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.