled before it is completed because the body doesn’t respond to the meds.

  • Depending on the diagnosis, some couples need donor eggs, donor sperm, embryo genetic testing, a surrogate, or other treatments, which add on many more thousands of dollars per cycle.
All that said, I want to disclose that I had a successful IVF cycle the first time we tried (my beautiful angel of a daughter is here!), and it was covered 100% by our insurance. I don’t want to scare anyone away from the option, I just want supporters of people with infertility to understand that it is not something you can “just do,” like getting your teeth cleaned.

Love and peace to all of you on your journey!

*In support of National Infertility Awareness Week  (and my own healing process), I have hijacked my own cooking blog to come out of the closet and discuss infertility. I hope that these blog entries will help—even if just a little bit— lift the terrible stigma that surrounds this disease. The amazing people involved with the non-profit organization Resolve have supported me every step of the way on this 5-year-long, insane journey. I will always be grateful.

I would be honored if you would help spread awareness by sharing this blog on your Facebook, Twitter or other social media pages!


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