Infertility: it’s embarrassing, shameful, difficult, heart-breaking, and it tends to fill us with guilt. Above all infertility is misunderstood. Did you know that one in eight couples will have trouble getting pregnant? Or that there are plenty of individuals or different types of couples that must consider alternative family planning? Do you know the difference between in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI)?
For years, my husband and I navigated through the murky waters of infertility and rarely did we come across someone, even in the medical world, who truly understood infertility or what it means to go through it. From well-meaning friends and family to medical offices filled with pregnant women, there were plenty of people who didn’t know what infertility was or what to say to someone experiencing it. This outsider experience tends to leave those of us who live through it with scars.
Generally, people who have been untouched by infertility offer a whole gamut of “comforting” or “problem solving” words. “It will happen when you least expect it” or “you just need to relax” are common phrases uttered by clueless but well-intentioned individuals who have zero insight into our lives or habits. Those people are not medical professionals and, nine times out of ten, no one has solicited their opinion on infertility.
And yes, we’ve heard of all the options. We live in an age where information is available at our fingertips. So, you can bet that I and the other infertile beings have researched any recourses that haven’t been already presented to us by medical professionals (or even if they have, we’ve looked it up ourselves). We know about IUI, IVF, surrogacy, and adoption.
Inevitably, someone says the thing I hate to hear the most: “Everything will work out.” I understand this can carry a ton of different meanings. It can mean that there is still a bright side to life. It can mean that you think I will get pregnant, or find a surrogate, or adopt a child. It usually means that you think I will, at some point in the future, expand our family one way or another. But the reality is that it may not work out. There is no one solution for infertility.
When faced with a potential unanticipated and unwelcome future, most people prefer to cope with it their own way. That usually includes seeing a picture with realistic possibilities. The feasibility of eventually getting pregnant, or using a surrogate, or adopting a child, or anything else you can think of may not be on the horizon for someone. Infertility is a journey that must be taken in small steps, and on one’s own terms. It’s a delicate balance between gazing down at empty arms and dreaming about scientifically assisted possibilities.
We may be researching adoption or surrogacy on our own or as a couple, but unless we choose to share that, it’s none of your business. Before you open your mouth, please consider the unfortunate couples and individuals out there who are dealing with this invisible grief. We don’t want your pity, or your advice, and we don’t want your opinion.
I realize that all this sounds skeptical, and like I’m sounding false alarm bells telling you to stay distant from your infertile friends, but there are some actions that can feel supportive and helpful. It is important that men and women who are walking this long road feel like they are not alone. We need awareness. We need to know that you’ll try to understand how hard this is. Support doesn’t mean you have been where I’ve been and that you know exactly what to say all the time. It means that you are there to listen. Infertile or not, most of us just want to be heard or to have our feelings validated.
People tend to say things that are unrealistic because they believe that offering false hope is better than not offering anything. But here’s the thing: Sometimes you don’t need to offer anything but a shoulder.
If you have friends or family members who are dealing with infertility don’t shy away from the subject unless they’ve specifically asked you to. It adds insult to injury to make someone feel like infertility is a taboo subject. Ask them what you can do. Ask them what you can avoid doing. Try to recognize what might feel insensitive to them. Be there to listen. And then, let us decide how to cope.