This week (April 23-29th) is National Infertility Awareness Week.
It is estimated between 10-18% of couples suffer from infertility — 1 in 8. This means if you are not one of these couples, the odds are that you know someone who is; however, because it is an extremely hard, emotional, and often private matter, you may never know those who are suffering around you in silence. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a child after one year of unprotected intercourse (six months if the woman is over the age of 35) and/or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth.
As our Founder of Waiting in Hope Ministries likes to say, "Once in the infertility club, always in the infertility club." Members of the club are all around you living out their journey in different ways, pursuing pregnancy naturally or with ARTS (Assisted Reproductive Technologies), growing their families through adoption and even choosing to live as CAT (Complete As Two).
Many times, people do not know what to say to those suffering from infertility. Well-intended comments sting deep, especially for those new to this journey who haven’t yet learned how to navigate life being part of the 1 in 8.
Here is a list of some things not to say, in the hopes that this might help you understand a little better the shoes in which we walk.
1. So, when are you guys going to have children?
While the above question seems to be an innocent one, it can be extremely hurtful to someone suffering from infertility. It is an uncomfortable question that most within infertility are never prepared to answer either truthfully, sorrowfully with a lie or after years of acceptance can possibly be transparent about their journey to then feel able to share.
A better question to ask when meeting a couple or any person for that matter for the first time is to say, “Tell me about yourself.” This way they are able to offer up the information about themselves they want and if they are struggling to conceive, not married but want to be, are currently unemployed or whatever their current struggle maybe they don’t have to be reminded of it and don’t have to feel the need to explain it.
2. You can always adopt. I know couples who adopted and then get pregnant.
First off, adoption is not a quick fix to infertility. In fact, it’s not a fix at all; there are many couples with adopted children who are still infertile.The emotional scars of infertility are not healed by adoptions, rather they must be worked through and healed before one can even move forward with the idea of adoption. An adoption is not meant to be a bargaining tool in which one hopes to also, become pregnant. Adoption might not be God’s plan for everyone.
Second, while everyone seems to know someone or knows someone who knows someone who has become pregnant naturally after adopting, it is a rare occurrence. Different studies show only 3%-10% of couples who adopt due to fertility issues will become pregnant on their own.
3. You have time. (or) You are running out of time.
A person’s age or years married is irrelevant when it comes to the desire to be a parent. Also, this person cannot know or determine the outcome of how your family is or is not created. Though they may be trying to encourage or give advice, this reference to time is not helpful and often hurtful.
4. I bet you’re having fun trying!
This is so far from the truth! Sex is an awesome thing, but when you’ve been "trying to conceive" (TTC) for an extended period of time, it can become exhausting and anything but romantic. For many, it can become a chore, a drain on the marital relationship. (Men might hear this one more than women, we will share more on this topic later on in the week).
5. If you just stop trying and relax it will happen.
For most couples who haven’t conceived within the first year, there is a physical reason keeping them from doing so and is probably not an easy fix of stress relief, relaxing, or vacationing will correct that problem. If so, those of us would be on the beach in Hawaii!
6. Maybe it’s just not meant to be.
Though some couples may never have children, most couples are not ready to hear this statement. Please be cautious supporters, you are not God and so you cannot and should not speak for him to others like this.
7. Why don’t you have another baby?
This comment refers to secondary infertility, from which over 3 million Americans suffer. Please do not assume a couple with just one child only wants one. Your suggestions of how close together a couple should have children or questions of when another will be on its way can be extremely hurtful for those who long to have another child.
And for those who finding themselves within secondary infertility, “trying” again...
8. Well, at least you have one child.
The truth is if you were to ask newlyweds how many children they would like to have later in life, the majority will answer with a number more than one. It is rare for a couple to want an only child. So yes, for those who have suffered through infertility and now brought a baby home, the desire to have another child does not go away and it does not make them, selfish. So please do not belittle our desire to have another.
These are things we hear on a regular basis and a glimpse at how we feel. Now keeping these things in mind, we want to give you a few things you can do.
Please do these things to support us.
- Ask us how you can help us, pray for us, and love us.
- Don’t minimize our desire to be parents, rather affirm and encourage us in our journey.
- Be sensitive to our overly changing hormones, we feel raw and exposed or hiding most of the time. So let us change the subject when it's becoming too uncomfortable and not take offense.
- Let us know you care.
- Keep what we share with you between just us, unless we give you permission to share.
- Let us know you don’t understand what we are going through.
- Tell us first when you are pregnant, before the public announcements. Or better yet, if a close family or friend, tell us before starting to try which provides plenty of time to prepare our hearts.
- Offer us grace and let us know it’s ok to skip out on your baby shower if needed.
- Just listen and be there for us, don’t try to fix our situations.
- Cry with us.
We hope this helps inform and encourage. If you have not suffered from infertility there is no reason for you to know these things, so it’s okay that you don’t. The journey for us who are 1 in 8 taught us these things in the trenches of pain and should remind everyone that you can not truly know what someone is going through until you’ve walked in their shoes.
We are 1 in 8 walking the road of “infertility,” this journey will look different for all of us, but we find comfort knowing we are not alone and HOPE by purposefully choosing to wait in hope.
Please join us this week on Facebook @waiting.in.hope to hear more about infertility and how to support those going through it.