“People have yelled across the car park at the supermarket -have you got anything in there yet?' pointing to my wife's stomach. You would hope that people would have more intelligence than to ask some of the things that they do.” – Daniel, 35
Have you ever been talking to someone about pregnancy, babies or conceiving and they've said just one small thing that has made you want to leap over the table and rip their head off? Or has that comment left you stewing for days? Or has your mother or mother-in-law imparted wisdom about conception that has made you want to hire a hit squad?
You have? Firstly, I'm sorry to hear that. It happened to my wife and I too… on a regular basis. Secondly, you're perfectly normal.
What you may well find in a conversation between a couple struggling to conceive and a couple who found it easy is a significant amount of misunderstanding and frustration. They really are on different planets when it comes to the story of having a family.
So it is a pretty common experience of people who have to wait for their children that those around them aren't able to imagine what they're going through. Basic misunderstandings, household myths and old wives tales can sometimes make conversation about their situation with some people a pretty frustrating time. It can be an explosive mix. In the red corner are deep emotions and the intense frustration you have. In the blue corner are people who want to help but may not know how.
Some people try to be helpful, some may be embarrassed and say nothing, while others just say the first thing that comes into their mind. Comments, questions or silence can hurt, be cruel, isolate or just leave you feeling downright angry.
Most people with fertility difficulties can point out things that other people have said to them that have made them angry or hurt. So why do people say these things? This is what I found when researching Swimming Upstream:
Myths and misinformation
There is a real lack of understanding in the population in general about fertility issues.
Exhibit A: the Family Planning Association in the UK recently found that one-third of British people it surveyed thought that if a woman jumped up and down, washed or urinated immediately after sex, she could prevent pregnancy. And just in case you think the Mother Country has suddenly lost its marbles, late last year, research revealed 50% of Australian births were unplanned, putting to rest the idea that we plan our families like any other part of our life.
(We found four fertility myths that can drive you insane and mention them in the book).
If they understood that you couldn't control the fact that you were struggling to have children, they probably wouldn't suggest that you relax, try a new herbal remedy or take up yoga. If ignorance is bliss, most people are living in Nirvana when it comes to fertility issues.
Look at it through their eyes for a moment. It may be that they see you in pain and want to say something to be helpful, but they just don't have the right weapon in their artillery to help you fight the battle. So while their comments are usually delivered with the best of intentions, they can just highlight the fact that you are failing to have a family and re-open the wounds yet again.
So for some people — we can probably guess that they mean well, but that they just don't know what to say. With others, the problem is that they think they do. But if their information is based on a myth or a misunderstanding, even though they think they're helping, they're not.
On the other hand, you may be talking with a person that doesn't like silence, so they fill in uncomfortable parts of conversation — such as your inability to have kids — with the first thing they can think of. There could be a lot of other reasons for a hurtful comment, maybe even being jealous of a lifestyle which outwardly looks far more exciting than doing the school run.
While this doesn't necessarily help how you may feel after someone says something like that, it may help to put it into context. So how do you get across the idea to someone of what it is really like to be wading through this time of ups and downs, tests and uncertainty?
You're not on your own
Most people who have run the infertility marathon of uncertainty have their own experiences of difficult questions and careless comments. They're so common in fact, that it's fairly easy to put together a list of the ‘Top Ten Most Challenging Comments’.
When researching Swimming Upstream — to quote the famous gameshow host — we surveyed 100 people who have dealt with these comments and came up with the ‘Top Ten Most Challenging Comments’.
So what are the Top 10? You'll have to wait until the next article! However feel free to discuss it and suggest your top 10 in the BellyBelly Forums HERE.