Three Attitudes to Avoid Around Infertile Couples
I have no problem telling people that Michael and I have had a hard time making babies. In fact, when people say things like, “People just don’t talk about infertility enough,” I feel a little guilty. Because maybe I talk about it too much. Maybe I’m one of those people. You know, the kind that like to sit around with their friends and talk about their awkward problems, unaware that it’s making everyone else in the room feel uncomfortable. But one of the first things that college taught me was that I hate small talk. What’s your major? Where are you from? ...What’s your major again? Forget that mess, let’s get down to the nitty gritty; I’m infertile! Love me or leave me baby... only, please don’t leave me, because that would like, hurt my feelings real, real bad.
Speaking of being a straight shooter, I’ll let you in on a secret---sometimes people say the dumbest things around couples that are doing the whole infertility dance. Okay, I know that I can be a little overly-sensitive at times, and I know that the nine planets aren’t orbiting around little ol’ me and people aren’t ever trying to say hurtful things, but sometimes people are tactless. Hey, I speak from experience--I’ve put my foot in my mouth a butt-load of times. To help both of us out, I’ve made a short list of the top three things to avoid saying or doing, not only around couples struggling with infertility, but to anyone. Because you don’t ever know what someone is dealing with or what they’ve been through.
1. The implication that a married couple without children is somehow less of a family than a married couple with babies.
Ahh, this one has been on my mind of late. I realize that Michael and I are only two, but we are still a family, dang it! When I married this boy, I took on his last name for Pete(rsen)’s sakes! We can go through a Family Size bag of Malt-O-Meal in like, three days. We are each other's morning kiss goodbye, dinner-date, Netflix-watching, pillow-talking, person. We stew over finances together, take care of one another if we get sick, and drive each other to work. As far as family goes, we’re all we’ve got in this whole state. So as for the question, “When are you going to start your family?” We already did!
We may not know about the ups and downs of parenthood, but we still know about the ups and downs of life in general. We still want to be invited into your conversations and hangouts. I’m sure you have learned a billion new things since becoming a parent, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all of the sudden in completely different leagues...and it especially doesn’t make your league any more elite than the babyless. Whether we are married or single, have four kids, or none---we all have something to learn from each other.
2. The implication that a person can’t feel what true love or happiness is until they have a baby.
This one can actually be quite offensive, and I’ve heard it a number of times in a number of different ways. “I didn’t even know what joy was before I was a mother. Life was so meaningless. We have so much purpose now.” I am sure that your joy, love, and purpose in life extended incomprehensibly when you grew your family. I know that you are just comparing the joy you feel now in comparison to your old life...But I also think that if you stopped to think about what you’re saying you would realize how this could be considered hurtful to those of us without. My beautiful single friend in her thirties has a life full of purpose and happiness (look at that, without a spouse OR a baby!) and so do I!
I don’t want it to come across like I don’t ever want advice, because I find myself needing it often! I do think it’s important that when we give each other advice, we should be careful that we aren’t assuming anything.
A good friend of mine told me that as far as parenting goes, she’s only an expert when it comes to her son---she doesn’t assume anyone else’s situation is the same as hers. I think that’s a great thing for all of us to remember. You are only the expert of you. I understand that you think I just “need to relax” and that it will magically “happen.” But maybe (definitely) don’t say it out loud. I understand that you want me to “enjoy this time with my spouse,” and that it will “be over all too soon,” But you know what? Whose to say that I’m not living up life right now? (And this is a little besides the point but I am just warning you that if you tell me I’ll get pregnant the second after I adopt I might set your house on fire.) Assume nothing my friends!
The other day a girlfriend sat on my couch while I cried about all sorts of things that had gone whack that week. She asked me the most insightful question. “Do you want advice right now? Or do you want me to just listen?” I realize that this is a sensitive issue, and sometimes people just don’t know what to say. In that case, you can give hugs and tell me that it sucks, or that you’ll pray for me, or that I’m going to make a great mom some day.
When it comes down to it, we all say stupid stuff. Oh gosh, am I the best at word-vomiting. We aren’t perfect, and we will probably all have our turn at saying something accidentally offensive. So I also think it’s important to choose to let those comments make you laugh instead of cry. I have found that looking at people’s intentions is usually the best way to talk myself down, as there have only been very few times that I think anyone has actually been trying to make me upset.
So let’s make a deal. You try to be more sensitive, I’ll try to be more sensitive, and when we slip up, we’ll cut each other some slack. Isn’t that what being a human is all about?