After publishing 15 Things Not to Say to Couples Facing Infertility, I only felt right putting together a post about things to say or do for couples facing infertility. It’s easy to list negatives and warn people away from them. It’s harder to find positive words and actions with which to replace them. Infertility is so tough, no matter what. Nothing that you say or do for your loved ones will ever make things 100% better. However, making the effort to do or say the right thing at the right time goes a long way toward uplifting your infertile friends and family members.
Infertility is a painful, awkward topic. Unfortunately, a lot of people can’t seem to say “I’m sorry” or refrain from saying something tactless, insensitive, or downright rude. Your friends and family will really appreciate it if you steer clear of the following things not to say to couples facing infertility.
[Disclaimer: I partnered with Growing Generations to write this post. As always, all options are 100% my own. Thanks for your support!]
Long-time readers know that fertility treatment education and infertility support are very important to me. My husband Jake and I started trying to grow our family in late 2010. Our fertility journey has included testing for both of us, surgery for Jake to correct bilateral varicocele, ten rounds of Clomid for me, and three IUIs with Letrozole, the last of which was in late 2015. After failing the final IUI, we decided to start pursuing adoption. I share my latest update about adoption and links to my other adoption posts here.
After attending a recent local adoption support group, I felt compelled to write a post about coping strategies while you’re waiting for kids. I am relating waiting to infertility and adoption but much of this post applies to other aspects of waiting such as meeting the right person and getting married or finding a calling for a career. Infertility and adoption are not a big part of this blog, but they are a big part of my life. There are so many difficult aspects of infertility and adoption. One of them is waiting and the unknown that comes with that waiting. If you knew that a fertility treatment was going to work on X date or that an adoption would fall into place during Y month, it would be so much easier to wait. But we don’t ever know.
Many people tell you that they KNOW things are going to work out or that God has a plan, which isn’t very helpful, especially when they got pregnant multiple times with no issues. Again, no one does know for sure whether or not they’ll have kids, and it’s often hard to see the bigger picture when you’re in the midst of a tough stretch. Most of the time, it would be so great if someone said “wow, that stinks that your last treatment failed and you won’t be able to try another one for three months” or “how frustrating not to have anyone view your adoption book again this month, I’m so sorry” instead of glossing over the crushing pain or offering one of the previously mentioned sentiments.
So while you’re in the midst of dealing with month after month of not very supportive comments, most of the advice you come across for infertility is really generic, such as think positively or take a trip together. These tips aren’t bad, but they aren’t always very relevant or specific enough for day to day coping on a long-term basis, which is often the toughest part of waiting to have kids.
Obviously the journey is different for everyone. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this topic or to have all the answers. The strategies that work for me may not work for someone else and vice versa. But these are the real day to day methods that I use so I don’t lose my mind as I continue to wait.
Stop reading your Facebook news feed
I don’t mean hiding certain friends who are pregnant or who overshare about their kids. I mean get off the news feed completely. Pregnancy, or lack thereof, is what pushed me over the edge with the news feed, but it’s far from the only reason I quit reading my news feed. I would love to get off Facebook altogether, but it’s too darn convenient for keeping in touch with far away family and friends, and it’s the only way I communicate with certain groups of people. However, I’ve become really disciplined about how much time I spend on Facebook and which family members and friends I check in with on a regular basis so I don’t end up hating everyone I know.
For many people, reading the news feed is a nice break during the workday or in between responsibilities at home. I wrote this article not long after I gave up the news feed. I still opt for a number of those alternatives. Currently, I also use editing photos as a break from work tasks on the computer. I have a huge backlog of unedited photos. Keeping Lightroom open and editing a few at a time throughout the day helps me keep ticking through the pile. I get something done and can return to work without being pissed off about a pregnancy or kid related post, stupid meme, or controversial article.
Don’t put off what you’ve always wanted to do
When you’re waiting for something really big in your life to happen, it’s easy to keep waiting to do a lot of other big things, too. Maybe you’ve always said that you’d travel to Europe while you’re still in your 20s and you haven’t yet…and now you’re on the fence about planning the trip because maybe you’ll finally get pregnant next month. On the flip side, maybe you’ve been waiting to go to Disney World until you’ve had kids. If there’s something you want to do, go for it. Don’t use waiting as any excuse any longer. (Spoiler alert: Going to Disney World without kids is really awesome, too.)
Also, some of you already know that two of the best things that have happened as I’ve faced infertility are adopting cats and purchasing my first DSLR camera (both late 2012 and then the second cat adoption in June 2015). These bigger endeavors have a huge impact on my day to day sanity. My cats keep me smiling and laughing every day, which has been huge during this time in my life, and photography has helped empower me in a period when I’ve had virtually no control over the one thing that I want most. I have no idea how many cats we’d have or where my photography skills would be if we had started having kids when we originally planned, but I’m so thankful for both of these aspects of my life.
Don’t feel guilty about the things that you can do
I’m well aware that I have a huge amount of flexibility and freedom that most of my friends don’t right now. My husband and I frequently make last minute plans to go out to dinner and attend varying events around town. We’re often out well into the evening without a set schedule. I don’t have to consult anyone or make any sort of child care arrangements when scheduling a hair cut or doctor’s appointment. I can decide to visit my family in Chicago for the day without worrying about a child’s nap schedule. And I don’t feel guilty about any of it. Yes, I would trade all of that flexibility and freedom in a second to have kids. But I can’t so I don’t deny myself these privileges or feel guilty about it. Easier said than done sometimes, I know. For me, this hasn’t been the biggest struggle, but I know that it is for many people.
Take up a relaxing hobby
The more you think about what you don’t have, the worse it seems. A relaxing hobby can do wonders for taking your mind off of waiting during your down time. Obviously photography has been one of my biggest sources of relaxation over the past few years. Working on a craft project is often very relaxing for me, too. Currently adult coloring is all the rage. As such, there are tons of adult coloring books on the market. If you like the idea of an artsy relaxing hobby but don’t know where to start, coloring is a great option. Alisa Burke has quite a few beautiful FREE coloring pages, which you can download and print as many times as you like.
Figure out what you need to do to get through your lowest days
Even with a lot of awesome things happening in your life and an arsenal of coping techniques, some days are really rough. When you hit a really low point, working on a coloring page or getting outside to take photos of flowers most likely isn’t going to cut it. Be honest with yourself about what you need to do to get through these days. Some people retreat in tough times and are tempted to stay in bed all day. If you fit this personality type, think about scheduling a massage or pedicure or setting aside time for a long bath. Some people would rather jump into action and fight through it with physical activity. If you fit this personality type, tackle a deep cleaning project around the house or take an extra long run.
Be straight with people
People ask a lot of super nosy questions. Unfortunately people will ask nosy questions whether or not you have kids. But I got tired of saying, “no, I don’t have kids” and then getting inappropriate follow up questions such as when we think we’ll try, what fertility treatments we have and haven’t used, etc. So now I say that we tried for a long time (sometimes I say how many years, sometimes I don’t) and are currently pursuing adoption. People don’t expect this answer and are weirdly really supportive of the decision to try to adopt. It puts an end to a lot of the ridiculous questions, and many people actually say something nice. I know that not everyone wants to be so forward about their children status or lack thereof. It’s no one’s business, and you can say or not say whatever makes you most comfortable.
With that being said, there are plenty of times you can’t say what you really want to say. If you’ve been facing infertility or waiting to adopt for a long time, you know what I mean. If you can’t relate to either of these scenarios, ask family or friends who have and they’ll regale you with plenty of mind blowing examples. When you can’t say what you really want to say, the next coping strategy is critical.
Seek out family and friends who support you during the wait
A lot of people mean to be supportive of your wait to have children, but they say the wrong things. All the time. It’s really unfortunate, but true. You have to find even one or two family members or friends who really get it and will not judge you for the things you want to say to total strangers at parties and who will be there during your darkest moments. When you’re at any sort of social function and have to hold your tongue, it’s so great to have someone to text quickly who will just listen without judgement. There are other times that you may just be having an exceptionally tough day or get set off by something little that wouldn’t normally bother you. Having someone to just listen without interjecting unsolicited advice is so important.
Finally, there is a lot of advice about continuing to pray and keep your faith during infertility and adoption. I really admire people who do wholeheartedly because this has been a huge struggle for me. When my husband finished medical school and we moved to a new city for residency (in 2011), I felt really ready to have kids. To this day, I’m not sure how I could have been any more ready than I was at that time in my life, which leaves me wondering daily about my timeline for having kids and a lot of other aspects of my life. Needless to say, this has tested my faith. A lot. As a 30-something without kids, I also struggle a lot with my place in the church right now. Faith is a journey, and I trust that someday I’ll be in a better place with mine again. For those who don’t struggle as much with this aspect of waiting, I would love to hear your insight on the topic.
To those who read all 1,900+ words here, thank you. I always encourage people to share their feelings about the topic publicly and try to limit private conversation because there isn’t enough said about the topic publicly. However, if you don’t feel comfortable reaching out publicly, you’re always welcome to contact me privately, too.