In my last article, I looked at the issue of the things that people say and why they say them. Why does an innocuous comment make you want to leap over the table and rip someone’s head off? Why is it that if your mother or mother-in-law imparts ‘wisdom’ about conception it makes you want to hire a hit squad?
I found when researching the book Swimming Upstream that this basically came down to two things: myths and misinformation or awkwardness.
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 10 most challenging comments.
So to quote a famous gameshow host – we surveyed 100 people who are trying to conceive and came up with the top 10 most challenging comments. The next article will deal with helpful comments you can use to respond to these comments.
What Not To Say #10: “He just has to look at me and I get pregnant”
This comment usually stems from a point of ignorance. Most people who conceive easily have no or little understanding of how normal fertility works. They just know that all they do is have unprotected sex and the next thing they know another baby is on the way. Yes – there is pride and sometimes arrogance in having children. Probably though, this person is saying that having a family is no problem at all for them and they just can’t understand why you would be having problems. Oh, and if you can, please refrain from answering: “That’s because your husband is a d*ckhead”. It’s comedy gold, but you could lose your friends.
What Not To Say #9: “It’s alright for you – you’re on two incomes. You’re just lucky”
Unfortunately, there are elements of judgement and assessment in this statement. Part of it could be that the person is jealous – particularly if they don’t know about your fertility issues. You see, on the surface, the stereotyped couple without kids has what most families who may be on one income and struggling want – two incomes, nice house, nice car, holidays and time on their hands. So you appear ungrateful – you’ve got what they may want and yet you’re miserable. But what they don’t see is your pain in not having the family life they are able to experience. You can see that in 15-20 years time, they have the option to work towards a nice car and a nice house, whereas, with delayed parenting you may be struggling later on.
What Not To Say #8: “You’re just going to have to accept that you won’t have children”
This is an age-old way of dealing with problems = put things behind you and move on. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with emotions and pain that is as deep as this, it’s not always that easy. This can also be advice given to cover uncomfortable feelings about your situation and the fact that they don’t know how to help you or don’t want to see you in pain any more. It can be a case of ’can’t deal with it, don’t want to know about it.’ But the thing about infertility is that while it has a definite name, it usually has no definite beginning point and finding an ending can take years. There can be lots of years when you have no idea whether the ‘end’ will be you filling that little nursery room with your baby, or just having to realise that it just won’t ever be that way. This statement assumes you can take a position of finality, of coming to a conclusion. When everything is uncertain for you, it can be difficult to hear statements that say ‘you need to move on’.
What Not To Say #7: “You just need to be more positive” aka “You just need to have more faith in God”.
This comment is pretty judgmental and can be made from a patronising position. It also makes a number of assumptions. Firstly, it suggests your fertility is linked to your state of mind or your levels of faith. Secondly, that you need to take action that will give you back control over your fertility. As with most of these Top Ten Comments, these statements devalue the emotions and feelings that you’re going through. In terms of faith, comments like these are sometimes made when a well-meaning religious friend or family member doesn’t know what to say next. It can be a statement said when people are trying to cope with your loss, grief and childless situation. They’re trying to package it in a way that they can process, making sense of it within the bounds of their understanding of faith. Having more faith in God can be a simple answer to your problem perhaps because they have felt that it has worked for them in various circumstances. They wish life and religion to provide ‘fair’ solutions and justice for all, despite strong evidence that bad things happen to good people. As far as positive thinking goes, most of us want to be able to deal positively with life’s challenges. With fertility problems though, staying positive involves huge challenges as it often takes years before the outcome is known.
What Not To Say #6: (To those with secondary infertility) “You should be grateful that you already have a beautiful child”
What people may be trying to say is that you’re very blessed to have a beautiful child, make sure that you don’t miss out on the experience of enjoying them grow up. But it can also be a belittling statement that says “it’s alright for me to have choices in how many children I have, but not you.” Once again, it’s a reflection of just how hard it generally is for others to put themselves in your shoes. They are probably seeing things from their own perspective on parenting. For some people who find parenting pretty hard going, it can just be a touch of wishing they could have only one child to manage. It can also be a reflection of misunderstanding about how infertility is rarely a definite diagnosis and that trying different things over a period of time is just about the only way to going to know whether that wanted child will happen.