PLEASE NOTE: If you are struggling with infertility or are currently trying to conceive and you DON'T want to read about my pregnancy (which I totally understand), I recommend starting at the beginning of the blog (March 2010) and reading from there. I find out I'm pregnant in June 2011 so there is a lot of trying to conceive posts in between that you might find funny, helpful or relatable. Wishing you all the luck in the world!

Infertility Etiquette (to send to others)

I’ve seen quite a few articles on what to say or not say to someone who is dealing with infertility. After reading many of them, I’m stunned at some of the things that were left off of the list and frankly, I disagreed with some that were on the list.

On the surface, because I’m me and can’t help but make jokes about it, my list would consist of things like:

• All movies and TV shows must have a PG label: Warning storyline contains numerous pregnancy related topics.

• Strollers should have bell so we know when they are coming and can turn the corner.

• People addicted to crack should not be allowed to have their seventh child

• The word Duggar shall never be uttered in our presence.

• Never make a pity face when you talk to me.

• Save the sonogram photos — don't post them in public

• Understand if you're pregnant and I don't talk to you for awhile, it's nothing personal, I just hate your uterus.

However, that list is more for my fellow infertile women who can relate to my situation. In terms of what one can send to the outside world, I’ve composed my own version of what the etiquette should be when a fertile person is dealing with an infertile person. Please feel free to cut and paste it, edit it to fit your needs and send it to whomever you like. :)
First and foremost, I know that whenever any of my friends or family tries to offer their words of wisdom of my struggles with fertility, they have my best interest at heart. I also know that everyone, no matter who they are, is trying to be helpful.

Dealing with infertility is a very sensitive issue. Your emotions can range from feeling like a failure, to worrying about the future, to being optimistic, to feeling hopeless. Also, quite often when you are friends with someone who is fertility challenged, on any given day, they could be worried about money and insurance bills, or they could even be in the process of a fertility treatment where emotions and hormones are running high. You just never know.

Therefore, since many of you might not be aware of what can be unintentionally hurtful when dealing with infertility, I have put together the below list to help out:

• Please no anecdotes and no advice. Trust me. If you’re struggling with infertility, you’ve heard every anecdote you can hear; we know what so-and-so did with cough syrup or how what’s-her-face adopted and then got pregnant. We need to focus on ourselves and our own situation and ultimately, we have doctors to best advise us on our specific situation.

• Please don’t suggest using donor sperm or donor eggs. I’ve heard more stories than I can count of my fellow infertile women being asked if they want to use their brother-in-law’s sperm or their sister’s eggs. What’s amazing to me is people make these suggestions even before the couple in question has exhausted all their options. Until it’s determined that that is even a factor, the only person who should be offering a woman sperm is her husband.

• Please don’t suggest adoption or even giving up. Again, I’ve been shocked how many times people have asked me about adopting even before we did our first infertility treatment. Adoption is an option, but it’s one that is something for most couples down the road. The same goes for suggesting that they let go of trying to have kids. That’s a big decision, and many seem to suggest it way too early. In the end, both adoption and deciding not to have children is between the couple having fertility issues and their doctor. End of story.

• Please don’t suggest a reason why this is happening. Whether you think it’s God’s will or fate or that there’s some reason the universe has decided an infertile couple should have these issues, kindly keep it to yourself. Trying to apply logic to an inexplicable or illogical situation is simply not helpful. I personally have been dealing with this long enough to know that some couples get lucky, and some don’t. Even the most religious infertile couples will tell you that sometimes things happen when you’re going through this journey that don’t make sense. You just have to do your best and accept the outcome. Plus, when someone struggles with infertility, they often blame themselves. You trying to provide a reason as to why it might be their fault, only makes it worse.

• If you have children or are pregnant, please don’t talk about the downside. I know you’re trying to be comforting, but this can be the equivalent of telling a blind person they are lucky because you have to spend so much money on your eyeglasses.

• Please DON’T acknowledge Mother’s Day/Father’s Day. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be very difficult for those who desperately want to be a parent but aren’t yet. Some recommend that you send someone struggling with infertility a card or somehow include them on the day’s events. I personally disagree. Although the gesture is sincerely appreciated, to me, it just highlights the situation. I would much rather focus on MY mom and how much I love her more than I would care to focus on how I'm still NOT a mom. I would just be respectful that it’s a tough holiday.

• Please don’t mention celebrities who went through infertility. They have money and advantages that most don’t. They can adopt, do as many IVF cycles as they want, hire a surrogate or even rent a child if they so choose! The point is, whether they struggled with infertility or not, their situation is different from many women. Fertility treatments are very expensive, so telling someone all about how a celebrity got pregnant on her 20th IVF when most can barely afford the fertility medication isn’t wise.

• If you find out your pregnant or you find out a mutual friend or relative is, please put it in an email and be sensitive about it. To be clear, it’s not that people who have fertility issues are incapable of being happy for those who are fertile. It’s more that they themselves feel like a failure. It’s one of those cases when you’re “happy for them but sad for me." An email will give the person dealing with infertility a moment to deal with their feelings privately.

• Even if someone who is struggling with infertility confides in you about their issue, please don’t ask them about it constantly. Some days, it’s harder to talk about infertility than others so it’s best to let the person pick their moments to discuss how they are feeling.

• Understand that there are some events that are difficult (baby showers being at the top of the list). Again, it’s nothing personal toward you. You never know where an infertile woman is either emotionally, psychologically or physically. Imagine finding out your IVF failed, and then the very next day going to a baby shower where they talk about pregnancy the whole time. Sometimes, the timing is off and the person just needs to protect their own feelings.

Here are a few key phrases that are good to say:

• I’m sorry you’re going through this.

• I can’t imagine how you must feel.

• Hang in there.

• I’m here for you.

• I’m thinking of you.

• Please let me know if you want to talk.

In general, the key is to be supportive. That’s one thing people struggling with infertility do for each other. If you post on a fertility-related chat board that you’re down, you get an endless amount of support. If you post that you’re about to start hormone shots, everyone will wish you luck. No one makes judgments or tries to make it all better: We just support and encourage each other, and that really is the most helpful thing a person can do.


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Kasey Attianese said...

• Understand if you're pregnant and I don't talk to you for awhile, it's nothing personal, I just hate your uterus.

I love love love love this! Thanks for giving me a morning giggle!

Anonymous said...

I love that complaining about kids = complaining to a blind person about expensive glasses. I have horrible eyesight and spend tons of $ on glasses and contacts. But I will NEVER go up to a blind person to complain about it.

Eliza Norris said...

I appreciate the general sentiment of this article that we should be sensitive to those who have infertility problems. Both of my sister in laws whom I'm very close to have. But I just have to say that a couple of ideas in this article really get under my skin.

Don't celebrate Mothers Day in front of you? Don't post a sonogram? There's another ridiculous article circulating lately about not posting how great your husband is, because someone else might be having marital problems. SERIOUSLY?! These notions are so absurd to me, I can't even fathom a reasonable person suggesting them. EVERYONE has struggles, horrible ones, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't celebrate life's successes just in case other people haven't yet. So ridiculous. It's like saying, don't say to someone "today is a great day!" just in case they are having a terrible day. I honestly feel like the women (or people) who have a problem with these things need to have a cup of hot cocoa, and remind yourself that you are of worth, and have wonderful things about yourself. Just because someone else's life is seemingly great, that is no reason to be jealous or tell them to stop celebrating. When we learn to celebrate others successes, that is when we can really let go of our own emotional baggage. And if we don't, what a freaking waste of time and a waste of a precious life, wishing others weren't happy. So ridiculous.

And one last thing- about when women suffer in pregnancy to not talk about that either- ok that is absolute BS. This last pregnancy for me I was hospitalized several times, bed rest for 3 months, felt like I was LITERALLY going to die, wanted to crawl into a dark hole and never emerge- it was honestly the darkest days of my life thus far and I thought I'd already been to hell and back several times- you're trying to tell me I can't talk about that, to make YOU FEEL BETTER?! Such a load of garbage. Thank heavens the women in my life heard my cries for help and tried to help rescue me, instead of berate me for complaining.

And btw, my sister in laws tell me they would rather know the truth, hear about the joys, the pain- because if I hid that from them that would make them feel worse. So this must be all about each of our very own perspectives. Of course I am sensitive to them, and cautious at times, but I have a life to live as well (!!), and some things I don't have or are terrible at, they are marvelous, and have it all in those respects. I don't get mad for their successes, I truly celebrate with them!!! LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING ELSE!!!

Jay said...

Eliza - Thank you for your comment and I'm happy to share it with my readers.

As I mentioned, this is something to tailor and alter as you see fit. Some things that may not bother you or me, may bother someone else. The main idea of the article is that it's ok to set limits and express how you feel to your friends and family as to what you do and don't need.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't say that I think you're taking what I wrote a bit too literally. There's a HUGE difference between someone grumbling about their feet bothering them when they are pregnant to someone who just had a miscarriage and someone who, no matter their fertility or not, has been in and out of the hospital due to their pregnancy as you have (I'm so happy to hear you're all right!). I have had two people very close to me that had no fertility issues but had difficult pregnancies. I was extremely concerned and supportive of both. No where in this piece did I say you should have no compassion for fertile people or for anyone's problems ever. That's just insane and not at all what I stand for.

In general, I sense you haven't really been a follower of my blog or Twitter or Facebook account or my journey. If you did, you would know that I'm very much someone who celebrates others joys, successes, accomplishments and is very, very active in the infertility world both personally and professionally.

One of my biggest goals is to encourage people who struggle with infertility not judge themselves or judge each other. Sometimes, women don't want to go to a baby shower. Is that the nicest way to feel? Probably not but not only is that none of my business to lecture her on but in my opinion, if that's what that woman needs to do to stay sane, she should send a generous gift and stay home. It's ok. If you have negative thoughts or need to set boundaries, you are not a bad person. You are someone having a rough time who is just trying to cope. I'm sincerely sorry you missed that in this piece as it sounds like you would have been supportive of that message.

Bottom line: Everyone has to do what's right for them. You obviously found what's right for you and you clearly have a lot of support so for that, I sincerely applaud you.

Thank you again for this thought provoking comment and all my very best.

Carol T said...

Jay, good job on writing this blog and well answered to Eliza Norris's post, couldn't be a better one!!
Your "Infertility Etiquette" piece was so well written, exactly what I have experienced. This masterpiece will only be appreciated by women who struggle with fertility issues. Obviously not for Eliza Norris who does not belong in the infertility world.
Thank you for sharing, Jay.
Eliza, write your own blog. "You shouldn't be on this boat, its not going your direction!"

Astrid Cooper Carter said...

Hi Jay,
I LOVED your "Infertility Etiquette" piece!! Due to years complications from Endometriosis and Uterine Fibroids and 5 GYN related surgeries, in March 2012, after much pain (physically & emotionally) failed pregnancy attempts, we finally decided the best course was for me to have a sub-total Hysterectomy. Less than 5 months later, a close and long time friend girlfriend was having her baby shower. I really thought I was going to be OK, bought the cutest gift and was very excited for her!! As the days approached, I couldn't sleep, I became anxious and obsessed over the gift.

The morning of the baby shower I was sobbing. I decided to call her mother (I didn't want to my girlfriend and spoil her day) and explain I couldn't make it, she knew my situation, was very supportive, and invited me to come by their home later in the week.

Several days later I called my girlfriend to see how the shower was and find out when I could drop by the and see her. I was BLOWN away by her reaction!! She called me shellfish, self-centered and not willing to put my own feelings aside to celebrate HER happiness!!

Just as you wasn't personal...I just hated her uterus at that moment. However, her reaction, was so severe and so mean spirited and she'd known my own struggles for many years that I couldn't accept that outburst. I congratulated her, wished her luck with motherhood and have never spoken to her again.

To some that may sound a bit harsh or extreme, but I couldn't see myself staying friends with someone who acted this way.

Keep fighting the good fight Jay and laughing all the way...for all those who can't or aren't able to fight or speak up for themselves!!!

With many thanks and gratitude!!

Davy @ The Sea of TTC said...

"If you have children or are pregnant, please don’t talk about the downside. I know you’re trying to be comforting, but this can be the equivalent of telling a blind person they are lucky because you have to spend so much money on your eyeglasses." So good!
Since it's hard to strike up a conversation with "So, I'm still infertile," I encourage people to gently ask questions. That way, you give the person an opportunity to verbally process infertility but also allow them to change the subject.

Artista Oscura said...

"People addicted to crack should not be allowed to have their seventh child."

Very well said!

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Studying Adoption said...

Great post! Been reading a lot about dealing with infertility. Thanks for the info here!

MDTTC said...

Thanks for this! Sometimes its hard to know what the right thing is but I think I will share this with my mom haha - she's one of those suggesting adopting before I have even gone through the investigations....oh man this is going to be a long road...So glad you came out of this with a baby!!

emma said...

Thanks for sharing the information

lily said...

Nice Post..

lily said...

Nice Post.

Neha Sahaay said...

I couldn't avoid remarking. Extremely elegantly composed

Unknown said...

Great post but the sad fact with this is that the people who most need to know won't even be reading it...

IVF Centre in India said...

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IVF Centre in India said...

This is the great post. Everything is explained in easy to understand terms.

olioxinfree said...

I just had to stop and reply to your reply Jay and say well done. It is very clear Eliza is removed from the pain of infertility, regardless of having sisters who've dealt with it. The intention of your well written article is in no means telling people what they can or cannot do, but instead, offering insight into the specific types of things that come across as hurtful. Sensitivity to others goes a long way. If the idea that one has to let go of sharing their weekly fruit sizes of the baby growing inside them makes them feel cheated, they don't know what cheated feels like.
Anyways, I'm glad you handled that with more grace than I could have.
I'm so happy you found your happy ever after. I hope mine is around the corner ;) much love
- Femme InFertile

Angela Navejas said...

Great post. I appreciate all of the information that you have shared. I hope you will write more good stuff like this blog article. Thank you for the hard work!

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Unknown said...

Your reply to Elisa Norris is so superb and articulate. I would of told her what an assh**** she is. Your comments r much more beneficial to everyone. Good for you.

Anonymous said...

It is so great to read my exact feelings and thoughts on this subject a I wish this infertility thing wasn't so hard and that people could refrain from their offering their opinions. I suppose its not their fault as how could they truly understand? Thank you for writing this!

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