"First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage!" But, what happens when the baby doesn't come next? Infertility is a painful subject for many couples. Understanding the hurt, longing and other feelings of those that struggle with this seemingly "normal" part of life, can help people who haven't experienced that trial to be more sensitive and less offensive.
Having a family is a personal decision
Many people who have already started families of their own are tempted to ask personal questions to those who, to unknowing eyes, seem to have decided not to start having children. Questions and statements to try to avoid are:
"Are you trying to get pregnant/have kids?"
"Don't you want children?"
"You're not getting any younger."
"When are you going to start a family?"
"When is your child going to have a brother/sister?"
These phrases, though often not meant to be harsh or hurtful, do hurt. It's a painful jab to a couple that desperately wants to have children, but cannot. Because we can't know everyone's personal circumstances, it is important to be sensitive and realize, regardless of the reason (choosing to not have children, unable to have children or have only yet to be blessed with one child), family planning is no one's business but the couple's decision.
Making jokes (or downplaying the situation) about a couple's inability to have children is tactless and inappropriate. Probably due to discomfort, not knowing what to say or just pure rudeness, people try to make light of the situation by saying little "jokes" to laugh about a couple's infertility. Friends and loved ones of mine have shared these personally hurtful statements:
"You know how it works, right?"
"You're lucky you don't have kids."
"Look on the bright side. Now you can travel."
"There's always adoption."
"You can have one of mine." (As if children are disposable or easy to come by.)
"You're lucky your body won't have to go through the torture of pregnancy and delivery."
"It's God's will."
Also, be careful when you're talking about your own children. Downplaying their importance creates frustration. "Why do they have kids if they don't even want them? I want kids, but can't have them." Whether trying to lighten the situation or attempting to comfort by saying how difficult having kids is (physically, emotionally, etc.), for a couple who wants a child so badly, these comments are anything but comforting or helpful.
Patronizing questions and statements cause pain and feelings of inadequacy
By nature, people are curious and often really do want to know reasons for the personal struggles of others. When it comes to infertility, using caution and sensitivity are crucial. Stating that maybe if the couple lost weight they would conceive or asking whose "fault" it is that they can't get pregnant are hurtful words. Additionally, "Don't worry, it will happen," and "Just stop trying to get pregnant or stressing about getting pregnant and it will happen," are easy things to say but rather disheartening to those who have likely been working years to have a baby.
Do not ostracize other mothers or couples who don't yet have children
Just like every other couple with kids or not, those who struggle with infertility want to be included, loved and understood. Don't avoid inviting them to activities that include families, unless you know for sure they'd rather not be included. No one wants to be left out just because of differences which they have no control over. But, be sure to avoid statements like, "You'll understand when you have kids." Try to be thoughtful and consider if you'd like to be left out of activities just because you HAVE children. Mother's Day is another time to be particularly careful. Read Ways to celebrate ALL women on Mother's Day for some ideas.
Keep advice, no matter how pertinent, to yourself
Parents with infertility have likely read about, heard about, prayed about, sought after and tried every possible home remedy, medical practice and spiritual guidance they can get their hands on to "fix" their infertility. Unless you're asked for advice, don't share your words of assumed wisdom. Yes, treatments and methods may be available - herbs, in-vitro fertilization, using certain "positions" or fertility monitoring devices, but it's not a magic wand. What may work for one couple may not work for another. Sometimes it is just not a physical possibility.
Be thoughtful with remarks to adoptive parents
When circumstances permit, couples will seek adoption as a means to have children. Unfortunately, this does not save them from hurtful or rude comments. "Don't you want one of your 'own?'" "Don't you wonder what your own kids would look like?" A friend of mine responded, "I have my own kids right here in front of me, and I know exactly what they look like." Additionally, adoption isn't for everyone. It's often an expensive, difficult process that comes with heartache of its own when a sought after adoption falls through after months of preparation. It also comes with hardships and takes a special skill set to be an adoptive parent. It's certainly a viable and noble option, but that is a personal decision for couples to choose.
What can you say?
The best option is to wait for them to bring it up. If you're a close friend or family member, there may be a time that they decide to open up the discussion. Listen to their story, their heartache and try to understand their feelings. If you ask a question, and they avoid answering, it's best to drop it. They may not be ready to talk about it yet. Offering prayers, letting them know you care or saying "I'm so sorry you're going through that" along with offering a hug are usually safe and positive things to do and say.
For those who are struggling with infertility..
We really do mean well (most of us.) We often feel bad that we have children (considering your circumstance) and don't know what to say to comfort you and soothe your hurts. If you feel comfortable opening up, most listeners will respond with kindness and love while trying to understand what you're going through. Generally, people mean well when they offer advice, make comments and ask questions. A vast "discussion" of the topic, from sarcastic to informative, can be found on Pinterest (which a friend who has struggled with infertility shared as something that helped her to cope).
Infertility is a tough subject, both for those who struggle with it and those who care about those affected by it. Learning to be sensitive and tactful is important. More understanding, caring and compassionate behaviors can help to ease some of the pain. When in doubt, just offer support rather than advice or hurtful comments.