Confession: I just now finished reading all the comments to my Scary Mommy post The 8 Biggest Misconceptions About Infertility. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the commenters were supportive of what I wrote. The several commenters who stupidly responded without having read the article – as evidenced by the fact that they actually spouted off the misconceptions from the article in their comment – were called out and chastised by other commenters. I responded to a couple comments myself to clarify a few points I made in the piece.
But what struck me was the multiple responses from people asking what TO say with someone experiencing infertility or miscarriage. I’m not sure if this was because my list crossed off all the platitudes they would otherwise have used, or because they genuinely had no idea. In any case, whenever someone asks me this, while I appreciate their desire not to say the wrong thing, I still wonder why it’s so hard to put themselves in another’s place. What would they want said to them if they were experiencing infertility or miscarriage? Is it really that hard to imagine? To me, the lack of innate understanding of “what to say” just emphasizes the isolation and divide of the infertiles from the fertiles.
But I suppose I should put aside my own bitterness and snark and just answer the question. So here is what to say to someone experiencing infertility and miscarriage:
1. “I’m sorry.”
2. “I’m here for you.”
3. “I’m thinking about you.”
And…that’s about it. Nothing, no words, especially no platitudes, can help ease their pain, so don’t even try. Just let them know that you are there to support them and that you have their back. That you understand if they need to skip your baby shower, or if they need a little distance from you if you’re pregnant. A few other tips:
Call them up or text them, but don’t make them feel pressured to call you back if they don’t answer. They might just need some space.
Don’t avoid the topic. If it’s the first time you’ve seen them in a while, tell them you’ve been thinking about them.
Joking won’t help. If anyone makes jokes, it should be them, not you.
Don’t make yourself the victim – it’s hard to be the friend of someone experiencing these things, but I promise you, it’s infinitely harder to be that person.
Oh wait, I realized I’ve ventured back into the territory of what NOT to do, instead of what TO do.
OK, so what should you do?
There are no magic words to say. Just be there as a friend. Be supportive, be open to listening, let them lean on you figuratively and literally. Bring them food or something they might enjoy, like trashy magazines (just make sure there are no pregnant celebrities in them). It’s simple: Just be a friend.
The most supportive thing anyone ever said to me came from a family member of my husband’s, who I didn’t know well and hadn’t seen in a long time. She was visiting my in-laws and bringing along her baby, who I’d never met. When we got there, there was no big introduction of the child. She just let him play quietly with my nieces. After he’d gone to bed, she pulled me aside and said:
“I heard about what you’re going through. It must be really hard for you to be around all these babies. I just wanted to let you know that we’re thinking about you. Please call if you ever want to talk.”
I remembered that moment for a long time. It gave me a great feeling of support that someone, even someone I didn’t know that well, had such compassion and understanding. It gave me hope that there were people out there who “got it.” That even if they weren’t going through the same thing, they could sympathize. Because of this one person, I felt just a little less isolated and alone.
So that’s it. That’s all there is to say.
Fellow infertiles, would you agree that’s all someone should say to those experiencing infertility and loss? Fertiles, does my advice make sense?