Society would have us believe that what defines a woman is her ability to bring forth life. After all, being a mother is the highest status a woman can achieve. It’s what we were biologically made to do, right? The future of the human race depends on us.
But for those of us who suffer from infertility (1.5 million married women in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control), the ability to reach the status of biological motherhood is impossible, or at the very least, extremely difficult. Despite the available treatments, pills, and procedures, there’s a pretty good chance that we may never see our name in the mother box on a birth certificate. While there are certainly other paths to motherhood, the fact remains the same: We can’t do what our bodies are supposed to do naturally. We can’t conceive.
I personally don’t think that unless you’ve felt the soul-crushing weight of your own reproductive failures that you’ll ever understand how truly devastating being infertile is. I sincerely hope you never do. But with so many couples suffering from this affliction, it’s entirely likely that you know someone who is going through this very thing.
So for them, and myself, I ask you to never do the following:
Please don’t ask anyone, whether you know they’re infertile or not, about their reproductive plans.
It’s just gross. You’re essentially saying, “Hey, any big plans for your reproductive system this year?” It’s none of your business. While asking someone if they have kids is innocent enough, if the person says no, just let it go. If they want you to know they’re trying or they plan to in a few years, they’ll tell you.
Please don’t assume that because you didn’t get pregnant right away and had to try for six whole months you understand even one iota of what I’m experiencing.
I’ve been struggling with infertility for more than 10 years. While you’ve had your hopes dashed by a few negative pregnancy tests, I’ve had hundreds. While you’ve made sure to take your vitamins and studied all the best positions for conception, I’ve had countless needles shoved into my skin, taken endless drugs and hormones, had invasive procedure after invasive procedure done, and can draw detailed renditions of what my MRIs and ultrasounds look like. And in the end, you got pregnant—I didn’t.
Please don’t be offended when I don’t attend your baby shower or coo over your little one.
I’m not trying to diminish your joy. Quite the opposite, actually. If you knew how every second at your baby shower is going to slowly destroy me on the inside and that every time I look at your baby all I can see is every hope and dream I ever had for motherhood going up in flames, I imagine it wouldn’t be much fun for you either. And maybe that does make me selfish, to not just suck it up for your sake. But believe me, if I could lock this pain away and be there for you, I would in a heartbeat.
Please don’t offer me advice if I don’t ask for it.
I have a tumor on my pituitary gland, and my ovaries don’t work like they’re supposed to. No amount of standing on my head or making sure I’m relaxed is going to magically make me conceive. If you do offer me advice, I’ll likely grin and bear it. But believe me when I say, I’ve heard it all before. I’ve tried it a thousand times. And I want so badly to believe that what worked for your cousin’s best friend’s sister’s roommate in college will work for me too—but it won’t.
Please don’t assume that I’ll get over it in time.
It’s not a hamster that passed away—it’s supposed to be my biological right to bring a little piece of me into the world. I was six years into this journey when I lost my mind and had a meltdown in a craft store because I saw baby-themed scrapbooking stickers. The wounds today are as raw and painful as they were the day I was told that my shot of being a mommy didn’t exist. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at hiding it, but they’re still there.
Please don’t judge me for not wanting to adopt.
If you have had a biological child instead of adopting, you know exactly what it feels like to want to have your own child—you did it. The adoption process isn’t exactly easy or cheap.
Please don’t complain to me about your pregnancy.
I understand that swollen ankles and having to pee every few minutes is annoying. I get that gaining a ton of weight is frustrating. But please realize I would take your place in a heartbeat. I’d accept every horrible little thing to just know what being a mom feels like. But at the same time…
Please don’t exclude me or talk down to me.
I may not know what it’s like to give birth, but I’ve wiped a few butts in my time and can laugh at your funny kid story. If it’s too much for me, I’ll politely excuse myself or change the subject. And I won’t even be mad. Plus, I know moms who would kill to just have a 10-minute conversation with someone that doesn’t revolve around diaper rashes or the consistency of poo. I can totally be that person.
Please don’t assume that any other child will fill this hole in my heart.
I have a wonderful nephew and a beautiful niece. I’d lay down my life for my stepson, and I am so grateful for his existence in my life. But they’re not consolation kids. It doesn’t work like that.
Now, I’m sure I’ve painted infertile folks as ticking time bombs of emotion here, but I promise we’re not—at least not all the time. If you’re trying to support someone who is currently struggling, my biggest advice is just to ask what he or she needs. Remember, it’s a grieving process. Depending on where they are in that process, they may need you to listen as they cry it out or maybe to bring them a giant plate of nachos and a big glass of wine and never ever talk about babies. Pretty simple.