Monday, 6 June 2016

Misunderstanding Infertility. It happens more than you think.

Tips to Support Loved Ones Facing Infertility (Primary Infertility, Secondary Infertility, Motherhood, Parenting). Mombies Unite on Grumbling Grace

I've followed Amber's journey through motherhood on her blog and I love her perspective on trials and family life. 

Recently Amber wrote about the secondary infertility she and her husband are dealing with in this post, Our Unexpected Journey (take a minute to head over there and read it) and I knew the hurt and the hope she expressed put words to a struggle that lies heavy and silent on many women's secret hearts. Later, when Amber posted practical and insightful tips on supporting loved ones facing infertility, I asked her if I could share her thoughts and she graciously acquiesced. 

Meet Amber. Amber is a child of God, a wife, a mother and an exercise therapist. She blogs about her family's journey (the good, the hard and the joyful) and you can follow along here.  


It’s draining, tiring, expensive and all consuming.  It’s a lonely, scary, confusing journey that threatens to take over all the sunshine in a person’s world.  In short, it sucks. It is more common than you think, but thoroughly misunderstood and a topic that isn’t often discussed.

Did you know that in Canada approximately one in six couples struggle with infertility? With those statistics, chances are either you or someone you know has been affected by infertility.  Despite how common it is, there is a lack of education and information about this topic, and I wish that wasn’t the case! 

My husband and I are currently dealing with secondary infertility and have also dealt with primary infertility in the past.  It’s touched our life in so many ways, and I’ve found that most people are uneducated about infertility, and many misunderstand the journey that we are going through.  I wanted to share a few tips about what I’ve learned through this experience in hopes that the friends and family members of those who are struggling with infertility can maybe see their experience in a different light

Maybe you’ve dealt with infertility yourself and you can relate to these experiences.  

Maybe you have had other circumstances that have prevented you from growing your family in the way you would have preferred, and you’d like those who surround you to understand a bit about what you’re going through.  

Or maybe you’re wondering how to support someone who is walking this journey.  

Whatever the case, I hope you find something here that you can take to heart.  

Tips to Support Loved Ones Facing Infertility (Primary Infertility, Secondary Infertility, Motherhood, Parenting). Mombies Unite on Grumbling Grace

Tip #1 - Don’t make assumptions.

There are so many different kinds of infertility.  Don’t assume that you know which type we are dealing with.  Just because your friend / family member / random person in the hair salon told you what they went through, chances are this is different.  Some types of infertility have a reason.  Others are unexplained.  There are so many differences in each experience, so if you have a better idea of what exactly they’re going through, it will make it so much easier to interact with them.  I can guarantee they will appreciate if you have a bit of actual knowledge, and not just assumptions.

Tip #2 - If you don’t know, ask!

If you know someone who is struggling with infertility, but aren’t sure of what exactly they’re going through, they most likely won’t mind sharing about their journey.  If you’re aware of their situation and would like to know more about what they’re dealing with, just ask.  Obviously, choose the right time and place!  The middle of your crowded office space probably isn’t the best choice!  If you do show genuine interest in their situation, they will most likely appreciate that someone cares about what they’re going through.  

Keep in mind that some days are worse than others, and it’s important to be sensitive to our response.  If we seem rigid or closed, it might not be the best day.  If we look on the verge of tears already, it might not be the best time to bring it up…  just saying.  So, unless you have a willing shoulder to cry on, and a big box of tissues, bring our husbands over and let them deal with us.  

99% of the time though, we won’t cry on you, and it’s actually refreshing to talk through it.

Tip #3 - It’s not you, it’s me. 

Speaking of crying…  keep in mind that some days we can’t see the sunshine or the happiness.    Infertility has many faces, but I think the most common ones are exhaustion and frustration.  This sometimes comes out in our response to you, and we don’t mean it (we promise!).  We’re trying everything we can just to keep our heads above water, and we may not be dealing with it very well that day.  Infertility takes a toll, both emotionally and physically.  We’re working SO HARD, and most often there is nothing to show for all our efforts.  

Another round of drugs that were useless.  Another treatment that didn’t work.  Overwhelming amounts of information about adoption, invasive procedures, hormones, medications and the costs associated with all of these.  More blood work… tests… doctor’s appointments… new ideas with no substance.    

It’s draining and sometimes causes us to be a little impatient with life. 

We hope you understand where we’re coming from.

Tip #4 - What worked for someone else, may not work for us

If you know a couple who has gone through a similar situation and has tried different treatments, be sensitive with how you share their experiences.  Often what worked for them may not work for every couple.  It’s easy to generalize everyone’s experiences ( example: they had this procedure done, went on a trip, stopped trying.. etc.) but it won’t be the same for every couple.  Often those who are dealing with infertility have tried everything and more.  We’ve researched and educated ourselves to the brim and have information overload.  We don’t really need more advice on what someone you know has tried.

However, just to confuse you, that’s not to say we don’t appreciate learning new things!  

It’s true that there are some things we might not have been aware of yet.  If you know of something that you would like to share, please do so in a respectful manner.  Please don’t say “you should try…”, because, well… that’s just kinda bossy!   Instead say, “have you heard of this?” or “what are your thoughts on this?”.  We’re much more likely to consider and discuss it if you present it in this manner! 

Tip #5 - Be aware of your audience

If you are pregnant, or have a newborn (or any children in fact), please be sensitive to how you discuss these topics around those of us dealing with infertility.  Often, the struggles in your life right now (pregnancy symptoms, sleepless nights, issues with breastfeeding) are things that we would give anything to be experiencing right then.  Please take note of who you’re venting to.  I don’t mean to tell you that you can’t voice your frustrations.  I have a toddler who sometimes tests my patience, so I know that sometimes you just need to say “What the heck?!”.  Just keep in mind that sometimes your complaints about parenting / pregnancy / children will fall on unwilling ears if you’re talking to someone struggling to expand their family. 

Tip #6 - Your baby belly is super cute, but we’re a little envious of it right now. 

Please note that it might be difficult for us to attend events where there are pregnancies or newborns.  Baby bellies and newborns are sometimes painful reminders of the elusive things that we want so much to have.  If we’re going through a particularly hard time, we may not feel comfortable going to these events, but that’s not always the case.  It’s nice to have the option to choose, so please do invite us.  

We might just request that you hide your belly underneath a large muumuu.

Nah.  Just joking... 

A winter jacket will work just fine.  

Also, please don’t be disappointed if we aren’t as enthusiastic with your pregnancy / baby announcement as you’d hoped we would be.  Don't get me wrong.  We are still happy for you, however, we’re still learning to balance both our happiness for your good news and sadness for our lack of it.  Facebook is a hard place for us to be sometimes.  Bellies and babies abound!  We understand it’s your right to post what you want, just be aware that we might unfollow your feed for a while.  Or maybe that’s just me.  :)   

Tip #7 - Think about your approach

When you are talking with someone you don't know very well, instead of asking “How many kids do you have?”, or “When do you plan to start a family?” simply say, “Tell me a bit about yourself”.  Anyone who hasn’t been able to grow their family as they hoped will appreciate this.  Also, if you are curious if someone is planning to have more children, please do not ask, “When are you going to have more kids?”.  This is such a blunt question, and we often don’t have an answer.  We’d like to know just as much as you when we’re going to have more kids!  Instead phrase it more like, “Would you like to expand your family?”.  It’s a much gentler question, and leaves room for us to explain what we’re going through if we feel that it’s appropriate.

I hope that you might have learned a little bit about this crazy thing called infertility, or maybe just gained a fresh perspective. Maybe you didn’t learn anything at all and you totally disagree with everything I wrote! Whatever the case, I hope you enjoyed this post and took at least something out of it.  

I also hope that it might have made you think a little bit and look around you.  

Maybe you’ll take note of that co-worker of yours who has been a bit quieter lately, maybe even a bit sad. Or that friend whose mouth gets a bit drawn when you show her pictures of your newborn. Or that lady in church / at a get together / at a house party who keeps her head down and walks out of the room when you come in with your cute pregnant belly. Maybe you know them well enough to know what they’re going through.  Often you won’t.  

But like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s more common than most people think, and I can almost guarantee that it’s affecting someone’s life that you interact with on a daily basis.  So keep these things in mind, and I know those who are walking this journey will be forever grateful.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment or message me with your own thoughts on this topic.  I always love to gain a new perspective on what others have learned!

As Amber said, please do leave your thoughts and feel free to share your experience in the comment section. Grumbling Grace is a positive and safe community. If anything Amber said resonated with you, why not share her words today and be sure to check out her blog at Our Unexpected Journey

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