National Infertility Awareness Week
When I first heard about this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week theme, I admit I was a bit confused. Who exactly is supposed to “Start Asking”? Is it the fertile people who already don’t have a clue how to talk about infertility, and often ask the wrong questions anyway?
Turns out, it’s us, the infertile community, that should be asking the questions, according to RESOLVE, the organization behind NIAW 2016, April 24-30. We should be asking for better insurance coverage of fertility treatments. We should be asking the media to cover infertility in a real way, instead of a sensationalized one. We should be asking our family and friends to support us.
This is all so important, and I applaud RESOLVE for putting forth these questions. But going back to my original presumption—what about the fertile people? I would argue that instead of putting the onus on the infertility community to promote awareness, we extend that to fertile people as well. What about that annoying aunt who asks when you’re going to have children? What about those clueless friends who wonder why you won’t come to their baby shower? These people don’t understand what to ask, or how.
I wrote on this blog about the most ignorant question, and later posted it on The Huffington Post as well. The piece, “It’s None of Your Business How Many Children I’m Having,” got over 300 comments on the site. People argued about whether or not this guy, a stranger who asked across a table full of people whether and when I would be trying for a baseball team, was in the right or the wrong. “Can’t people ask about anything anymore without offending someone?” people lamented.
The thing is, there are times and places for everything. In fact, in that very same piece I discuss how a similar question had been asked by the colorist at my hair salon. But because she asked gently—”Do you think you’ll have more children?”—in the relative privacy of the hairdresser’s chair, my hackles didn’t get raised, and I felt comfortable revealing that I’d love another, but we’d had trouble getting pregnant.
So it’s really not about whether you should ask but rather about how you should ask. And when you do ask, don’t ever assume. Don’t assume a woman isn’t currently pregnant and just not ready to reveal it. Don’t assume a woman isn’t currently going through a miscarriage. Don’t assume that people can have babies and want to try the reproductive feat of achieving a sports team. Don’t assume a couple even wants children in the first place.
I would argue that the criticism against my HuffPo piece—that we live in a culture where no one is allowed to talk about anything—is the exact opposite of how I feel. In fact, I feel like maybe a better theme for NIAW might have been “Start Talking.” Because that’s the real problem: No one talks about infertility. People don’t even really realize it exists. It’s something that happens to others, so people assume those they know and talk to can actually have children. True, people generally can have kids. But that’s the point of “awareness:” People become “aware” that infertility exists for one in eight couples. Maybe it exists for your sister or your coworker or your friend or your neighbor. Or the person you just met sitting across from you at a crowded table.
Infertility awareness can be about inspiring infertiles to make a difference. But it can, and should, be about getting others to understand and to promote it as well. Wouldn’t it be great if fertile people joined in the cause too? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they also posted on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and hashtag #NIAW and #StartAsking? That’s where we should be headed. After all, not everyone who wears a red ribbon has AIDS or who does a run/walk for breast cancer has it themselves. The people who do those things maybe know someone affected (a mom, sister or friend who had breast cancer), or maybe they are just recognizing the importance of a cause and are jumping on board.
That’s what we should want. That’s what I’m going to #StartAsking for.
How aware are you of infertility among your family and friends? If you are infertile yourself, do you wish you had more support from fertiles?
While going through infertility treatments, I was surprised at the lack of compassion and understanding of some friends – and surprised at the compassion and understanding of some who I didn’t even know very well. This made me realize that people’s reactions had less connection to how good friends we were, and more to do with their innate or learned sympathy for others’ feelings. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week‘s theme “You Are Not Alone,” here are ten ways to be a better friend to an infertile.
1. Remember: It’s not about you. She’s going through something terrible, so cut her some slack if she wants to distance herself from you if you’re pregnant or have kids. It’s not personal – it’s about self-preservation. Yes, it’s hard to be the friend of an infertile, but suck it up. What she’s going through is way worse.
2. Let her be selfish. Don’t pressure her to come to your kid’s first birthday party or your baby shower. It doesn’t mean she’s not a good friend. And if she acts on edge, is irritable or is even a downright bitch, remember that she’s acting out of frustration at the shitty situation she finds herself in. Let her vent, even if it’s about you, without taking offense. Forgive her for being mean. Remember that she’s on lots of hormones!
3. Ask how she’s doing. Many times infertility is the elephant in the room. Gently broach the subject and see if she’s interested in talking. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t.
4. Tell her you’re pregnant through text, email or FB message. It seems impersonal, but it will give her time to react privately before offering up a smile and a congratulations. This is much better than telling her in person, or even over the phone, when she’ll have to hide her initial reaction.
5. Don’t complain about your pregnancy or your kids. Yes, pregnancy can be rough, and (as I’ve been learning lately) children can be a challenge. But she would give anything to have them. Don’t even joke, “Do you want my kids?” Because she does (well, not yours, but her own).
6. Speaking of joking, don’t. It’s really hurtful to hear stuff like, “Are you sure you want kids?” I promise you, she does, even while watching yours misbehave. It’s just not funny.
7. Make an effort to read about infertility. There are resources out there for friends and family of those going through infertility treatments. Educate yourself so you have a better understanding of what her life is like. Check out resolve.org.
8. Remember her on Mother’s and Father’s Day. Those holidays are especially rough on couples who can’t conceive. A “thinking about you” note or phone call is totally appropriate.
9. Realize you don’t know the future. It’s tempting to promise, “It will happen for you someday,” but the truth is, you don’t know that. Stay away from platitudes. They’re just not helpful and not reflective of reality.
10. Rephrase “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” with “I can only imagine what you’re going through.” This is one of my biggest pet peeves (I may devote a whole blog post to it some day). The first sentence makes the listener feel excluded and isolated, like what she is dealing with is so horrific that someone cannot even attempt to understand because it is so out of the realm of normality. The second one implies that even though you haven’t been through it yourself, you can utilize the skills of your creative mind to attempt to understand. This is a notable difference, so please use the latter phrasing.
You can imagine what it’s like. Put yourself in your friend’s place and think about how you would want to be treated. Just like with any other health issue, having simple compassion, sympathy and forgiveness for a friend dealing with the hell of infertility will go a long way in giving her the strength and support she needs to make it through.
My latest Huffington Post piece is Why I Did 7 Rounds of IVF, which was first posted on this blog. I reposted it in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week and this year’s theme, “You Are Not Alone.”
I want to add that while my story does have an against-all-odds happy ending, it’s not always that way for everyone going through infertility treatments. I’m not sharing my story simply to say, “Don’t give up!” because that can honestly be some of the worst advice to give to infertile couples. It’s OK to decide to move on to other options like third-party reproduction, adoption or living child-free. It’s not quitting and it doesn’t make you a loser. As I said in the HuffPo version of my piece, each of us has to make the right choice when faced with a very wrong situation. That choice isn’t going to be the same for everyone, and it shouldn’t be.
There is another post on HuffPo a couple down from mine in which a woman says how after three doctors told her she’d never conceive, she got pregnant on her own, twice, and now has two children. Maybe I’m super-jaded, but this kind of story just brings out my bitter side. How is this story supposed to help other infertiles – is it supposed to inspire them to keep trying when there is no hope? More likely it will make them feel bad because their situation didn’t work out the same. How is this story supposed to benefit those who are fertile trying to understand what it’s like to go through infertility – to make them feel better about everyone having a happy ending? Guess what – happy endings don’t always happen, and they often don’t happen the way you think they’re going to. We need real stories that show us the pain and heartbreak, the hard choices. Not the miraculous conceptions. This woman didn’t even go through fertility treatments. Sorry, but that’s just a completely different perspective – not that it’s not valid, but it is not reflective or representative of most fertility patients’. In my opinion, it’s not a useful story to help others understand infertility.
What do you think, fellow infertiles – do you agree?
For more about infertility, click here.
For more about National Infertility Awareness Week, click here.