The Cross of Infertility, Part 3: What NOT to Do When Your Loved One is Facing Infertility

Catherine Boucher continues her four-part series “The Cross of Infertility” with special guest Amanda Teixeira. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

In Part 3, Amanda and I focus on how NOT to help a loved one facing infertility.  We talked about the common ways people end up making their loved one feel worse by saying or doing the wrong thing.  I imagine most people will find this segment very helpful.  Amanda and I pray that our dialogue will be a source of blessing.  I wanted to ask the hard questions, and Amanda wanted to answer them so that we can talk about what nobody seems to be talking about.

I hope Part 3 will be:

  • a microphone for couples needing a different kind of support from their loved ones

  • a safe haven where they will feel understood and supported

  • an opportunity those of us not currently facing infertility to better understand how to be supportive

I am especially proud of Amanda for sharing her candid and heart-wrenching responses in this section.  It would have been easy for her to only share the sweet and pious-sounding responses, but she took a risk in revealing the “snarky thoughts I usually keep to myself.”  These are precisely the thoughts we all need to hear.  The “snarky thoughts” reveal Amanda’s real pain and raw emotion.  These heart-wrenching responses open the door to dialogue and understanding between infertile couples and their loved ones.

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CB: What are some of the most hurtful or least helpful things you and Jonathan have been told?  How do these comments make you feel, and what makes them so hurtful to hear?  

In no particular order, we or friends with infertility, have gotten the following comments. I will provide brief explanations of why these can be hurtful…with some of my own snarky thoughts I usually keep to myself.

1. If you just relax you will get pregnant.

Yea, been there and tried that. Now, I am stressed out with trying to relax. If only it was this simple, people! How about you pay for me to get weekly massages, pedis and manis, acupuncture, and yoga? The financial tag attached to “relaxing” is enough to cause a new wave of stress.

Or, how about I stay home all day and quit my job to focus on relaxing? Then, you will accuse me of being lazy. I can’t win!

2. If you stop traveling and had a more stable job you will get pregnant.

Really? Out of the 25 months of trying to conceive, I’ve traveled about half the months to some degree and almost never when it’s a “fertile-window.” Again, if it were THAT easy, I would stop traveling. And most likely you just don’t like my job and are trying to blame infertility on it, so I change my profession to something you prefer I do instead.

3. If you simply adopt you will get pregnant.

OK, well can you join our missionary support team so we can pay for the $25,000 adoption price tag? If so, thank you!!! If not, shut up. Also, who are you…God? How do you know if we’ll ever get pregnant? Just because this all-too-talked-about phenomena HAS occurred in the past with some friend’s cousin’s sister-in-law doesn’t mean it will happen to us. You’re setting me up for a false hope here that you really can’t guarantee.

Also, adopting is not an instant fix. It’s a calling in and of itself. I know infertile couples that end up feeling called to adopt, and that is awesome. I know some who do not receive that call. A child should never be adopted because you couldn’t have your own kids, so you settled for second best and bought a kid. It should be done because that child up for adoption is worth loving and you desire to be their parents, regardless of your fertility issues.

Thankfully, Jonathan and I wanted to pursue adoption way before we ever got married. We love adoption, and even if we had 10 biological children, it’s something we wanted to pursue at some point. But adoption won’t fill the hurt of infertility, and to assume it would is naive. It will be its own unique blessing.

4. Have you tried IVF/dancing like a chicken in the yard while a full moon is out yet?

Some of the advice we get is from others whose values don’t align with ours. No, we aren’t open to IVF as Catholics who actually follow Church teaching because we believe it’s for our good. Just because I am not willing to pursue those doesn’t mean I am not trying. Don’t treat us like we don’t “really” want kids if we don’t want to try artificial means of reproduction.

We also get advice from crazy people who heard about something that helped a couple get pregnant. If you are actually sincere and care about us, bring it up, and I will likely research it and talk to my doctor. If you are trying to be nosy or talk about something you don’t really know anything about – again, shut up and don’t give me false hope in this “miracle” treatment you heard about working once for a couple in Indonesia.

5. Are you having sex?

SHOOT! We have to do that? That must be the reason! Thanks!

OK – dropping the sarcasm for a real response. This questions is nosy and demeaning. Of course we know where babies come from. With infertility, it’s hard to have meaningful sex at times. It’s easy to get burned out and for our intimate lives to be filled with pressure, stress, perfect timing, etc. It can become utilitarian in all honesty, unless the couple really tries hard to keep it humorous and filled with intimacy. Pray for infertile couples to never lose the sense of communion in this most intimate act, regardless of whether they ever get to co-create a life with God.

6. If you stop working out so much you will get pregnant.

I still have a healthy body fat and get a monthly period. I don’t bench 200 lbs, run 10 miles a day, or take steroids to beef up. I am not over-working out.

7. If Jonathan stops using a laptop or carrying his phone in his pocket, you will get pregnant.

Again, if only if it were that easy. And his computer is on a desk anyway and his phone is always lost.

8. Be thankful for the time you have together now.

I am.  But it’s also not the life we thought we would be living two years into married life, and that is hard to deal with.

I’ve gotten this comment most often from the “fertiles” who are busy raising kids of their own whom they conceived on their honeymoons/first year of marriage. I get it – they’re desiring more time with their spouse and have never really known married life without kiddos, which is hard. But it’s still hurtful. You fertiles are living the life I wish I had…and let’s face it, you wouldn’t trade your life to be infertile and in my shoes, and I know it.

9. Would you like to babysit my children to get your “kid-fix?”

Walk away before I hurt you.

10. Just surrender. When we stopped trying, that is when we got pregnant.

You are assuming I haven’t surrendered…let’s be honest, I haven’t surrendered fully but this comment has spiritual entitlement all over it. As soon as I do the act of ___________ (insert surrender, pray this prayer, etc.), God will bless me with a child.

God will bless us with life when it’s His will. It won’t depend on me doing the right prayers, spiritual acts, or positive state of mind. Many women with infertility get pregnant while having never truly found peace with it. Some find peace with it and then get pregnant. It’s God’s timing and will never be dictated by me doing anything to force his hand. Is it possible he will give me the grace to surrender and then I will conceive? Maybe. It could also go a million other ways according to what His will is and I am just along for the ride each day.

11. I have the opposite problem. We can’t stop getting pregnant.

I know that can be a real cross too. I don’t want to belittle the stress that can bring to a marriage, but it’s just not the right comment to give me. Let me tell you how that comment feels:

I am stranded in a desert and on the brink of death from dehydration. You ride past on horseback, toting 100 gallons of water behind you. While you pass by, you complain about your assignment to tote all this water across the desert and how tiring it’s been. While it may truly be a cross to you at the moment, I can’t see anything but the 100 gallons of water and what that would mean to me in this state of deprivation.

Translation – I know you are struggling, but I can’t see anything but the happiness in your family, and I am mad that you have it and aren’t appreciating it for the SHEER GIFT it is.

13. It just isn’t God’s will right now but it will happen.

You aren’t God. You don’t know. I don’t know. This very well may be a lifelong cross for us…we hope not, but it might be, and your assumptive comments, while attempting to be helpful, may be growing false hopes in my heart.

14. Have you tried this novena?

Probably. If you have been through these waters or really care about us, thank you. I will look into it. If not and you’re just making Catholic small talk – stop, you really don’t need to.

15. What are your issues?

If you are also struggling with infertility or actually care about us, I am happy to tell you/share stories/cry together/pray together.

If you are just a nosy person who likes to be “in the know” so you can gossip about our medical issues later…you better hope I never find out, or I will seriously give you a piece of my mind.

16. “Want to understand marriage? Think about the Trinity- God the Father loved the Son and the love between them was another person – the Holy Spirit. In marriage the same thing occurs. The husband gives himself to his wife and the love is so real that nine months later you have to give it a name.”

I understand there is deep symbolism here but as an infertile couple, all I hear is, “I am not a real married person since our sex lives don’t mirror the Trinity in bringing forth life.” Comments like this make me feel like we are simply animals acting out of instinct and less souls experiencing deep interpersonal communion, since our acts of intercourse are sterile.

17. Last but not least – “Then we became Catholic and the kids started coming, because that’s what happens when you are Catholic.”

I heard this one at work actually…while sitting at a table with other people battling infertility. I couldn’t feel more isolated and un-Catholic than in that moment.

CB: What do you think are the common misconceptions people have about infertility?

I’ve covered a few above, but I think the biggest would be that adoption is the cure-all to any infertile couples situations. “Just adopt” is the mantra of advice people seem to throw out as soon as they heard about our infertility. They assume that it will solve all our problems. I don’t think people know how intense and hard adoption can be in and of itself. If they did, they likely wouldn’t be throwing it out like it’s some simple fix to our shattered dreams.

CB: Within your own relationship, I am sure you and Jonathan had to figure out the best ways to support one another.  What did you learn were the worst things you could do or say to each other?

In the beginning, Jonathan was the one to say, “It’ll happen,” and then another month would pass by without a pregnancy. This began to eat away at me because it felt like a string of broken promises.

We’ve since accepted that we don’t know the will of God. We hope it will be for us to be parents, but we simply don’t know. Jonathan sticks with, “God’s will is for our good. Never to harm us. If he gave us His own Son, why would he forget us now?” Statements we can actually cling to with firm hope, whether or not we ever have children.

I used to say things like, “You don’t even care about this!” because he never cried about infertility or thought about it like I did. Now, I know he does care, but it looks different, and I’ve stopped accusing him of being a heartless husband or leaving me to shoulder the entire burden.

CB: I imagine there is some tension in some of your relationships with friends not struggling with fertility.  What are the worst moves for friends with children to do?

We just don’t get invited too much. All the families with kids invite other families with kids to come hang out…so their kids can play. All the singles invite other singles to do things, assuming the married folks are busy. The pool of friends willing to hang out with us consistently is newly married couples without kids…and as each year passes, this group shrinks since those couples start having kids. This hurts, but we assume that no one is trying to leave us out, it just naturally happens.

Worst moves for friends with kids -

COMPLAINING!!!!

I think complaining is something we all should nix from our lives in general, but I can’t stand pregnant women or women with kids complaining. Women complain (particularily on Facebook) left and right about their kids spilling this, having a diaper blow-out, kids fighting at the store, them not being able to get anything done since their kid doesn’t nap…etc.

I would amputate my left leg IF ONLY I could be inconvenienced by a child. Those are all my fantasies! Can’t you see that these “obstacles” are linked to little miracles? Please, don’t complain about the biggest gift you’ve ever been given in your whole entire life! Treasure it, and zip your lips when you are tempted to complain.

ASSUMPTIVE LANGUAGE!!!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the airport and overheard, “Then in December my friend and I are going to both get off the pill and get pregnant at the same time! I wonder how we handle being pregnant together!”

Or I will be at a Catholic friend’s home who has kids and something like, “Yeah, and then we have to plan that trip/project just right since we’ll have another baby in two years” comes out of their mouth. Mentally I want to punch these people in the throat, although I never have. How do they know God’s will?

I have identified that I don’t get sad or jealous in the slightest when I spend time around couples who talk about their kids like they are heaven-sent gifts they didn’t deserve or “make” happen. Couples who get that it’s God who has been the author of life with them. I think when couples deeply understand that truth…their assumptive language dissolves because they really aren’t in control and they know that. God may have 10 more kids in store but he might not, and they are accepting of however it turns out.

In many ways that is exactly what we, carrying the cross of infertility, have to do each day…so we find kindred spirits with couples who are like-minded in this approach to their fertility.

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I know Amanda was nervous to share her responses, but I am so glad she did.  I imagine a lot of you are either thinking, “Wow, I’ve so been there,” or, “Wow, I had no idea.”  Either way, I imagine Amanda’s responses are a tremendous blessing.

In Part 4, Amanda and I wanted to end on a high note.  We wanted you to know the depth and reality of Amanda’s pain, but we also wanted you to know that life is not all doom and gloom for her.  We will focus on how to encourage and lift up a couple experiencing infertility.  Amanda will share resources, encouragement, and final thoughts on her journey.  

Specifically, Amanda will answer these questions:

  • What are some of the most helpful and healing things others have said or done?  What made these gestures so moving?

  • Being faithful Catholics, how does God play a role in all of this for you and Jonathan?  Do you distinguish between God’s ordained will and His permissive will in regards to your fertility?

  • What are the best ways that you support Jonathan?  What are the best ways that he supports you?

  • What are the best moves for friends with children to do?

  • What resources are available for couples facing infertility?  What encouragement and support would you offer them?

  • How have you grown in your relationship with God in this time?

I hope you will join us tomorrow for Part 4!

Copyright 2014 Catherine Boucher

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