Bad things people say to you when you're struggling to have kids
People are kind of the worst sometimes. Like, just absolutely terrible. And I feel like they get even progressively worse when the concept of kids comes in the picture. You have even a whiff of baby, and everyone loses their goddamn minds when it comes to personal decorum and general nosiness.
I think we've all experienced that wacky relative who keeps bugging you about when you're getting married so you can have kids/when you're having kids once you're married, right? Also, random people in our lives just love to make assumptions -- you put on a few pounds, and it's, "OMG, are you pregnant?!?!" You buy a Honda CRV, like R and I did a few years ago, and everyone comments, "DOES THIS MEAN YOU'RE HAVING KIDS NOW!??!?!?"
So, first of all, no, we're not, because we can't, so I and all other people running the infertility marathon would appreciate it if you'd keep comments like that to yourself.
And that brings me to the overall point of this blog post: People say the dumbest things to you when you're trying and failing to have children. Regardless of if the comments are related to infertility or miscarriage, some of the things people have said to me have made my experiences with this infinitely harder. I'd like to go over the common refrains I've heard so that anyone reading this can eliminate them from their go-to bank of sympathy phrases.
"It'll happen when you least expect it!" / "I knew someone who went through IVF for years and it didn't work, and then just when she stopped trying, she got pregnant naturally with triplets!"
I call this the "Miracle Mantra" -- people try to instill hope in me by telling me tales of statistical outliers. I don't doubt that you know someone who got pregnant against all odds; I just want you to recognize that it was against all odds. It makes me feel like screaming at them, "OK, so you know ONE PERSON, but let's now talk about all the people who NEVER get that!!! Google survivorship bias!!!!!"
Statistics for IVF are actually pretty abysmal. Slightly less than 50 percent of women age 35 and younger get pregnant from an IVF cycle, and just about 21 percent carry to term. As you age, the numbers go lower from there. I'm 36, about to be 37. It's actually more likely that this won't work than that it will. Please don't pepper me with platitudes and false hope.
"I know a woman who had multiple miscarriages if you want to connect with her." / "I know someone who finally gave up on IVF. Would you like her number?"
I know, I know. I literally just bitched about people focusing on the outliers. But the thing is, while I don't want to have false hope, I'm absolutely not ready to have no hope.
I have two embryos left, and I'm getting a new job in which the health insurance policy may afford us some additional rounds of IVF. We're actively taking a break from transferring one of those two embryos, during which time I am going to figure out the answer to the insurance question, recommit myself to diet and exercise, and possibly change fertility doctors. I'm still in the thick of this battle! The white flag has not yet been raised!
It is devastating to stare down the barrel of a future in which you do not have kids but desperately want them. Let me request that information from you when I've made my peace with it, please.
"I struggled with getting pregnant too -- it took me three whole months!"
If you were able to get pregnant naturally, especially if you got pregnant within a year of trying, please do not try to connect with me on this and compare your feelings and experience to mine. Don't rub shoulders with me saying, "It's so easy for some other people, amirite?"
It's easy FOR. YOU!
I have a note from my doctor saying that we have a less than 3 percent chance of ever being able to conceive naturally. After a year in which I've stuck myself with literally hundreds of needles, a year in which fertility medicines have made me sluggish and weak, a year in which I've been pregnant two times and gained weight as a result, I still have nothing to show for it besides undulating waves of grief.
We. Are. Not. The. Same.
"At least you know you can get pregnant!"
COOL. But so far I can't stay pregnant, so what exactly am I supposed to do with this information? I can get pregnant, but I can't stop my baby from either dying inside me or slipping right out.
Women who have miscarriages just LOVE hearing this, let me tell you.
"It's all in God's timing." / "God has a plan for your life."
This one may be me-specific, or at least like-minded-individuals-specific.
I am not religious. Others may find comfort in hearing that there is some greater power out there guiding all of this, but I don't. I believe all of this to be terribly random and bad luck.
And even if I did believe it, I can't help but think I'd be pretty pissed off about God fucking me over like this. R and I are two adults in a loving, functional relationship. We would love our baby regardless of whether he/she/they is queer, nonbinary, etc. We will let our kids explore their emotions and take art classes, and we'll also cheer them on if they want to do sports, or chess club, or play video games competitively, I don't know. I think of all the kids out there whose parents kick them out of the house for being gay, or beat them/abuse them, or just generally stifle who they are as a human being and I think what the fuck?! What's your God's rationale for that?
Maybe before you reach for this one, make sure the person you're talking to is on the same page belief-wise.
"Have you thought about adoption?"
Wait, WHAT? What is this word you use? Ahhh...Dop...Shun? No, I have NEVER HEARD OF THAT!!!
Hopefully you could read the sarcasm there.
Um, OF COURSE we've thought about adoption. I don't think there's a single person going through IVF who hasn't also considered adoption as an option.
Better question: Have YOU thought about adoption? Have you thought about the trials and tribulations of finding an agency, paying over $50,000, and potentially having the birth mother change her mind? Have you thought about the fact that many of the children up for adoption are not of your same race, and done some serious soul-searching about whether you're actually capable of navigating the thorny issues of ethnicity and culture that that will bring up? What about the kids up for adoption who are not babies? Are you strong enough to raise a child starting at age 12? Will that child love you the same as if they met you on Day 1? Have you thought about your family, and whether they will be able to love an adopted grandchild as much as they love their biological one? And for that matter, would you be able to love an adopted child as much as one from your own body?
We're not there yet, but rest assured, we've definitely thought about it.
"Are you feeling better yet?" / "Hope today is a better day!"
Look. I get the sentiment here. You don't want me to be sad. But in some ways, this feels like you want me to say I'm OK so that you don't have to deal with me anymore.
I cannot make myself be happy for you. I cannot turn off the grief that has now compounded two-fold, the excitement that turned into loss of hope for the future, and the trauma of what I experienced physically. This isn't some breakup with a crappy dude that on some level I knew wasn't good for me anyway; I held my dead daughter in my hand after trying like hell to do everything I could to keep her safe and healthy.
I don't know how else to put this so that people will understand.
So, at this point, I feel like I should tell you what you should say to someone going through something like this, because I get that it can be hard to be on the other side. You want to be a supportive friend, and it feels like everything you're doing is wrong.
Well, step 1 is don't try to fix anything. There is nothing you can fix, and probably nothing you can suggest that will change the facts of the situation. If you can empathize -- i.e. you've legitimately gone through the same thing (a miscarriage, IVF treatments, etc.) -- then feel free to do so.
But don't offer false hope. Don't lecture. Just be present. Listen. Say how sorry you are. I read this piece about the concept of "holding space" for others and I think this is a good place to start. Try that.