I know that there are people out there who only have the best intentions at heart, but all it take is one misplaced word to not feel like it. How do I know? Because I was surrounded by them who thought they were helping and I had to teach them what I needed to hear and when. The topic I want to talk about is what to NOT say to a friend, or even spouse, that is going through secondary infertility.
Here is what you don’t know about what’s going on in their head. They feel broken, insufficient, second class, crazy, misunderstood and FRUSTRATED. So the last thing they need right now is for you to make them feel worse even if that isn’t your intention. So here is a list of things that made my situation worse and you should avoid.
1. “You will get pregnant if you are just patient.” I hated this one because my husband and I have dealt with secondary infertility for two years before he finally got a vasectomy to finally end the misery. No, if you are patient it won’t always happen. We tried and tried and tried and, you know what it got us? More heartache. If your friend has been talking about doing something permanent about their type of infertility (mine was chromosomal so the baby wouldn’t develop properly and ending in miscarriage) then NEVER, once again NEVER, say this. You might not know how long they have actually been trying. In your mind it has only been a few months that they have been public about it, but they could have been trying for a year before they announced it.
- So what should you say instead? “I understand and I am here to listen to you.” All your friend needs to know is that someone will listen to them. I know that was what I needed the most. My doctor wouldn’t listen, and no one else believed me since I didn’t always get a positive pregnancy test, but it would have been the best thing. And if you don’t feel comfortable then listen to the best of your ability and softly suggest they find a professional to talk with. We cannot be everyone’s counselor and sometimes we shouldn’t be. So if it is too much to handle, then suggesting some help isn’t off limits.
2. “Well you have a baby, so you should be thankful.” I am going to tell you what this means – heartless! This is probably one of the most heartless things someone could say to someone who is going through secondary infertility. If you think that they are not thankful for their child, then you are out of touch. Your friend isn’t upset about not being able to have more kids because they are not thankful, but rather they are grieving the death of a dream. Do you have more than one child? If so, then why did you want more children? Shouldn’t you have just been thankful with your first child? Ridiculous right? Well this heartless saying is like a knife to the heart.
- What should you say instead? “You have a beautiful child (or children), but I understand your natural desire to want more children.” It is 100% natural to want more kids so, when you can’t, it’s hard to accept. If you make them think their desire needs to be invalid just because they already have kids, then you are missing the point of their pain. Because they have kids already is why they are the most frustrated. They get to stare at their fertility every single day, and it is painful to wrap their heads around why they have been barred from having anymore. So don’t discount the desire or make them feel bad for wanting more kids.
3. “God has a plan.” If they are religious (even if they are super strong in their beliefs), don’t throw God in there right away because frankly those going through secondary infertility are probably also having a tough time with their relationship with God. There is nothing but confusion on why He would allow this to happen to them, and there is also A LOT of anger. This was true for my husband and I and it still is a sore spot when a trigger happens. It’s something that will take years to get over. So DO NOT just throw this out there just because you have nothing else to say. It will do more harm than good.
- What should you say instead? Honestly, feel it out. I would suggest you wait until they bring it up. Don’t be the one to bring it up first and DO NOT just throw Bible verses at them about God’s love and plan. Like I said, this might do more harm than good. God does have a plan and we cannot see it. The problem is that your friend might not be able to see past the next day let alone a year from now. So just listen and be there even if you don’t say anything and just sit there in silence while your friend processes.
4. “Pull up your boot straps and get over it. There are people out there worse off than you.” Now if you ever say this to a friend going through secondary infertility, know that I am smacking you over the head right now. When was the last time you got some terrible news and needed time to process? How would you have felt if someone had just come in and told you to pretty much stop caring about your loss and get over it? You might be in a really good spot right now, but your friend isn’t. They need to be validated and understood. Not told to just get over it because they can’t and in some ways they never will. Really, when you are told you can’t have anymore children, you don’t get over it completely. Instead you just get really good at faking it. What you, as the friend, don’t see is your friend’s heart over the years crumble a little bit more every time someone else announces they are pregnant or simply see a cute baby in the market and the mother is doing nothing but complaining about motherhood. Your friend would take that baby in a minute if they could because they know the pain of not having one.
- What should you say instead? “Take as long as you need. I know this is a really hard thing, and I am here with you.” If your friend knows there is going to be someone there who knows their story and is there for them they will be more comfortable. Maybe talk about their triggers as time goes along and be there for them when one is triggered. They need to know that people understand this isn’t the same thing as a gold fish dying where you can just go to the pet store and buy a new one. This is a life time issue and it won’t go away. Like I said, we just get really good at faking it since we know that our family and friends don’t want to hear about it all the time. So we stop talking which isn’t good either, but we don’t want to always be miserable to be around. If your friend is starting to close up, then this is where I would really suggest they get help from a professional.
5. “If you just relax it will happen just like it did for me.” NEVER, I say NEVER, compare your story with your friend’s. I understand that our personal story is where we get our experience, but every story is different. If you dealt with infertility and things worked out for you then great, but that doesn’t mean it will work out for your friend. Also your friend doesn’t need you smearing your success in their face. I know that isn’t what you are thinking when you say this, but it’s not a thing of encouragement.
- What should you say instead? NOTHING. Nothing about your story unless it is completely relevant to your friend. What do I mean? The same. You can try to be encouraging, but it doesn’t always come across as encouragement. So when in doubt, say nothing.
6. “This too shall pass.” This is not true. The pain might fade to a dull ache, but that ache will be there forever especially with having kids first. If external triggers aren’t hard enough, there are the internal triggers as well. Nothing hurts worse than seeing your three year old rocking her baby doll and tell you she is putting her baby sister to bed. Talk about a shot in the heart. It is hard enough having to deal with others outside the home, but when the other kid(s) start asking for a sibling and you know you can’t give them one then there is nothing to make that pain go away.
- What should you say instead? “It will always hurt, but it will get easier each day.” I know this sounds counter productive but it does help. Why? Look at the first part. You validate their pain and the second part is the encouragement they need. Because it is a day by day process, and there is no way to speed up the process.
So there you have it. What not to say and what to say to your friend who is going through secondary infertility. It’s a painful process that will probably last a life time so please be patient and just be there for them. Be their hero and their support as they try to move forward and learn what their new life is going to be. Things will get easier for them, but it is going to take some time.