April 23, 2015

Infertility Awareness Week: The Care and Keeping of an Infertile Friend

I feel like I've seen a lot of these types of posts, what to do and not do, or say and not say, and they're probably much more thoughtful and well written than mine (This one is my favorite so far this week).  Also, the last post of a Catholic Perspective of Infertility covered this much more thoroughly. However, as there seems to be a bit of confusion among people, so I thought I'd add my two cents.  So here's my take on the care and keeping of me, as your infertile friend.*

What Not To Do:

Just a little note on these: I do get that people are human, and I try to assume they are well-meaning as often as I can (unless there is obvious malice, which is very uncommon).  I won't hold it against you if you do one of these things, but you may get an earful on why you should not going forward.  So I'm saving the time and getting it out of the way in advance :).

1. Give Unsolicited Advice (With Judgment).  This one might be personal preference, but it certainly applies to me.  I've been researching infertility for years now, actually for ten years, since I learned I have PCOS.  I know what's available, what works for me (not much), what doesn't (almost everything), and what I am or am not willing to try.  Offering me advice when I'm not asking for any (i.e "You have to do acupuncture", "I just heard of this vitamin...", "You should do IVF/IUI/ surrogacy") is really not necessary.  At minimum, it's redundant, and at worst it brings up painful memories of failed treatments, or is offensive to my morals.  It only adds insult to injury if you are then upset/judgmental/giving the stink eye when I dismiss the idea as something I'm not into right now, and it is only creating a larger burden on me.

2. Say Unhelpful Things.  There are definitely better lists compiling these.  Go here and here for some of the worst offenders. For me, these are the absolutely worst:
  • "Just Relax." Actually, relaxing won't help my medical problem. Would you tell that to a cancer patient? (One time someone actually answered yes to that though)
  • "Maybe God doesn't want you pregnant right now," "just let go and let God," basically anything along the lines of suggesting that the speaker knows God's will or that God is doing this to me. God is all good, not evil. Infertility is not inherently good, but an evil, it is a disease.  God is not causing me this evil, but He can choose to bring good out of it, one way or another.  Here's my favorite post addressing this. Main point is though, only He knows what He's doing, so it's best not to suggest that you do.
  • "Just adopt" or "once you'll adopt you'll get pregnant." Adoption is a long, oftentimes expensive, and difficult process.  It is a calling of it's own, and there is no "just" to it.  Statistically speaking, the second statement is untrue, regardless of how many anecdotes you've heard.  Adoption is not an infertility treatment, will not heal the wounds of infertility, or the pain of knowing that my body doesn't work. And children through adoption are not lesser than children that join the family through conception as the latter statement implies.
  • "You're so young" and/or "you have plenty of time." Something along these lines was said to me by the nurse, in post op, right after my ovarian wedge resection.  I couldn't believe someone could be so insensitive.  I guess it could be meant to be reassuring, but it really has the opposite effect.  I might be in my 20s, but that does not mean that I "have plenty of time."  If I can't get pregnant while I'm young, in my more "fertile" years (hah), and if fertility declines with age (as it does), imagine what will happen as I get older (more of nothing, I guess).  
Bottom line, all of these are unhelpful, and can be deeply hurtful.  Put some consideration to what you're going to say before you say it.

3. Force Interaction. 9 times out of 10, I will see friends when I might not be feeling like it because I value friendship more than my own discomfort.  Many times I have gone to see friends, knowing I will end up crying in the car on the way home, and curling up with my husband and a bottle of wine the rest of the night (I wish that was hyperbole).  However, there are times I have to avoid people and situations when I know I can't emotionally handle it.  So, if I'm trying to gracefully back out of something, please be understanding.  Along the same line, please don't force me to do anything (like fell the baby kick, hold a baby, change a diaper, etc.) because "I need practice" or the like.  If I'm feeling comfortable with that kind of thing, I'll offer.  If I haven't offered, or I've already turned down your offer once, please let it be. I'm doing my best to hold myself together.

4. Avoid or Exclude Me. This might at first seem contradictory to the above, but it isn't really.  Like I said above, I value my friendships over my own issues most of the time, unless I'm really in a place of mental/emotional/physical distress.  I don't want to be left out of your life just because we are in different places, like you being single, pregnant, or having children.  I will take alone time or back out of events if I need to, but most of the time I will not, so feel free to talk to me and invite me to what you have going on in your life.

5. Pity Me.  I am no fan of pity.  You and I both know when you are saying things out of pity rather than out of care or friendship. For example, if you're in the middle of a conversation about children, don't ask me about my dogs, or worse, tell your child to ask me about my dogs (again, this might be a personal preference thing).  I know my dogs are the only thing I have experience raising, but even I know dogs aren't the same as children (Just don't look at my pile of dog toys or doggie wardrobe). It's clearly pity and trying to fit me into a conversation that I just don't fit into. So, pity, just don't.  It's not helpful.

That being said, there are some basic things that will help our relationship:

What to Do:

1. Be Understanding and Supportive.  Instead of suggesting what to do by way of treatment, adoption, or whatever, be supportive.  If what I am doing is in the moral bounds of the church (if you have doubts, feel free to bring it up, I can quote the catechism for you), please just be supportive, know this action (or inaction) has taken a lot of deliberation, and know that my husband and I are doing what we think is right for us right now.

2. Listen.  Carrying the burden of infertility alone gets difficult.  Sometimes I could use some help in carrying the burden, and you can help by just listening and being there. Heaven knows my husband is probably tired of hearing about it and could use some reprieve too.

3. Do Something Thoughtful.  Look, attending baby showers, newborn hospital visits, and baptisms can be painful with infertility.  Heck, even weddings can be hard. I love celebrating with you, and believe that every new life deserves to be celebrated, but these events are also reminders of my pain and failures. They also remind me of how very few people send anything or visit me when I have procedures, surgery, or am having a bad day.  I know, it might stem from envy, and comparison is bad, but being forgotten hurts.  It doesn't have to be a big gesture, just asking how I'm doing, or giving me a hug, cup of coffee, and/or bottle of wine (are you sensing a theme here?) would be so nice.  Actually, the best thing you could possibly do is redirect me or a conversation when it's obvious that I can't handle a situation anymore, and that comes for free!

4. Let me know I have value.  For anyone dealing with infertility, knowing your body doesn't work the way it is supposed to is hard to deal with.  It can be heartbreaking, and it can make you feel worthless (though that is not true of course).  This is even more highlighted when you are single/pregnant/have children and I am/do not.  Don't shut me out, but let me know my friendship means something to you, and that I have some value. Even if I can't commiserate about dating/pregnancy/ raising kids, I can listen (and I'll try my best to not compare them to my dogs).

5. Pray.  It might seem uncomfortable, but offering to pray for the situation (and following up on that) is always comforting and helpful, even if it seems awkward.  You don't even have to pray that I will have a baby, just for comfort, strength, guidance, or whatever (Not patience though, that one always backfires on me). If you don't pray, offer good thoughts or something.  It's the thought that counts.  (Well not really, but it's a start!)

*Experiences of infertility vary widely, so I make no claims that these apply to everyone, or anyone else, just me. Also, I do get the irony that this is an anonymous blog, and won't actually be shared with my friends "In Real Life" but what can you do.


  1. Great list! I like that you include both "what NOT to do", but also "what TO do". I think the latter is harder for people to figure out sometimes and for lack of a knowing, they just do nothing, which is hard as well.

    1. Thank you! I've also noticed the latter is hard for people, I've had some people directly say they have no idea what to do or say, so that was the inspiration for the second half :).

  2. How's this for irony: I stumbled across this blog after checking a very fertile friend's blog, only to find out she is pregnant with #7. I have been married for five years, and diagnosed with PCOS just before marriage. We currently live with my in-laws due to financial setbacks. My MIL babysits my 14-month-old niece and 4-month-old nephew. I have extremely bad hirsutism but cannot afford razors any more than we can afford to live on our own. A few months ago I strongly suspect I was pregnant for two weeks (I was waiting to test, just to be sure) but I ran out of my prescription progesterone and then I had a period.

    Last night I went to Confession and I confessed that I was having difficulty trusting God in this situation. The priest told me to detach my feelings from the matter and examine why I wanted children so badly. He said that he had a niece who couldn't conceive and eventually they let go of the idea of having a family, so they dedicate their time, effort, and money into helping others rather than raising children. They had talked about adoption but decided against it since it would only serve to satisfy their own feelings rather than be something to serve God. I left church feeling more peaceful about talking to my husband about adoption (he has been wanting to discuss it for a while, but I had ovarian wedge resection done in January and I wanted to give it a year of trying naturally). But now I am feeling like adoption would be like giving up this fight against PCOS. It's like a concession, a defeat. Like God is some tyrant with an iron will who is eternally against me and my supposedly "free" will. I have tried medicine, both natural and conventional, surgery, prayers, wearing a St. Gerard relic across my belly, exercise, dietary changes, therapy, etc. The priest told me that a child is a gift that can be accepted, but never demanded. Despite all my efforts, I have not and cannot "earn" a child. I am approaching my 29th birthday, and I hear the biological clock ticking if we are to have the large family we dream of.

    Part of me could be satisfied with adoption, for it breaks my heart to see my niece and nephew leave at the end of the day, going back to the lack of morality of their parents' homes. My MIL and I see that they have some Christian influence while they are here, but I wish to raise them to sainthood, and I know that babysitting is not enough to accomplish that. But at the same time, I long to experience pregnancy, natural childbirth, and breastfeeding and I fear being jealous of any adoptive kids' birth moms, as I am about most moms. I also know that adoption does not heal PCOS or infertility, and when I am around young children, I have a tendency to ignore my own needs. PCOS is a high maintenance disease, and I may not keep up with it. I also fear inheriting the problems of the birth family: medical, emotional, spiritual. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the third and fourth generations, and I may not know what I am dealing with, as I do with my own family. I doubt with our finances (or lack thereof) we could afford to make sure we get a newborn, but I don't really want an older child.

    I'm sorry for rambling. I'm just really struggling with this now. Thank you for this blog! I have been looking for a PCOS/infertility support source that is also faithful to the Church's teachings. I will be reading more articles soon.