What You Should (and Shouldn't) Say to Someone Struggling with Infertility (Part 2)

It’s a blessing and a curse to understand how the female reproductive system works: it really is. It’s a blessing and a curse to understand that the bloating and exhaustion come from the progesterone pill I’m shoving up my lady parts twice a day and that the estrogen pills I’m taking three times a day have made given me random cramps, more bloating and DEAR GOD WHY HAVE MY BOOBS GOTTEN EVEN BIGGER?! It’s blessing and a curse to know that these symptoms also mimic early pregnancy symptoms so I can never get my hopes up too much because at this point I’m so medicated I can’t even tell what’s real or what’s medication. It’s a blessing and a curse to know the second the fertility procedure or medicated cycle didn’t work and Aunt Flo is coming. Actually, that’s more of a curse than a blessing, to be honest…..there’s nothing more to say about that.

I am now a seasoned veteran of infertility: a card-carrying member of the “IVF Warrior” gang and a future survivor of a uterine biopsy, which I will have while fully awake and conscious….I’m terrified.  So, given that I have now endured almost everything you can endure while going through infertility, I feel like I have more to say on the topic of “things you shouldn’t say to someone struggling with infertility”. (Read my first post on this topic here)

As a reminder: your friends and family know you best and know what you would and would not want to hear. I am not an expert; I am only speaking from my experience. I also realize that people ask questions out of love and genuine care, but there is an undertone of desperately wanting to “fix” infertility by any means necessary and, if you’re not our doctor this will be virtually impossible. All you can do is love, support and empathize with the person going through it: truthfully, that’s all we want/need….we need to know we are seen. So, let’s dive in with an empathetic mindset.

(More) Things you should NOT say to someone who is struggling with infertility:

“You just have to stop thinking about it all the time and it will happen!”

I’m not sure if you realized this, but I have officially changed my address to that of my Reproductive Endocrinologist’s. I basically live there now: not thinking about it is not an option.

“I cut out (insert: caffeine, alcohol, exercise, soy, basic human emotion, television past 8 pm) and I got pregnant! You need to do that.”

No two infertility journeys are alike, so to compare your journey to mine is not logical or helpful. Unless you are sitting in the exam room with me when I’m pants-less and have an ultrasound wand up in my lady-parts, it’s hard to know what will help/not help me get pregnant and also you can’t speak to my treatment plan. I am of the mindset that my doctor knows what he’s doing.

“So, what comes next in your journey?”

UGH!!!! This has become one of the worst things anyone can say to me, truly. The pain of a cycle not working is hard enough, but when I’m asked this question I feel like I’m being rushed through the grieving process…..and for the record: yes I am grieving. I’ve learned that infertility is a marathon but also a sprint: the second Aunt Flo comes, you make a panicked phone call to your doctor to make sure you get an appointment before day 3 so you can get back on the medication and on to the next. That, combined with the feelings of grief and anger associated with the failed cycle makes answering this question really, really hard.

“One day, you’ll look back on this and be thankful.”

Maybe, but right now? ABSOLUTELY F-ING NOT. And it’s okay for me to be right where I am, thank you very much.

“Why don’t you guys just adopt?”

First, the word “just” does not belong here. In my opinion, adoption is a calling and not a way to “settle” when you can’t get pregnant. Maybe we will adopt, maybe we won’t but either way, it’s not up to you to tell me when I’m ready to have that conversation or when I’ve reached that point in my journey. Adoption is a heavy decision: one that is made after lots of conversation and introspection. And for the record: no we are not there yet. PS: adoption is also very expensive….like IVF plus a few extras expensive.

Here are some (more) things I bet anyone struggling with infertility would appreciate hearing instead:

“This shit sucks.”

Yes, yes it does and thank you for acknowledging it. A friend who is also struggling with infertility and I say this to each other often and let me tell you: it sums everything up perfectly.

“I want you to know that I’m here for you. Please let me know the best way to support you and your spouse.”

This could range anywhere from: “please pray for us” to “please take my husband out and get him drunk because he really needs it” but it allows the couple to identify what they need rather than having you try to identify and fix it for them.

“I’m just checking in to let you know that I love you and I’m here.”

I tend to ghost after a cycle doesn’t work. I need time to make sense of my feelings and, to be honest; I’m in a lot of pain and probably not on the same page as any of my friends so it’s hard to explain why I’m grieving for what feels like the 100th time in a row. But, knowing you’re there, you love me and that you don’t expect a response from me if I don’t feel up to it is really helpful….and not via Instagram. I think it’s also important to understand that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been going through infertility: the grief you feel when it doesn’t work is REAL and you feel it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I think it’s important to remember that while we all want to fix a loved one’s infertility, you can’t. It’s also important to remember that nothing is more helpful than being supportive even when you don’t understand, loving even when your loved one feels the most unlovable and empathetic rather than sympathetic. I know for me, the most helpful thing is to just listen, to ask questions if you don’t understand and, even if you say the wrong thing, say something: anything is better than saying nothing at all.

(Also, a Starbucks card never hurt because yes, most of us are still drinking coffee.)

Wherein I get Voluntarily Stuck with Needles