How to Avoid Being a Jerk to Your Infertile Friend

infertilityThis topic has probably been beaten to death, but I’m going to add my voice to the commotion anyway. We were married for eight years before we adopted our oldest son, so we’ve heard a few things along the way. We would like more children, but we’re not sure we can conceive again. I still align myself with the Infertile Myrtles, despite the fact that I have three children in diapers (none of whom were conceived in my own body).

What Not to Say:

“Just relax.” Ummm, Do you think that a physical problem can be remedied with a long bath and a vacation? If it could, don’t you think I would have figured that out by now? I saw a t-shirt that said, “Guess what? Relaxing does not make a baby!” Also, permit me to say that relaxing while enduring daily doctor appointments, shots, and weird comments is impossible.

“Maybe you should ‘just’ adopt.” This one was my own personal most-hated phrase. First of all, adoption is a very personal decision that can only be made between the couple involved. There are many reasons that adoption may or may not be appropriate for a family. Second of all, there is no “just” involved in adoption. Adoption is called a “paper pregnancy” because the paperwork alone can take as long or longer than gestation. And you are “just” bringing a human being into your lives permanently for your next 60 to 80 years. Adoption is hard work and not for the weak.

“My friend so-and-so …”  Do not begin any sentence with this statement. Just don’t. (Anyone who has had cancer can maybe relate.)

“It was God’s will.” Okay, I am as religious as anybody. Maybe I even believe it was God’s will that any of this stuff has happened to me. (I do believe that we endured miscarriages so that our son R could come to our family through adoption. How else would he have made it our family?) But that does not give you the right to say it.

“Surprise, we’re pregnant!” It’s the “surprise” part of this sentence that is a big no-no.  If you are about to announce a pregnancy, please take pity on your infertile friends or family members by telling them personally, ahead of time, so they are not blindsided at the family Christmas party. Let them deal with their pain and sorrow in private, so they can then put on their Big Boy Panties and deal with it before the party. Sometimes, even a kindly worded email can be enough if you want to spare the person the experience of trying not to sob on the phone.

“You can always do IVF.” Um, no, you can’t always do IVF. It’s crazy expensive, especially in states where it is not covered by insurance. It is crazy hard, too. Daily injections and daily vaginal ultrasounds and daily hormone-induced breakdowns are just not for everyone. It’s also not appropriate for all medical conditions. And, how do you know that she didn’t already try it? It only works about 30% of the time… so maybe she was one of the 70% who spend ten grand for nothing and didn’t want to tell you about it.

“You should be glad you don’t have a baby. It’s so much work!” Just don’t ever say that. It does not help. I wanted to be immersed in the poop and the crying and the sleepless nights. Besides, I was not trying to have a baby; I was trying to begin a human being. I am trying to bring a soul to this family and to this world. Who cares about how much work that is? That statement is some kind of middle-school version of psychology.

“Why the rush? You have plenty of time!” The decision of when to have children is a personal one between a husband and wife, and maybe God. For me, it was a spiritual feeling that their souls were missing from our home and were trying to get here. Are you gonna argue that with me? Plus, I didn’t want just one baby. If I did, maybe I could afford to wait until I was 45 (just kidding). However, making multiple babies multiple times might mean starting a little earlier than that.

“Is it your husband’s fault?” Short answer: none of your business. Long answer: most husbands are feeling already emasculated about this whole situation, and most wives are rightfully reticent to throw their husband under the bus about infertility. I don’t think any husbands welcome anyone talking about their sperm. It’s hard enough to listen to the doctor do that. Plus, I think a good marital team adopts a no-fault system, like California divorces. Your problem is my problem and that’s all there is to it.

Okay, so now your lips are zipped and you’re too scared to make a peep. Now what? Here are some things that others said or did that actually helped me.

What You SHOULD Say/Do:

  • Yes, do invite your infertile friend to that baby shower. No, don’t expect her to come to it, but don’t leave her out either. Let her make the decision. I never ever went to baby showers, but I appreciated being included. Some of my stronger infertile friends continue to go to showers.
  • Yes, do tell your infertile friend that you are pregnant. As I mentioned above, telling her in private before everyone else finds out is the best and kindest thing. You can even tell her by email or phone. Just don’t let her be ambushed, where she would have no choice but to hide in the bathroom to avoid a public meltdown at the big family function.
  • Ask her how she is doing, and just listen. A well-timed, “Man, that really sucks” is all you need to say. Really. We don’t need advice- we need friends!
  • Check up on her often. Infertility is so lonely. Messages, cards, emails, phone calls, texts all count. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but it matters that she doesn’t feel forgotten. Just say “I was thinking about you today.” Or just say “hi”!
  • Don’t talk about babies. If you have kids already, tone it down and wait for her to ask about them. Visiting with her is not a playdate.
  • Face that elephant in the room: Although I suggest avoiding talking about your babies, this is not a license to avoid talking about her situation. You can even say, “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I am your friend.” She may or may not want to talk about the whole thing, but give her the opportunity, and then follow her lead. Personally, I was an open book about it all, because that was my therapy. I had a good friend who never talked about it, and that was what was best for her.
  • If you have kids, maybe don’t bring them around. However, some women prefer some good ole’ fashioned “baby therapy” and might appreciate holding your little one. You will have to be  a good and attentive friend to figure this one out!

With possibly one in six couples facing infertility at some point in their lives- even possibly after having a child- the chances are great that you already know someone who needs your support. Good luck!