I know that for many of you who haven’t gone through infertility or the loss of a child, you probably find it difficult at times to relate to those who have. It’s often very awkward for us, too. You don’t want to talk about your baby, because you don’t want us to feel bad, and we don’t want to talk about infertility, because we think you don’t understand. So, we both ignore it, and hem and haw, and sometimes end up losing a friendship. In times of difficulty and tragedy, well-meaning people often say things in an attempt to be helpful, but sometimes those compassionately spoken words are heard as insensitive, and sometimes even nonsensical. For instance, after my mother died, people frequently asked me the simple question “how are you?” I know they were just trying to express care, but most times, I wanted to throw something, maybe slap them, and say “My mom just died. How do you think I am?”
I can’t speak for all women who have lost children or the ability to conceive, but I can offer a few of my own insights on what we may be thinking and feeling. Perhaps this will help to alleviate some of the awkwardness, and make the journey a little less lonely for the women (and men, as well), who are grieving.
1. Include us in your lives! We already feel very left out, so please don’t make it worse by excluding us.
-Don’t unfriend us on Facebook because you are afraid your announcements and pictures will make us feel bad. You’re right–they will, but please let us make the decision about what we want to see. We’re interested in the rest of your life, too, and we hope that you’re interested in ours as well.
-Similarly, invite us to baby showers. Again, we may be hurt, but we generally want to be happy for you. That being said, please don’t be offended if we decide not to come after all, or if we leave early. Maybe we just can’t handle it that day, or maybe we’re trying not to rain on your parade. As I said, please let the decision whether or not to attend be our decision. If we don’t get invited, we’ll feel left out and unwanted.
-Don’t forget that there is more to our lives than infertility and/or loss (and there’s more to your life than pregnancy and babies). If we were friends before you got pregnant, or before our infertility diagnosis, we’d probably like to continue to be your friend. Find some common ground to build a friendship with us: hobbies, recipes, pets, travel, homemaking, etc.
2. Please don’t be afraid of letting us hold your baby. We’re not going to hurt him or kidnap him. Sure, the thought of stealing a baby might have occurred to us in one of our darkest moments, but we’re not in a Lifetime movie. If we ask to hold your baby, it’s because we really want to, and feel like we can handle it at that moment. If we truly didn’t want to, we wouldn’t ask.
3. Please don’t use phrases like “start a family.” We are a family, even if there’s only two of us. That started on our wedding day, and you might have been there to see it happen.
4. Please don’t assume that we don’t know anything about pregnancy, babies, or children in general. We may not have your first-hand experience, but we might have an idea that would work for whatever problem you’re trying to solve. And if we’re wrong, well, maybe you can use the experience to teach us something that we can use someday.
5. We know that you mean well and are trying to encourage and comfort us, but please don’t tell us that we “would be such a good mother!” Even if it’s true, it feels like rubbing salt in our wounds.
6. Please don’t stop talking suddenly about baby things when we walk into the room. (Also, don’t whisper to one another in front of us.) That only makes us feel like you are talking about us, even when we know logically that you probably aren’t. Again, please let us make the decision about whether we want to be a part of the conversation. We can leave the room on our own if we feel uncomfortable.
7. Please, please, please, grieve with us sometimes. We try to share your happiness–don’t we deserve the same? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how to do this, but just saying “I’m so sorry” doesn’t really seem like enough.
8. Please try to avoid complaining about your pregnancy or your children to us. We understand that you need to vent sometimes, but we’re not really a sympathetic audience. We’d be happy to have morning sickness for an entire year if it meant we got to have a baby at the end of it, and we’d much rather stay up all night with a crying baby than stay up all night crying ourselves because we can’t have a baby.
9. Please be aware that we’re tired–really, really tired. Sometimes our hormones are completely off-kilter all on their own, and sometimes we are on medications that put us out of whack. We often have gone through a host of painful, uncomfortable, and humiliating medical procedures. Sometimes we’re just worn out from crying. Our husbands are worn out, too, from the heavy responsibilities of caring for us, and from managing their own grief. Many of us would appreciate have a meal brought over, as you do when someone has major surgery or a death in the family.
10. Please, please, please, a million times please–do not ask us if we’ve “ever thought of adopting.” Yes, of course we have! Why in the world would you think we haven’t? But the process of adopting a human is not like adopting a puppy. It’s not a fertility treatment, as if adopting a child will somehow enable us to conceive. It’s something that dramatically changes the life of many people in ways you may not imagine, and isn’t to be taken lightly.
11. Along those same lines, please don’t ask us if we’ve thought of trying treatments A, B, and C, or if we’ve ever heard of this, that, or the other option. Believe me, we have. We’ve thought of, and possibly tried, every option you can think of, as well as some that you don’t even know exist. We know enough infertility and pregnancy lingo and acronyms to fill a truckload of books.
12. Another in the “we know you’re trying to help, but…” category–please don’t tell us all about how you or other people you know got pregnant, no matter how dramatic or interesting the story is. Unless you’re our RE, you don’t know the particulars of our case. Another woman’s success is no guarantee of ours, and it just makes us feel like even more of a failure to hear about yet another person who achieved what we can’t. (If you’re still trying to figure out what RE stands for, it’s reproductive endocrinologist.)
13. Even when our churches wisely and compassionately choose not to publically acknowledge Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day,) it still may be too much for some of us to handle. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate those of you who are trying to be sensitive to our grief! It’s just that even if no one says “Happy Mother’s Day” from the pulpit, we still have to see mothers wearing corsages and children giving Mother’s Day crafts to their mothers after church. We overhear conversations about breakfasts in bed, gifts, and being taken out to dinner. Just the knowledge that there are mothers in the room is enough to make some of us want to run for the hills and hide. We’re not asking you to tones down your own celebrations, because we know that you deserve a special day! We just want you to understand why we might not be at church that day, or why we might not answer the phone.
14. Finally–and most importantly–for those of you who are Christians, please DO remind us that God is sovereign,completely in control, and has a plan for us! But please don’t do it in a glib, cliché-ish way. Sometimes we won’t want to hear it, and even though we may believe it’s true, we don’t always like it. We need you to remind us lovingly of that truth, while still acknowledging that our grief and hurt are real.
The grief that infertile couples go through over their inability to have a child is often treated as if it is not real grief, or as if it is a lesser grief than miscarriage, stillbirth, or other deaths. But the truth is, that for these families, the sorrow they feel is just as real and just as deep as the sorrow felt by parents who have lost a child in any other way. But because of the nature of infertility, it is an invisible grief, and is often very lonely. Admittedly, I have no idea what it is to lose a child at any stage in a pregnancy, and in no way do I want to diminish that pain. The inability to conceive at all is not necessarily a worse grief than the inability to carry a pregnancy to term, but to the family that is grieving, it is still a very deep hurt. Different, yes, but still deep.
Why is it that the grief of infertility is invisible?
Here are a few thoughts on how our grief sometimes differs.
1. We don’t get to have a funeral, memorial service, or any type of formal or public ceremony to grieve.
2. Most people do not send cards, flowers, or bring over a meal.
3. We do not get to take bereavement time off from work.
4. We don’t have a grave to visit, or ashes to scatter.
5. We have no pictures, baby clothes, or other mementos.
6. We don’t have a name to remember, to talk about, or in which to give memorial flowers or gifts.
7. We don’t have any hope, even by the grace of God, of seeing our child in the Resurrection.
8. There is no due date, birthday, or anniversary on which we are remembered by family and friends.
9. Each day, month, and year that we fail to conceive is like another death to us. It’s difficult to heal from something that is not an “event,” but rather a state of being.
10. We don’t get recognized on Mother’s Day as mothers who have lost a child.
11.We don’t get to wear a Mother’s Ring or other jewelry with a stone representing our child.
Our grief is invisible. But it is just as real.
I’ve watched the commercials for GoldieBlox that I’ve seen floating around Facebook, and I’m going to be the first to say that I find them offensive to women. Oh yes, I think they look like really fun toys, and I’m sure I would have loved them as a child (and probably still would!) But I think the premise behind them is flawed. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a highly educated woman myself: I have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and I’m only 12 credit hours shy of a second master’s degree. I agree that women can and do make successful doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, just about any stereotypically intellectual/academic/male career.
But here’s the thing: the advertisements imply that girls who play with toys such as dolls, tea sets, dress-up clothes, and/or anything that is pink are somehow not using their brains.
I think that women’s liberation/empowerment/whatever-you-want-to-call-it has reacted so strongly against so-called “traditional” role models that it has gone in a complete circle. Instead of women being disparaged for wanting to go to college and have a career, they’re now disparaged for wanting to make a home and care for a family. You see, I love books and science. I like dissecting things, and I know how to use a number of power tools. I own my own drill (thanks, Dad!) I’m not afraid to try to do my own home repairs. But I also love kittens and flowers. I love to wear dresses, jewelry, makeup, and high heels. I made my bridesmaids wear pink satin gowns and carry roses. I was the little girl that played with dolls and tea sets and had my bedroom walls painted pink. And I think I learned a lot from it. That little girl playing with dolls, who supposedly isn’t using her brain? As she pretends to hear her baby crying, she’s probably also figuring out why she’s crying—is she wet? Hungry? Cutting another tooth? Sick? Does she need to be burped? Does she need another blanket? It’s more than just imagination. If that little girl is blessed enough to have her own children someday, she’ll probably already know how to hold a baby. The little girl who carefully sets the coffee table with her play dishes and serves tea to her stuffed animals will probably one day serve beautiful meals to her family and her guests. The little girl who played dress-up for hours on end with her mother’s cast-offs might be the one who can assemble a runway-worthy outfit with $20 and a trip to the Salvation Army. And I won’t even digress about wives who manage a tight grocery budget and home-schooling moms. Not using their brains?
While we’re on the subject of the ills of gender-segregated toy aisles, has anyone seen sewing kits marketed to little boys? Are any of you mothers teaching your sons tack up a fallen hem, or fold a cloth diaper? Do they know which side of the plate the fork goes on? Will they be able to do their own laundry in college? Maybe the desegregation should go both ways. If a girl needs to know how to change a tire, a boy should at least know how to sew on a button.
I would encourage all girls to get as much education as they can—and if they are called to be an architect, a geneticist, or a history professor, then by all means, that’s what they should be. But if they would rather care for a family of teddy bears, or prefer the pink Legos to the spaceship sets, then that’s fine.
Let girls be girls.
I just saw an advertisement that has left me speechless. It seems that so-called “Christian” publishing has reached a new low. Now available…The Berenstain Bears Holy Bible. As far as I can see, this is not a joke. I’m still formulating what I think, but I can tell you this–it’s not pretty. (My opinion, I mean–the advertisement is touting “18 full-color pages of delightful illustrations of the beloved Berenstain Bear characters.”) It looks as though there is little distinction between entertainment and worship, and that is a very serious thing.
What are your thoughts?