Infertility & Ten Horrible Things People Say

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Infertility.

If you’ve walked this road, even seeing the word makes you wince.

It’s a word that means failure, despair, and all the money. It is what if’s and hope deferred.

And it means people saying the shittiest things to you. Seriously.

I want to talk about some of the horrible and unfortunately common things people said to me while going through this difficult season, and explain why those comments – while seldom malicious – were deeply painful.

Why do any of us ever put our foot in our mouth? We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what we’re talking about, or we’re scared. That naturally leads to the spewing the first and stupidest thing that comes to mind.  So, in my next blog post, I’m going to offer suggestions for helpful things you can say or do if you know someone going through infertility.

Also, there’s something I need you to understand. I wasn’t like – Oh I have a blog. Let’s go shame people. If you read this and you think…”hmmm, I might have said that.” Truth is, I don’t really remember who said what. Or maybe we had to have a conversation about what you said. All is forgiven. Or forgotten. Or both. 

This isn’t about you and it’s not about me. It’s about her.

The one who knows all the internet acronyms – she’s TTC, measures her life by DPO, did the BD, or a had a MC, counted her follies and had an IUI, endured yet another 2WW, again a BFN, and later a BFP, then a M/C.

She might have mortgaged her house for a few rounds of IVF. Or she’s had so many miscarriages, she got her own Doppler for this pregnancy.

You pass her at church or the grocery store and she’s drowning in hopelessness and synthetic hormones. She’s the only 20 or 30-something sticking her head in the store’s frozen pizza case because of her hot flashes. She can’t tell where her emotions end and the medicine’s side effects begin, and she truly wonders if she’s losing her mind.

Or maybe she’s wrapping her heart around adoption – turning what she thought was Plan B into a glorious Plan A. And trying to find $30k under the couch cushions.

And then on top of everything, friends and vague acquaintances – most well-intentioned, a few careless, gossipy or judgmental – lob flaming arrows of bad advice, not-so-subtle jabs, and plain ole crap her direction.  

So I thought, maybe you’ll read this blog post and maybe you’ll see that friend sticking her head in the pizza case at the grocery store or avoiding looking at the cute baby in the ruffled dress at church, and maybe you’ll be able to say something helpful and encouraging to her. 

Because I really do believe that most of the people who said these things to me, whether they knew what was going on or not, genuinely thought they were being helpful.

But they weren’t. At all.

Next, you might be thinking, But I don’t know anyone going through infertility.

Yes you do.

As I went through my comparably short battle with infertility, I was very private. I still don’t know how all of them arrived at my door step and inbox, but I developed a sisterhood of women who’d walked this road before. And there are a lot of us. I now find this journey such an integral part of the story of our miracle boy and the story of God’s faithfulness, that I don’t mind sharing, especially if it will help someone else.

So here’s the deal, if you have a friend who’s been married a more than a few years, is not in some sort of big life moment – her or her husband finishing law school, a deployment, they’re still in college – and she hasn’t outwardly expressed that she doesn’t want kids, she might be going through infertility.

Wondering why your friend with no kids stopped coming to girl’s nights out when it became a big mommy gab fest. She might be going through infertility. (Or maybe y’all are being a little insufferable).

Wondering why one of your friends stopped signing up to take meals to friends who just had babies? It might be hurting her heart too much.

I think that if you have a friend who has begun isolating herself, something’s wrong. 

The reality is this:  You know someone who is struggling right now with infertility.

And if you know someone in this fight, isn’t helpful to know what not to say? I think so. So without further adieu, here is a list of the nine weirdest, worst, most head-scratching things people told to us while we struggled to have a baby.

1. You need to try (insert fad diet of the month) and you WILL get pregnant.

Now, I know there is a correlation between weight loss and ovulation. I know because I talked about it. With my doctor.

No matter how close we are, if you told me that the only reason I wasn’t pregnant was because I hadn’t tried your friend’s fad diet, you found out that I was pregnant when I announced it on Facebook in the middle of my second trimester.

2. You just need to relax / Stop trying and it will just happen.

Apparently you weren’t in the room when my doctor read pages and pages of lab work, looked up at us and said that AT MOST I’d ovulated twice my whole life. Also, all those years we weren’t trying, I was relaxed, and it didn’t “just happen.”

These sorts of comments place subtle blame on the very person they’re trying to help. That’s a big deal. 

Hashtag not helpful.

3. You two know how this works, right? / Maybe it’s time you start practicing a bit more…Wink Wink. 

I can’t even comment. Wait, yes I can. I must.

We don’t have a kid, so you take it upon yourself to walk up to my husband and me and tell us we don’t know how to have sex? I think we can figure it out. After we’d been married for a few years and bought a house, these demeaning, bizarro comments came with head-pounding regularity.

Really, people? Really? 

4. You’re not getting any younger. You need to get on this.

My biological clock had run out of batteries. Thank you for reminding me I’m old.

5. We’re at a family or friend gathering. Everyone is in one room – people I know well, people I don’t know well at all. There’s a lull in the conversation. Suddenly someone loudly says from across the room, “So, Sarah, why don’t you have a kid yet?”

This is probably the worst. Face turning red, embarrassment shifting to shame, sometimes I’d have the wherewithal to say, “Hopefully I will when God and our team of medical professionals make a miracle happen.” Most of the time, I’d just shrug my shoulders.

6. The Baby Juke: It’s a term made up based on Jon Acuff’s term, the Jesus Juke.

You’re in a simple conversation and out of no where, JUKE! They just turned it into a conversation about why you haven’t sprung forth fruit from your loins. You realize that the entire conversation was just a prop to get you to this point. Baby jukers also believe they get bonus points for doing this in front of spectators or on social media.

See, watch:
Annoying Person: “What are you getting your parents for Christmas?
Me: “I was thinking a cast-iron skillet for my mom and a golf shirt for my dad.”
Annoying Person: “You know, they’d probably rather have a grandbaby than a stupid skillet. You’re not getting any younger. You need to get on this.(To the crowd) Am I right?”

Or:
Annoying Person: “I love those new pants!”
Me: “Thanks! They fit great!”
Annoying Person: “Well, watch out. They won’t fit after you have a baby. Speaking of, why don’t you have kids?”

Friends don’t Baby Juke their friends. That’s all I gotta say about that.

7. Why are you spending money on (home or car repair, vet bill, haircut) when you could be spending that money on a baby?

Well, we have a car and a house and (we used to have) a cat. And we don’t spend much on them. Would you like me to get out the calendar and show you the last time – three years ago – that we went on even a small weekend getaway? Or have you call my parents, who helped with our groceries when our fertility treatment costs began mounting?

Like the Baby Jukers, these helpful people really only asked their questions in front of an audience, as if enough of a mob got together and started shouting, “baby! baby! baby!” a tiny human would actually fall out of my nether regions.

Maybe everyone could just mind their own business.

8. You’re going to be a stay-at-home mom, right?

I don’t have a kid yet, but thanks for throwing me into the mommy wars. At the most inappropriate time ever.

9. Why aren’t you praying for a miracle?

This one really pisses me off.

First, why do you think I’m not? Don’t you think that I’ve yearned to have a romantic night with my husband, and then few weeks later to pee on a stick, see the magic plus sign, and then get to surprise our families? Instead, I was impregnated at a doctor’s office while The Professor was at work, and had no parents to surprise because they all knew our treatment schedule.

Yes, I prayed for that miracle with our sweet boy, and I’ll pray for it again.

Second, just ponder this. There’s a medicine that forces the very first part of a woman’s monthly cycle. That medicine causes her body to retrieve and grow a follicle, which will eventually turn into an egg. After a week or so, an ultrasound checks to make sure the follicle is ripe. Then a shot forces ovulation. And then exactly 36 hours after the shot, another procedure gets the swimmers in the mix. That, boys and girls, is sometimes where babies come from.

And you know what? That sounds pretty miraculous to me.

Thank you Jesus for doctors, researchers and chemists who solve these complex problems. Thank you for miracles, whether they are driven by science or defy explanation. I for one don’t like to rank my miracles.

And finally, hopefully you’re not the sort of person who goes around telling people with cancer to get off their chemo and pray instead. So why would you say that to someone using medicine to solve legitimate medical problems with fertility?

10. At least…

When you’re talking to someone who’s hurting, you need to remove the words at least from your vocabulary.

“We’re going through infertility treatment. It’s hard financially and the medicine is making me really sick.” 

“At least you don’t have cancer.”
“At least you already have a child.”
“At least you’re married and at a place in life to have kids. Some people aren’t.”

At least says this – Your pain is invalid because it is more than or less than someone else’s. (And equally infuriating, many times the person you’re being compared to is hypothetical!)

At least shames. It shuts down. It silences.

***

So there you have it. I heard these things over and over.  Do you feel equal parts amused, sad and frustrated? And maybe you sort of want to take a shower? I do.

Here is my conclusion.

It is hard out there, no matter what you’re going through. And I know you are all going through something.

And I think we can do better.

Can’t we encourage without embarrassing? Can’t we ask without shaming? Can’t we be a tribe of support, not a mush pit of grief? Can’t we? 

I think we can. I think you can, and I think I can.

In my follow-up post, I will be discussing practical things you can say or do if you have a friend going through this or many other hard times in life. I hope you stay tuned. 

Experts Series: Infertility

TeressaThank you for tuning in to the next installment of the Accidental Okie Expert Series

Teressa’s expertise is in something not wished for by anyone: infertility.  

I asked Teressa to write a post on how to talk to someone going through infertility – what to say, what to not say. What she sent me was infinitely better. Because she sent me her heart. Her emotions. Her experiences.

I hope reading it will help you, should you be on a similar journey, or help you gain insights into the great trials Teressa and Ryan and others like them are muddling through. Stepping into her shoes for a minute, maybe you can be better equipped on what to say to a friend in this same situation.

Teressa and Ryan live in Seattle. Ryan is a teacher and Teressa is the owner of Cashmere Floral Designs.

– – – – –

They said it would be easy. 

We made a plan.  Slated five days to fly to Seattle from our home in Sitka, Alaska.  Checked into a really fancy hotel.  Told our family and friends that we were trying, that we had finally accepted the fact that we were using a sperm donor and that we finally chose one.  We had a bastion of prayer warriors.  Ryan bought me a pedicure at a spa. 

The doctors were going to inject sperm, and this would be the beginning to our lives as parents.  So long married life of two… hello parenthood. Statistics show that it takes usually three tries to achieve one pregnancy.  We wanted three kids.  At $500 each vial, we purchased nine.

We thought it would be easy.

Two exciting and forever-lasting weeks pass, and it’s time to pee on the stick that is supposed to herald the news:  Congrats!  Your life is about the change.  Your someday has arrived! 

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3:30 a.m. – I couldn’t take the suspense.  I pee on the stick, planning to surprise Ryan. 

Pee.  Wait. Wait. Wait. 

As the one bar darkens and there’s no sign of a second, I let out a low moan in denial.  Then wake Ryan and tell him that this test must be defective.  The dear man rises from a dead sleep, dons his shoes, and heads out the door to the grocery store to buy another test.

It wasn’t broken.  I wasn’t pregnant.  This was August of 2010, and that was vial one.

Since we were committed to work in Sitka until October, and since my work as a florist allowed only a small window of due dates that avoided wedding season, we held off trying until we moved back to Seattle. 

Dec. 24th.  My ovulation predictor kit shows it’s time again.  Two more exciting and hopeful weeks pass.  Pee again.  Another silent piece of plastic tells us the news.  Happy 29th birthday to me.  Vial two is gone.

Family and friends are constantly asking for updates.  We’re happy to share because we cannot wait to be celebrating good news together.  Early February, try again.  Another miss. 

The first three vial, all portioned for baby number one, are gone.

At this point, we become a little more private.  The doctor is suggesting an HSG test to determine if I have a blockage of my tubes, or cysts or fibroids that could be causing a problem.  That sounded great, until we learned what it meant:  $800 out of pocket and one of the most painful diagnostic tests available.  The second opinion of another doctor is against the test. We decline. 

We’ll try for one more time.  It’s bound to happen.  God is the author of life right?  And God can do anything.  Plus, there’s nothing wrong with me.  And this next try is sure to take.

Another two weeks.  We’re house-sitting and dog-sitting because we can’t afford a place to live because God still hasn’t provided a living for Ryan.  I’ve felt all the things one’s supposed to feel in pregnancy.  I’ve obsessed online over all the symptoms.  This is definitely the time.  The stick comes out of its sacred foil package.  One line. 

Neither of us had ever felt that hopelessness.  No job.  No baby.  No silver lining. 

The dogs I hate come over to lick my tears off the floor as I sit in the middle of a stranger’s kitchen, sobbing.  We didn’t turn any lights on that night.  Ryan lay on the peach sofa and stared in the sunset sky.  I spoke no works and lay on top of him.  Staring.  Crying. 

He takes a deep breath and hollowly, despairingly mutters, “The only difference between the days for us is that the sun comes up and goes back down.” 

I have never seen him that hopeless or distraught.  The man who battled cancer, with its consequences and recurrences, who looked forward to each day as progress and hope, had just committed to the dark side.  Normally one of us is up when the other is down.  But this day, we were both defeated.  

That was vial four.  Only five chances left.

Fast forward one year.

A blessing of a doctor came into our lives. He learned that my hormones were out of whack.  I guess moving from Alaska, having no job or no home, starting a new business, recovering strained relationships after living in Alaska two years, living with in-laws, moving nine times, and having nothing to show for all of the hard work, can place certain stress on a person.  Compounded was a five-year-old nephew with a brain tumor, a dad struggling with dementia, and both parents in an airplane crash.  As it turns out, this all can upset the reproductive system.

So, we do natural hormone treatment and weekly b-shots.  A year goes by, and Dr. Matt says with a smile, “I think you’re ready to try again!  Everything looks great!”  The hope swelling inside of me couldn’t be contained.  I burst into happy tears and he prayed over me.  I go home and tell Ryan.  This was a good couple of weeks. 

In the meantime, my nephew Jack spends his fifth birthday in the hospital for brain surgery.  My prayer is for God to save my sister’s baby and knit together a baby for us.

Jack got his miracle.  I got my period.

Vial number five. Gone.

With each try and fail, the devastation only deepens.  Our eyes and hearts are bloodshot.  Our bank accounts and arms are empty.  Our home is still quiet, and we’re still hovering over our two-year-old “kitten” because she’s all we have to nurture with our own last name.  Our hearts are sick. Our hope, continually deferred.  And as we struggle, we are surrounded by 31 pregnant or nursing mothers.

We are in such need of discernment, and feel very alone and very much too tired to know where science and God’s hand meet.

While I detest this period of meaningless infertility, I do pray for and treasure the gifts that are sure to rise up from it. 

I will be able to tell a better story. 

Whatever the outcome of all of this, I will be able to tell a story about God.  He is giving me what I need.  Lies of hopelessness are lodged in my direction and God, with his truth and with the strength that comes from his goodness, gives me what I need to dispel them. 

Alas, I’m tired.

Three viles left.

That was about a year ago when Teressa penned those words onto a tear-stained journal. During the interim, a doctor discovered one last problem, which was resolved. Here’s an update.

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Two vials left.