Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Support for the Infertile

A young couple, desperate to avoid a pregnancy, using a natural system of fertility awareness, discovers they are pregnant for the 2nd time in a year.  Anxiety ensues.


Other couples who have been in their shoes, those who can easily imagine being in their shoes, and even those who have no earthly idea what it must be like to be in their shoes, rush to their side with words of encouragement, support, and assurance that how they feel is normal, even healthy.  To be a good mom means wanting to provide everything you can for your children, and worrying that you won't be able to do that is totally normal.  Advice comes in the form of find out what went wrong so it doesn't happen again in the future, advice of how to prepare for the road ahead, advice on financial planning, advice on ignoring the comments that make her feel guilty or ashamed.  Prayers abound.  Peace begins to envelope the entire scenario.


A young couple, desperate to achieve a pregnancy, using a natural system of fertility awareness, discovers they are now clinically infertile.  Anxiety ensues.


Other couples who have never been in their shoes, those who try to imagine being in their shoes, and even those who have been in their shoes their entire adult life, rush to the scene with advice, advice, and more advice.  Advice comes in the form of make sure you do it this way, at this time, and oh, of course, just relax!  Advice continues and develops into a derogatory tone of assumptions that the woman is somehow to blame since clearly the *real* problem has yet to be discovered - which leads to a series of guesses as to what the *real* problem may be, ultimately leading back to advice about make sure you do it this way, at this time, and oh, of course, just relax!  Eventually come the stories.  The "I knew someone who did this," and "I knew someone who did that," punctuated only minimally by the stories of those who have actually been there themselves.  After the collective pats on the back for the advice-givers and story-tellers, a general sense of "It'll happen" and "It must be God's timing" begins to envelope the entire scenario.

I ask you:  Which couple do you think had more peace in their heart at the end of the day?

I also ask you, what if the tables were reversed?  Imagine, if you will, the following scenarios:

A young couple, desperate to avoid a pregnancy, using a natural system of fertility awareness, discovers they are pregnant for the 2nd time in a year.  Anxiety ensues.

Other couples, mostly those with no children and clinical infertility, offer advice on make sure you are doing it this way, at this time, and oh, of course, just relax!  The assumptions begin to build that the woman is somehow to blame since clearly the *real* problem is with her - and guesses about what that problem might be (are you drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, eating healthy??) only make her feel worse and worse about herself.  Advice continues on which are the BEST days to use to avoid pregnancy, and coming from infertile couples, who are of course the professionals in avoiding pregnancy, this advice is solid.  Eventually come the stories.  The "I knew someone who had sex only on Cycle Day 28 for 15 years, and they never got pregnant when avoiding!" and "I knew someone who gave up trying to avoid and then spontaneously became infertile!" punctuated only minimally by couples who have actually experienced pregnancy, or unplanned pregnancy, themselves.  At the end of the day, the take-home message becomes:  "It'll happen" (no more children when you don't want them) and "It must be God's timing that you keep getting pregnant even though you have serious reason to avoid."


Does that seem ludicrous to you?  I should certainly hope so.  It seems ludicrous to me, because that scenario would NEVER happen (and thank goodness)!  How is any of that helpful to the couple who is experiencing a temporary anxiety about their current state of life, seeking support from others who have been there?

Let's now present the 2nd couple in a new light:

A young couple, desperate to achieve a pregnancy, using a natural system of fertility awareness, discovers they are now clinically infertile.  Anxiety ensues.

Other couples who have been in their shoes, those who can imagine being in their shoes, and even those who have no earthly idea what it must be like to be in their shoes, rush to their side with words of encouragement, support, and assurance that how they feel is normal, even healthy.  To be a good Catholic couple means wanting to welcome children into your marriage, and worrying that you won't be able to have that is totally normal.  Advice comes in the form of find out what has been going wrong so the overall health and fertility can be improved in the future, advice of how to prepare for the road ahead, advice on financial planning, advice on ignoring the comments that make her feel guilty or ashamed.  Prayers abound.  Peace begins to envelope the entire scenario.

Does that seem plausible to you?  I should certainly hope so.  But strangely, the scenario above would also NEVER happen.  At least, not in mixed company (outside of Infertility Support circles and the like).

Why is it that we find it so incredibly difficult to offer the same support we would give to one person carrying their cross to another carrying a different cross?

I think I have one idea why this might be.  And I think it involves comfort levels.

Infertility is just plain UNCOMFORTABLE.  We can't explain it.  Even with medical explanations, there is no earthly or theological explanation that we can wrap our minds around.  And, that makes us uncomfortable.  It is particularly uncomfortable for those who have not experienced it, nor carried the cross themselves for a time.  And so for them, the quickest way out of the discomfort of seeing someone suffering a pain they do not know is to try to fix it from afar.  "Do this,"  "Try that," "Just relax!" then, become more of a plea than advice; a desperate plea to ease the suffering which will then ultimately ease the level of discomfort of those watching from afar.


When the suggestions don't work, the stories of hope help to ease their own discomfort.  "If I tell her about this woman I know who tried for 43 years then gave up and it happened, she will feel better... and I will feel better for her."  It is honorable to desire to ease someone's pain and support them in their struggle, which in turn makes you feel good to have been of help.  These are good motives.  But please.  PLEASE.  Listen to the advice of those who live that cross.  I am not the first woman with infertility to say this, nor will I be the last.  That is not the type of support a couple with infertility needs.
The type of support they need is the exact same type of support others need, and so often do receive, in their more identifiable struggles.  The type of support they need is that 2nd scenario above.

Additionally, and from the Catholic-Christian perspective, please remember that it is through our Crosses in life that we will achieve the Resurrection.  When you approach anyone to offer support in the carrying of their cross, it should be in an effort to help them reach that final destination, and not to sway them from it.  Suffering, while uncomfortable to watch from the outside (and God knows, painful as hell from the inside) is a huge opportunity for spiritual growth.  EVEN IF the couple with infertility in the above examples became pregnant the next day, by relaxing, or having sex, or eating a monkey, or all of the above, it does not take away the years of spiritual growth they experienced through the cross of infertility up to that point.


The greatest gift God has given us is none other than LIFE.  When new life is not being created, it is an inexplicable torment to the couple who awaits it.  When new life is created, under even the most dire of circumstances, it is still a gift.  I believe all of us, from all of the different stages of life, know this fundamentally.  Let us remember to give the type of support which is the most beneficial to a couple's spiritual progress, no matter what their cross may be.

15 comments:

Lucky as Sunshine said...

Thank you for writing this. Just what I needed to see at this point in time.

Kat said...

Amen sister! Seriously, this is write on point and I love the correlating examples you used. Sometimes all I want is for friends and family to say that my feelings are normal and they are praying for me, also if they gave me chocolate that would be nice too ;)

Nicole C said...

Lots of people need to read this.

E said...

Well written! I know I have been guilty of trying to "fix" things, too.

But really that pain of IF couples is such an intense SORROW. And most people in our society don't know what to do with sorrow unless it is expected (like a grandparent's death). Sorrow is suffocating unless we breath into it and when one sees it in another, it is so hard to grasp and really deal with.

Hard times, definitely.

GraceofAdoption said...

The worst part is when people assume that IF is ALWAYS because of something wrong with the woman. Hello, it can be mutual or on the husband's side too. In either case, empathy (and not advice) is what is most helpful.

Simone said...

This is a great post. You should submit it to some sort of magazine. Which one? I don't know yet, but this would make a great article.

Chris said...

Beautifully done! I love your perspective. How honest, how true.
Thank you for sharing your heart.

LifeHopes said...

Very well written.

I am so guilty of being the one who tries to offer what I think is a good idea for someone suffering from the pain of IF. And I am also one who HATES hearing those same kind of suggestions !

Yes, it is human nature to try and take someone's pain away. But real love is strong enough to just be with that person in the midst of their struggle. Never wavering, but strong enough to just be with them.

TRS said...

Reading this, I imagine my scenario... Desperately wanted to have a family but my husband never showed up. I'm still single at 43 and have to tolerate people telling me about women who had their first baby at 44. "See? It can happen!"

Well great, let's tell my husband if he ever shows up which may not be for 20 more years!

Even better, why don't I just adopt? Adopt? And what, continue to work 40+ hours a week while the kid is in day care? Why would I do that?
Yes, I'd love to adopt, but not without a husband.
I've mourned my fertility.... And the irony that I was likely wonderfully fertile the entire time I had no husband.

No one wants to get comfortable with that!

Casey said...

Charity and compassion are so important when interacting with others regarding their crosses. I think people, in America particularly, are obsessed to a certain degree with pragmatism. You mention a problem, they want to give practical advice. It can be annoying. I know I fall into that same mindset, but I try to avoid it and just be understanding instead.

mary said...

Thank you for writing this post! You write so beautifully and honestly. Your words always help me. I agree with Simone. You should submit this to some magazine.

the misfit said...

I think you're exactly right. No one wants to suffer WITH someone who is truly suffering. In the case of Irish twins, people feel comfortable giving advice and support, because it can be fairly assumed that the expectant mother is not unhappy about the baby itself, but about the financial burden, or the difficulty of caring for two small children, the exhaustion, the logistics. If these burdens can be eased, the baby itself will be a blessing and she can be happy about it. Infertility isn't any such happy ending in disguise. (Nor, as another commenter wisely noted, is being single long after one would've liked to be married.) The only way to walk a few steps with a person in such a situation (other than, of course, suggesting that the lady would be fine if only she inquired of my hairdresser's sister's kid's teacher's dog's classmate's mother-in-law and find out what doctor set her right, and then, this precious advice dispensed, getting out of the conversation as quickly as possible) is to get down into the muck with him. But we hate to do that, we in the first world particularly - where we have sent death off to places we don't have to see it, and convince ourselves we have conquered sickness and pain and weakness. We want to handle the suffering of others with sterile gloves and face masks and forceps and seal it up in a specimen jar and put it away. And people can tell when they're being treated like that. It's not good.

Hebrews 11:1 said...

Perfect words. As usual. I agree too with Misfit that people can tell when they're being treated that way, and when someone is willing to suffer with them. I definitely could tell. I had friends who would occasionally offer well-meaning words, and then I had friends who would cry with me. Any time, and every time. People who never made me feel like, "Gosh she's STILL talking about being infertile? Isn't she over it yet?" Some people just GOT IT...and some, well, didn't.

Just a Tiny Pencil said...

Thank you. I get so tired of the placating things people say and the way everyone is convinced that an infertility diagnosis is no big deal. After all, they know tons of people who have been told they can't have babies and then did. Yeah. Thanks. Inspiring. So thank you for your honesty on the subject and prayers that your own cross might be easier to bear <3

Ecce Fiat said...

Thanks for this post =) Something else that comes to mind is that it's pretty easy to DO something when someone is pregnant/has a baby - bring them a meal, send a card, watch their other kid(s), offer to run errands, etc. Everyone likes to feel needed, to feel like they're doing something! But with IF...what can you DO? I mean, I would love if someone made me a meal or bought my groceries...but that would be kind of weird. What is there to do but be with me and grieve? And who wants to do that...? I think that's why so many people give advice - it's uncomfortable not "doing anything" (Job and his friends come to mind)