29 December 2014

The holiday season can be particularly hard for infertile couples who long for a child of their own. The holidays are a time for families to come together and spend time with one another. But some couples don’t have that luxury.  For some, year after passing year, is spent thinking about the family that could have been, or the family they want but do not have. And so our best advice is, if there is a couple in your social or family circle that doesn’t have kids, try not to raise the subject with them. Unless they have previously confided in you about their situation, it is best to assume that there is a reason that they have not yet announced a pending bundle of joy. Infertility is a very common condition and according to the World Health Organisation more than one in six couples of reproductive age have a fertility problem. Such is the pandemic; infertility is now recognised as a disease.

And even if you do know that the couple is experiencing difficulty in conceiving a baby, it does not mean that you have free reign to ask or say anything you want. What may sound like an innocent comment to you could be profoundly hurtful when viewed through the infertility lens.

The following are some of the things you should NOT say to anyone dealing with infertility.

  • “So when are you planning on having children?” In case you missed the first paragraph proceed right back up to the top of the page.
  • “If you’re meant to have children, it will happen.” Same goes with invoking God or any other higher power that you believe in. Infertility is a disease – and again, if you missed that in the first paragraph proceed back up to the top of the page. You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer that they were meant to have it would you?
  • “Just relax and it will happen!” Have you ever tried to offer relaxation advice to a cancer patient? Probably not. Like cancer, infertility is a disease that cannot be cured by relaxing. In addition, saying ‘just relax’ shows that you are not really listening to the person and that you are not validating what they are going through.
  • “Take a holiday; you never know what might happen!” Same as the above point. Infertility cannot be cured by going on holiday.
  • “You’re lucky you don’t have kids!” Bizarrely those with children often tell those with infertility that they would not miss parenting if they were parents, as it is such an incredibly stressful undertaking. That kind of comment hurts the dreams and desires infertile parents have of starting a family, which is sometimes all they have left.
  • “You’re so lucky to have so much free time/couple time/your figure!” The infertile couple does not consider themselves lucky. In fact spending thousands of Rands and conceiving your baby in a petri dish might actually be considered terrible luck by most normal people.
  • “Why don’t you just adopt, there are so many kids that already need good homes?” For many parents, adoption can be a solution to being infertile. However, adoption is an expensive and stressful process and is not for everyone. And many people may not even meet the rigorous requirements of adoption agencies e.g. race, religion, financial situation etc. And for some, the need for their own biological child is too great to give up trying.
  • “You waited too long!” Telling an infertile couple that they waited too long makes the assumption that they would not have had similar problems falling pregnant when they were younger. It also lays the blame squarely on them for something that could be a medical issue they have no control over.
  • Nothing. If someone close to you confides that they are suffering from infertility, don’t pretend it is not happening. If they have trusted you enough to tell you about their infertility journey then ignoring the topic altogether can be worse. Couples struggling with infertility often need someone to talk to and confide in. Ignoring their problem can do more harm than good.

So what can you say to someone dealing with infertility?
“I’m so sorry for what you are going through and I will be hoping and praying that your holiday wish comes true in the very near future”. This may very well make your infertile friend/family member cry, but guaranteed they will love you for it.
Listening, asking questions, and supporting the one you know with infertility can help them far more than anything else you say could.
Put yourself in their shoes. Infertility is not just a label; it’s the loss of a dream and plans for the future. Choose tender words as you would anyone experiencing profound grief and heartache.

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