I’m pretty open with my friends and family about infertility. Partly because, well, I find it difficult to keep my mouth shut – but partly because I thought it was an important issue which no one talks about.
Having discussed it at length with various people, at varying degrees of inebriation, for a year now, I now know what to expect. At the beginning, though, it was hard.
If you know someone in a similar situation, here are some oft-uttered lines to avoid.
Honestly? It might not. It doesn’t happen for thousands and thousands of people every year. Positive thinking is a great thing – but unrealistic thinking will only end in heartbreak. Right now your friend needs to protect themselves from that.
2. “You just need to relax”
People love this phrase. Remember when you were 25 and everyone had a boyfriend except you, and people kept saying you will find love when you least expect it? This is that all over again.
When your body is giving you mixed messages for two weeks of the month – that’s literally half your life – “relaxing” is not an option. When everywhere you turn, babies and pregnant women and advertising (for it is targeted at women of a certain age) remind you of the one thing you don’t have, turning your conception radar to the off position is impossible.
And if you really think about it, this phrase is a form of blame. For months, I honestly believed the reason I couldn’t conceive was my own inability to chill out. This is victim-blaming at its finest. Stop saying it. Please.
3. “A year? That’s no time!”
Firstly, do you know what? It feels like an age. It feels like geological eras have passed since I started trying for a baby. It feels like if I ever do birth a child, humanity will have evolved to the point where it will have gills, or the ability to move objects with its mind, in manner of X-Men.
But my other point is that a woman may not want to share with you the exact details of what’s going on with her body (I will: I bleed. All. The. Frickin. Time) – but there’s a good chance she knows there’s something wrong. If someone is upset about not being able to conceive, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been trying. They just need support.
4. “You can just have IVF/adopt”
Last year I had a heart procedure in which they sliced into my groin, stuck tiny wires up my arteries, and a cauterised a nerve in my heart. It was horrible.
The prospect of going through months of similarly intrusive and unpleasant – not to mention expensive – tests and procedures just to do what most people do without much effort? That’s horrible.
The prospect of going through it all and it not working? It’s difficult to even fathom.
As for adoption – of course we will think about it if all else fails. But I’m a woman – the desire to carry a child is ingrained. Not being able to do so will be very, very hard to get over.
5. “Maybe you should stop trying for a while?”
So if I finally conceive, I’m even older?
Yeah. Great plan.
6. “My friend drank raspberry leaf tea/had acupuncture/went to see a specialist and conceived straight away”
Babes! I’m so happy for them! Thing is, I’m a bit emotional at the moment and, depending on what point of my cycle I’m in, there’s a chance I’ll rush off to the supermarket, buy all the raspberry leaf tea, drink 18 cups a day and then be utterly inconsolable when it doesn’t work.
Ditto getting pregnant through the very act of going to see a specialist, or doing acupuncture (also, hello? $$$), or taking Clomid, or any of the solutions that worked for everyone else’s friends except me. Advice is nice but such is the emotional rollercoaster Team Infertile is on, there’s a good risk it will make us feel worse when Big Red arrives and we’ve done exactly what your mates did and it didn’t work.
Basically, my message is this: your infertile friends don’t need advice. Particularly if the most effort you went to while trying to conceive was lying back and thinking of England. Just because you have made a baby does not make you an expert at it. It just makes you lucky.
Them, on the other hand? They’ve already spent more time than you can possibly imagine Googling pregnancy symptoms and the likelihood of luteal phase spotting meaning a negative pregnancy test and whether having an achy big toe means they might be up the duff. They could write books about this stuff. They may not be great in practice – but their knowledge of the theory is unbeatable.
Basically, though all they want is a cup of tea, and someone to listen. That’s it. So go forth, and be supportive.