Thursday, January 30, 2014

So What is Off Limits?

First of all, I have been re-reading the lovely sentiments so many of our family and friends sent us the other night when we "came out."  I realized that several people thought our "coming out' meant that we were no longer pursuing our dream of becoming parents.  I apologize for those of you who thought that was our intent.  B and I will continue to pursue IVF, as well as discuss other avenues. Believe me, we have discussed EVERYTHING. There is not much that is new to us in regards to how we can become parents.  We are not giving up!

So, we've talked about what you can do to help. Seems like we can now transition nicely into the "No-No's" list.  I know, I know- why do we get to dictate what you say to us?  We don't.  We have absolutely zero control over what comes out of anyone's mouth, just as y'all have no control over what comes out of our mouths.  But you know what? If there is something I have said that has hurt or bothered you, and you address it with me, then I have every understanding that if I said it again then I am purposely hurting you. So i would rather you be honest with me about it, then to find out you went home and cried over something I thought nothing of saying.  And believe me, I have cried over each and every one of the things that I am going to post. Even as recently as a particular email last week.

What Not To Say:
Infertility Etiquette
Chances are, you know someone who is struggling with infertility. More than seven million people of childbearing age in the United States experience infertility. Yet, as a society, we are woefully uninformed about how to best provide emotional support for our loved ones during this painful time.
Infertility is, indeed, a very painful struggle. The pain is similar to the grief over losing a loved one, but it is unique because it is a recurring grief. When a loved one dies, he isn't coming back. There is no hope that he will come back from the dead. You must work through the stages of grief, accept that you will never see this person again, and move on with your life.
The grief of infertility is not so cut and dry. Infertile people grieve the loss of the baby that they may never know. They grieve the loss of that baby who would have had mommy's nose and daddy's eyes. But, each month, there is the hope that maybe that baby will be conceived after all. No matter how hard they try to prepare themselves for bad news, they still hope that this month will be different. Then, the bad news comes again, and the grief washes over the infertile couple anew. This process happens month after month, year after year. It is like having a deep cut that keeps getting opened right when it starts to heal.
As the couple moves into infertility treatments, the pain increases while the bank account depletes. The tests are invasive and embarrassing to both parties, and you feel like the doctor has taken over your bedroom. And for all of this discomfort, you pay a lot of money.
A couple will eventually resolve the infertility problem in one of three ways:

  • They will eventually conceive a baby.
  • They will stop the infertility treatments and choose to live without children.
  • They will find an alternative way to parent, such as by adopting a child or becoming a foster parent.
Reaching a resolution can take years, so your infertile loved ones need your emotional support during this journey. Most people don't know what to say, so they wind up saying the wrong thing, which only makes the journey so much harder for their loved ones. Knowing what not to say is half of the battle to providing support.
  • Don't Tell Them to Relax
Everyone knows someone who had trouble conceiving but then finally became pregnant once she "relaxed." Couples who are able to conceive after a few months of "relaxing" are not infertile. By definition, a couple is not diagnosed as "infertile" until they have tried unsuccessfully to become pregnant for a full year. In fact, most infertility specialists will not treat a couple for infertility until they have tried to become pregnant for a year. This year weeds out the people who aren't infertile but just need to "relax." Those that remain are truly infertile.
Comments such as "just relax" or "try going on a cruise" create even more stress for the infertile couple, particularly the woman. The woman feels like she is doing something wrong when, in fact, there is a good chance that there is a physical problem preventing her from becoming pregnant.

  • Don't Minimize the Problem
Failure to conceive a baby is a very painful journey. Infertile couples are surrounded by families with children. These couples watch their friends give birth to two or three children, and they watch those children grow while the couple goes home to the silence of an empty house. These couples see all of the joy that a child brings into someone's life, and they feel the emptiness of not being able to experience the same joy.
Comments like, "Just enjoy being able to sleep late . . . .travel . . etc.," do not offer comfort. Instead, these comments make infertile people feel like you are minimizing their pain. You wouldn't tell somebody whose parent just died to be thankful that he no longer has to buy Father's Day or Mother's Day cards. Losing that one obligation doesn't even begin to compensate for the incredible loss of losing a parent. In the same vein, being able to sleep late or travel does not provide comfort to somebody who desperately wants a child.

  • Don't Say There Are Worse Things That Could Happen
Along the same lines, don't tell your friend that there are worse things that she could be going through. Who is the final authority on what is the "worst" thing that could happen to someone? Is it going through a divorce? Watching a loved one die? Getting raped? Losing a job?
Different people react to different life experiences in different ways. To someone who has trained his whole life for the Olympics, the "worst" thing might be experiencing an injury the week before the event. To someone who has walked away from her career to become a stay-at-home wife for 40 years, watching her husband leave her for a younger woman might be the "worst" thing. And, to a woman whose sole goal in life has been to love and nurture a child, infertility may indeed be the "worst" thing that could happen.
People wouldn't dream of telling someone whose parent just died, "It could be worse: both of your parents could be dead." Such a comment would be considered cruel rather than comforting. In the same vein, don't tell your friend that she could be going through worse things than infertility.

  • Don't Say They Aren't Meant to Be Parents
One of the cruelest things anyone ever said to me is, "Maybe God doesn't intend for you to be a mother." How incredibly insensitive to imply that I would be such a bad mother that God felt the need to divinely sterilize me. If God were in the business of divinely sterilizing women, don't you think he would prevent the pregnancies that end in abortions? Or wouldn't he sterilize the women who wind up neglecting and abusing their children? Even if you aren't religious, the "maybe it's not meant to be" comments are not comforting. Infertility is a medical condition, not a punishment from God or Mother Nature.
  • Don't Be Crude
It is appalling that I even have to include this paragraph, but some of you need to hear this-Don't make crude jokes about your friend's vulnerable position. Crude comments like "I'll donate the sperm" or "Make sure the doctor uses your sperm for the insemination" are not funny, and they only irritate your friends.
  • Don't Treat Them Like They Are Ignorant
For some reason, some people seem to think that infertility causes a person to become unrealistic about the responsibilities of parenthood. I don't follow the logic, but several people told me that I wouldn't ache for a baby so much if I appreciated how much responsibility was involved in parenting.
Let's face it-no one can fully appreciate the responsibilities involved in parenting until they are, themselves, parents. That is true whether you successfully conceived after one month or after 10 years. The length of time you spend waiting for that baby does not factor in to your appreciation of responsibility. If anything, people who have been trying to become pregnant longer have had more time to think about those responsibilities. They have also probably been around lots of babies as their friends started their families.
Perhaps part of what fuels this perception is that infertile couples have a longer time to "dream" about what being a parent will be like. Like every other couple, we have our fantasies-my child will sleep through the night, would never have a tantrum in public, and will always eat his vegetables. Let us have our fantasies. Those fantasies are some of the few parent-to-be perks that we have-let us have them. You can give us your knowing looks when we discover the truth later.

  • Don't Gossip About Your Friend's Condition
Infertility treatments are very private and embarrassing, which is why many couples choose to undergo these treatments in secret. Men especially are very sensitive to letting people know about infertility testing, such as sperm counts. Gossiping about infertility is not usually done in a malicious manner. The gossipers are usually well-meaning people who are only trying to find out more about infertility so they can help their loved ones.
Regardless of why you are sharing this information with someone else, it hurts and embarrasses your friend to find out that Madge the bank teller knows what your husband's sperm count is and when your next period is expected. Infertility is something that should be kept as private as your friend wants to keep it. Respect your friend's privacy, and don't share any information that your friend hasn't authorized.

  • Don't Push Adoption (Yet)
Adoption is a wonderful way for infertile people to become parents. (As an adoptive parent, I can fully vouch for this!!) However, the couple needs to work through many issues before they will be ready to make an adoption decision. Before they can make the decision to love a "stranger's baby," they must first grieve the loss of that baby with Daddy's eyes and Mommy's nose. Adoption social workers recognize the importance of the grieving process. When my husband and I went for our initial adoption interview, we expected the first question to be, "Why do you want to adopt a baby?" Instead, the question was, "Have you grieved the loss of your biological child yet?" Our social worker emphasized how important it is to shut one door before you open another.
You do, indeed, need to grieve this loss before you are ready to start the adoption process. The adoption process is very long and expensive, and it is not an easy road. So, the couple needs to be very sure that they can let go of the hope of a biological child and that they can love an adopted baby. This takes time, and some couples are never able to reach this point. If your friend cannot love a baby that isn't her "own," then adoption isn't the right decision for her, and it is certainly not what is best for the baby.
Mentioning adoption in passing can be a comfort to some couples. (The only words that ever offered me comfort were from my sister, who said, "Whether through pregnancy or adoption, you will be a mother one day.") However, "pushing" the issue can frustrate your friend. So, mention the idea in passing if it seems appropriate, and then drop it. When your friend is ready to talk about adoption, she will raise the issue herself.
Adapted from

Of course you are wondering, have people really said those things to us?  Yes. They have.  And much more. Honestly. One of the things people don't realize is that the comments they make truly minimize our struggles. Are they meant to be hurtful? Not usually.  Normally it is simply a comment that you make because you don't know what else to say (check out my last blog- that should get you started if you need the help). Unfortunately, that comment pings around and around our brains pretty consistently.  Especially the ones about "God's Plan." 

Now, I make no comment about anyone's religious beliefs, but to be told that God doesn't want me to have children is the absolute, most horrible comment I can imagine. God finds me unfit in some way to share my love with a child.  God thinks I suck as a human being. God thinks our DNA is incompatible with human life. Yeah ^ all that there^ that is what the "God's Plan" statement means to us.  That is what we hear.  Do you mean it that way? Good lord, I sure as hell hope not.  There are truly some shitty people out there pro-creating, and yet *I* am the one God thinks sucks? Ouch. 

But realistically, is there some truth in the above sayings?  Sure.  Everyone knows someone that adopts, then gets pregnant miraculously. Hell, *I* know someone that has happened to. I think that is wonderful. I love hearing those stories, but I also know that is not the journey we are taking at this time.  In the future? Maybe. We've even talked about adoption even if we do miraculously get pregnant. But that really isn't anyone's business but ours right now.  

Relax?  Sure!  We relax all the time.  Shoot, we are both watching random TV, playing on our computers, and (other than the time I am spending on this post) neither of us is thinking about kids right now.  In fact, children do not consume our every waking moments. Even when I am working with my students, I am not thinking the whole time about how I wish this was my kid, or why am I not pregnant right now.  I do think about many other things, so please don't think that my every moment of life is consumed by my need/want to have a child. I do have an existence beyond children. 

Yes, I know kids are hard.  Very hard.  And I welcome having that in my life. And I will cherish every moment, even if I actually *gasp* complain about it once in awhile. I want the struggles, I want the lack of sleep, I want to hear the cries. I want it all.  And I will do everything in my power to make that happen for B and I, even if it means creating a family through "unnatural" means.  A family is a family, no matter how they get there. 

Despite all the struggles, the heartache, the money, the comments; B and I are ready to grow our family. He and I *are* a family. Court and Callie, though they may just be cats to others, they *are* a part of our family. We are a family and that will not change. But the size of our family will. And we welcome that.