I have been trying to conceive a child for 8 years. 8 years of hope, mingled with 8 years of hurt, frustration and disappointment. At this point I have had almost 100 failed cycles. 100 times of hoping that maybe, just maybe, this month was “the” month. 100 times of the telltale sign that this cycle, like so many cycles before it, was a failure. 100 reminders of how this disease has beat me. 100 reminders that my dream of being a mom, of giving birth to my own child, may not ever come true. 100 times of hope, however faint it might be after so long, being dashed. 100 times of praying and weeping and wondering WHY.
We have done IVF. We have tried to adopt. We were not successful with either. (More on those in a future post). I have TRIED. I have wept. I have crawled. I have screamed. I have begged. I have bargained. I have prayed. I have fasted. I have done everything that I am emotionally, physically and financially capable of to try to have a baby. And here I sit, childless, after 100 cycles.
I share all of this in hopes that you will understand what infertility looks like from the inside and will hopefully better understand how to love and support the person or people in your life who wrestle daily with this pain, both the ones who you know about and the ones you may encounter who suffer silently.
Infertility is a complex diagnosis. There are many causes, known and unknown. It is a medical diagnosis on the one hand, based on the inability to either get pregnant or carry a child to term. But it is also so much more. It is a diagnosis of an unfulfilled longing. It is a diagnosis of heartbreak. It can feel like a diagnosis of silence. It is a diagnosis of long days and nights of weeping. It is a diagnosis of feeling like an outsider, like a lesser woman, or a failure as a spouse. It is a diagnosis of feeling judged, of feeling punished, of feeling unheard. It is a diagnosis of grief.
There is nothing simple about infertility;. not in enduring it, not in treating it and not in conquering it. And yet so many times the infertile couple is told exactly that: there's a simple cure to this if you JUST (insert advice here). Well meaning loved ones, coworkers and even strangers hear that someone can't have a baby and rather than considering the complexity of the issue, they fall into using "The Justs" and rather than providing hope and comfort, these phrases instead leave the infertile listener feeling minimized, frustrated, guilty and shamed.
The Justs are phrases that everyone who has struggled with infertility for long has become acquainted with and grown to despise. They’re the platitudes people throw out without considering how the words might sound or how hurtful these phrases can be. Most people with infertility understand that no harm is intended by the use of The Justs, but every infertile person I have talked to will talk about how hurtful these seemingly innocent, off-handed remarks can be to their already wounded hearts.
Just Relax! (Or Just Go On Vacation!)
Why this one hurts:
First, the implication is strong that we are somehow at fault for our infertility, whether as a woman or as a couple. We are already feeling shame and guilt over our inability to procreate and minimizing in this way does nothing to soothe already broken hearts.
Second, infertility is partly a MEDICAL condition. There are numerous physiological and biological factors at play in any given diagnosis. A woman who has damage to her reproductive system cannot possibly relax enough to get pregnant.
Third, for many this response implies that the infertile woman/couple is too stupid to realize that there has been such a simple solution the entire x amount of years they have been trying.
Just try IVF! (or any other medical or homeopathic intervention)
Why this one hurts:
IVF is expensive, invasive and a difficult path for many infertile couples to embark on. It involves tens of thousands of dollars because it is almost never covered by insurance, as well as the woman being able to take time off from work for numerous doctor visits and procedures. It involves daily injections, numerous drug and hormone treatments, none of which are easy on the body and while complications are rare they can be very serious. IVF isn’t simple and it certainly isn’t guaranteed. In addition to the medical aspect, many couples also struggle with the ethics of this option, which is a blog post for another day. If you wouldn’t tell a cancer patient “JUST try chemo!” then saying “JUST try IVF” should also be off the table.
Why this one hurts:
Saying “Just adopt!” belittles a beautiful, heart breaking, redemptive process that can also be a long, painful and expensive journey. Like IVF, adoptions also fail and leave behind their own scars. Infertility and adoption are not necessarily complimentary forces. Many infertile couples may choose to build their families through adoption. Many may not. I know of many fertile couples who have chosen to adopt. The point is this: Adoption is a way to PARENT, it is not a “cure” for infertility. The children who are adopted are human beings, not place holders or temporary fixes. Adoption does not cure the heartache of longing to be pregnant and give birth. Adoption is also not a way of kickstarting a body to then have a biological child. The adoptive child is not somehow a stepping stone to a biological one, but a wonderful addition in their own right.
Just take my child! (Or Just be glad you don’t have kids!)
Why this hurts:
Showing ingratitude for possessing what someone else desperately wants and is unable to obtain is hurtful and minimizing. I would gladly trade a limb or (non essential) organ for a child. Please do not minimize my pain or what I am willing to endure or sacrifice in order to be a mother. Instead, hug your child and be grateful every day (even the hard ones) that you are blessed. I know parenting is hard. I have ten nephews and two nieces and have front row seats to see amazing parents at work. I also know that the good can outweigh the difficult and that there are moments of absolute magic.
(of note: If you have a close friend or family member struggling with infertility they may very well enjoy spending special time with you and your child. A kind offer of “Would you like to join me and Junior for ice cream today?” can go a long way, but don’t take it personal if they decline. Every infertile couple is different in when and how they want to interact with families).
Just be glad you’ve never had a REAL miscarriage
Why this hurts:
My pain is my pain. Your pain is your pain. Discounting or comparing pains does nothing to improve either side. As a friend of mine once said “It’s all weeds!” The loss of a child, be it a miscarriage or a failed IVF cycle, is a loss and losses hurt. It's the loss of a hope and the loss of a dream.
Instead of The Justs try “I’m sorry. That must hurt. How can I support you during this?”
All a hurting heart ever really needs and wants to hear is “I hear your pain, let me walk with you”