Saturday, November 2, 2013

things you shouldn't say to a person struggling with pregnancy loss or infertility (even though you mean well)

It's a minefield, trying to figure out what to say to a person dealing with miscarriage or infertility.  You want to say the right thing, be comforting, but you don't want to set them off or dredge up terrible feelings.  Most of the people in my life were amazing and said the right thing or at least, the less bad thing.  Occasionally, however, I heard people say things that were extremely unhelpful and the following is a list of some of those things.

  • "Just relax.  It'll happen."  Anyone who's ever heard this when trying to reproduce, knows how supremely unhelpful it is.  An ordinary woman who is trying to have a baby and has never had issues with miscarriage or infertility is likely already wound up tighter than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  Throw some infertility or pregnancy loss into the mix and you have a volatile combination of emotions and telling her to, "Just relax," might get you a filthy look at best, and at worst a telling off.  (Unless she's particularly combative; then you might get punched.)
  • "If you stop trying, you'll get pregnant."  This is a subset of, "Just relax."  For a woman who has a modicum of awareness for how her cycle works, not trying is not an option.  It's like telling someone to not think about something.  Suddenly it's all you can think about.  Or forget about spring.  Spring is going to happen, whether you think about it or not and before you know it you're planting flowers and vegetable gardens, watching baseball and having cookouts.  
  • "It's not God's plan for you."  This is extremely unsettling for people to hear.  Maybe it's true, but we don't want to think that God doesn't have our hopes in mind.  Everyone knows that God's plan for us and our own plan for ourselves doesn't always converge, but when you say this to a person, all they hear is, "God thinks you'll be a crappy mom."
  • "You can always just adopt."  This is always said with the nonchalance of someone saying, "You can always just order pizza," when you don't feel up to cooking.  "Just adopting" is not as simple as one would think.  It involves unreal amounts of paperwork, time, energy and money.  Not to mention, strength, patience, and courage.
  • "You wouldn't be so eager for a kid if you knew how hard being a parent really is."  Don't say this.  We're not stupid.  We don't think that the hard work ends when we get to hold our baby for the first time.  If anything, we have more time to think about the realities of parenthood than our counterparts who spent one month trying to conceive.  Plus, we hear you when you tell us about your kid that doesn't sleep, eat vegetables, stop pooping every nine minutes.  We don't have an idealized vision of parenthood, where we're super parents and our kid is perfect.  We might have fantasies, but we're still realistic.
  • "At least you can get pregnant."  This is obviously directed at those dealing with repeat loss and not infertility.  It may sound like a positive point, but honestly, we don't live to see those positive pee sticks.  The whole point is to have a baby, not just get pregnant.  We want to experience the whole thing, from the positive test, to the anatomy scan, to the huge baby bump, to the actual, live baby.
This list is, by no means, complete, and some of the things might not bother every person.  Basically, you should be sympathetic and understanding, and strive to not be condescending or unrealistic.  It won't happen every time.  You'll say the wrong thing at some point, everyone does.  But knowing how some of the things you say could be received by a person dealing with these issues should help you navigate the minefield.

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