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Words

People often say things that are unintentionally hurtful and insensitive. I know that they don’t mean to. They are simply going about their regular lives, trying to make conversation or chatting about their experiences. For me, though, as one who is struggling with something so intense and personal as infertility, these offhand remarks can often sting and leave me hurting long after the other person has likely forgotten the exchange. Seemingly simple words can have the power to stir up the overwhelming emotions that I work hard to hide each day.

To be clear, I understand that I can’t expect others to be constantly walking on eggshells or be afraid to speak to me about their personal lives in fear of upsetting me. And, of course, when most people I interact with don’t know that I have been struggling with infertility, they would have no way of even knowing that their comments might hurt. I recognize this, and I’m trying to be better at giving others the benefit of the doubt and assuming that they simply had no idea how their words could impact me. Even if they are unintentional, though, these words can still be hard to hear.

So, this post is not written with the intent to offend others. I’m certainly not trying to put myself up on a pedestal or to cast blame; I’m sure that I have said many things in my time that have been hurtful to those around me who were silently struggling in one way or another.

Instead, this post was written with the intent of simply explaining how a few words, spoken by many different people over the years, have affected me. If we were all more aware of the impact that our words can have on others, perhaps we would be more compassionate and sensitive when we interact with those around us.

One final note – My responses to these comments are given in italics. (Not responses that I actually said, but just my thoughts about how each comment made me feel.) In sharing this, I’m not trying to justify my reactions, and I fully admit that they are not always fair. Rather, I’m simply attempting to illustrate how some of these comments, even when they are said with the best of intentions, can come across to those who are struggling.

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 I was holding a friend’s baby to help out while she was busy at a church activity. An acquaintance walked by and casually remarked, “Careful, that’s contagious!” [Oh, if only it were that easy.]

We were having dinner with two different couples, each of whom have two kids. We were playing with the kids, having a great time humoring their crazy antics, when one guy said, “Just wait until you have your own kids. Then you won’t like it so much.” The other couple laughed and one said “Yeah, we’ve been ready to post ours on eBay so many times.” [Want me to take them off your hands? I know parenting is hard, but I also know you don’t really mean that. We would give anything to have the challenges you deal with, and the rewards that come with them.] 

Two acquaintances at work were talking about Toy Story 3 and mentioned that it would be a great movie for us to watch with our child, asking “How old is your kid, again?” When reminded that we don’t have a kid, one of the ladies responded by saying that it would still be fun to watch on our own. After all, “you’re pretty much still a kid until you have a kid.” [Ouch. Just… ouch.]

After I was introduced to one woman, she asked if I had any kids. I said “no,” and she responded by laughing awkwardly and saying, “Not yet?! Well, you just wait…” [The first question is totally normal. It’s hard, but it’s part of small talk, part of getting to know someone. I get it. But the response? Lady, you have no idea how long we have been waiting.] 

After we explained what we were dealing with, one individual asked if we had thought about adoption yet, and then told us a story about a couple she knew who had had four children through IVF. [Adoption may be a wonderful way to become a parent, but it does not solve infertility. I’m glad that your friend was successful with IVF, but her story doesn’t have much anything to do with our situation. Both adoption and IVF are very expensive and difficult options that we may choose eventually, but not without significant consideration. Thanks for the advice, though?] 

While a guest in our home, one acquaintance made several comments about all the things we can or should be doing now to prepare to have kids as well as to enjoy this time together while we are still in the “new phases” of our marriage. [We have been married longer than this person. Why does the fact that he has two kids make him an experienced marriage “veteran,” while we are still in the “new phases?”]

After we opened up to one individual about our struggles, he helpfully said that he would never impose, but we could feel free to ask if we ever wanted to hear about what he and his wife had done to get pregnant (on their first try). [What? Uh… Don’t even know what to say to that one. Pretty sure I have lots more experience trying to conceive than you do, and I’ve read about (and probably tried) just about every trick in the book. Having successfully conceived does not make you a fertility expert.]

After a church meeting in which we sat next to a family with active little kids, the dad turned to us and said, with an exasperated sigh, “See what you have to look forward to?” [Yes, yes we do see. And it hurts to see, because we don’t know if we do actually have that to look forward to.] 

While I was out to dinner with some girlfriends, the conversation shifted to birth stories (a couple of the girls there were pregnant – per the usual, these days). As they all cheerfully shared their experiences, one looked at me and laughed, “And you’re over here thinking – hooray for birth control!” [This example’s not so condescending as the others, but still… really awkward, and probably not something you should say to someone if you don’t know their situation. How do I respond to that when I haven’t used birth control in three years and still don’t have a baby?]

After being told that we want kids, but it was taking longer than we had planned, a coworker helpfully suggested that if we just relax, it will happen. [Thanks so much for your advice! I can’t believe we didn’t realize that all we have to do is take a break and relax! Why didn’t my doctors tell me this before now? (Ok, I know this was probably awkward for her, and she didn’t know what to say. Fair enough. But still, that “advice” really doesn’t help; it just invalidates our struggles.)]

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I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I know these people are not trying to be hurtful or rude. They’re just being people, trying to make conversation the best they know how in the moment. When infertility is such a pervasive part of my every day, though, it is hard to not be affected by these types of comments. I’m trying to develop a thicker skin and am learning to navigate these moments more gracefully, but I don’t think words like these will ever be easy to hear.

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4 thoughts on “Words

  1. Ouch. Words definitely do hurt, and you have been assaulted with a lot of comments that are hard to take, intentional or not. It’s amazing to me the people who assume so much about you because you don’t have kids yet, and how subtle hints often fly right over their heads. So while it may have been awkward, I thought you handled the “just relax” comment just fine! My tolerance for those types of comments is through the floor at this point. I’m glad you speak up for yourself, sometimes I wish I said the good comeback but find myself just silenced by the hurt. (I come up with good ones after, too late to use them.) Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic!

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  2. Oh, I haven’t actually said these things. 🙂 I didn’t make it clear enough in the post (I’ll have to change that!), but these were just my internal, usually after the fact, thoughts about what they said. In real life I’m much more like what you described – silenced by the hurt. I can’t figure out what to say so I don’t say anything at all or awkwardly try to deflect or change the topic, then later come up with what I wish I had been gutsy enough to actually say. Sometimes I wish I could speak up for myself more, but I don’t want everyone knowing about our situation, and… as much as these comments chafe, it’s a fine line between wanting people to be more aware and not wanting to be rude back to them, you know? I wish I were graceful enough to always know the right thing to say in each situation, but I definitely don’t. Maybe someday I’ll get there… Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Oh girl, I get it! =) We haven’t been struggling quite as long, but there have certainly been some doozies. My sister (who got pregnant at 19- unwed, unstable, and unexpectedly with her first), announced she was expecting another and told me that I’d “better get on it” because she’d given my mom two grandbabies and I hadn’t even had one.

    I went to the bathroom and cried after that one.

    It’s hard. And so many people are well-meaning. I just never know how to respond. My husband does much better- most questions about when we’ll have kids are easily answered with, “When God blesses us with them.” Of course, I never answer… I just sit with my heart in my mouth.

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    • I’m so sorry about the situation with your sister. It really, really, really is hard. I love your last line – sitting with your heart in your mouth. You describe the feeling perfectly!

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