What not to say to someone who is struggling with secondary infertility
Primary infertility in itself is difficult, hard, exasperating, frustrating, and so incredibly painful. Nobody and I mean nobody understands what infertility is like until they experience it directly themselves. And then when a baby finally comes, and the parenting begins some parents think about adding to their family – and why wouldn’t you? Children are amazing right?
This is sometimes when very well-meaning people say really stupid things.
So here’s a newsflash- secondary infertility is a thing. It’s just as painful. It’s just as difficult. It’s just as frustrating, and let me tell you it’s just as annoying to hear all of the well-meaning advice that comes from those who don’t have a clue, I think that because you have finally been able to have a child everything should just be “all better”.
So here are the things not to say to someone who is struggling with secondary infertility:
“At least you have one healthy baby, so you should be happy with that.”
I wanted to slap the person in the face who said that to me. Of course I know that I had one healthy amazing baby. But I also physically ached for another child. I wanted a brother or a sister for my son just as badly as I wanted him. And I understand that those who try to look at or address secondary infertility are attempting to offer their perspective. But that perspective always ends badly for those of us experiencing secondary infertility. The reality is those two things are not mutually exclusive. Yes, we are grateful for the child we have but we can also long, ache, and want a second child. I love being a parent, and being a mom did not diminish or minimize the pain of me wanting to add to my family and not having the ability to do so. Primary infertility was a direct punch in the solar plexus, the pain was gut wrenching, and I have news for you secondary infertility wasn’t much better.
“I guess that’s what happens when you too long, you know, there is that window”
Well duh! Don’t you think I know that!? This goes hand-in-hand with the old saying that makes me crazy “Why don’t you just relax, it will happen.”
Of course age can be a huge factor and secondary infertility, however almost all of,the women within our community have been diagnosed with diminished ovarian reserve, premature ovarian failure, or some other issue that prevents them from using their own genetics to have a child. So the whole, you missed your window comment is not only hurtful it’s just downright irrelevant, of course any comments about relaxing creates this desire for me to just staple the mouth shut of the one saying it. And then there is the old, “Hey! I know my friend who had a baby and then she couldn’t have another. So you know what they did? They begin the adoption process and then bingo she can’t pregnant! You should try that!”
As I said to my very well-meaning friend – if infertility regardless whether it’s primary or secondary were that simple, reproductive medicine would not even exist and millions and millions of women around the world and their partners would not be struggling valiantly every single day to try to have a baby, right!?
And to my friends defense – the next day I got a nice vase of flowers with a note saying “I’m sorry I was insensitive, and I love you.” so there’s that 🙂
One of the reasons that I am make it a point of not talking about my infertility in mixed company just because someone invariably will say:
“Oh don’t worry, you got pregnant once didn’t you? It will happen again”
That’s about the time that my head begins to spin around, orange lasers emit from my eyes, and I begin to impersonate Linda Blair from the movie The Exorcist. And I can hear my son and my husband utter so very softly, “Oh no they didn’t”
So many things come to mind when I hear that horrible phrase. I find myself going into educator mode Boot Camp style – and I really have to hold myself back from holding reproductive court wherever I am to the poor unsuspecting individual who had just stuck their foot in their mouth.
For the record – a woman who has conceived one, two, or even four children but cannot conceive or stay pregnant again is considered to have secondary infertility. That’s a fact. It’s suggested that there are over 3 million women in the United States it’s self who unfortunately experience this. But for some reason, unknown to me secondary infertility is more often than not misunderstood by those around us who just think that because we’ve had a baby we should just be able to do it again.
This is not even taking into account of the fact that we needed donor eggs to have our children in the first place. Our bodies have a mind of their own – no pun intended. There is a lot of things that we can’t explain and conception regardless of how it’s attempted is so incredibly complex – there are no guarantees, zero!
After my son was born and I was in the trenches of being a new mother, trying to figure it all out, and thanking my lucky stars every single day that I finally had him after 17 years of waiting- I got the all too common question:
“So, when are you going to get back up on the horse and have another baby?”
At first, I would squirm and become all kinds of uncomfortable. I never knew what to say. Half of me wanted to say, “As soon as you can give me another $30,000 will give it another try.” The other half of me wanted to burst into tears slinking away to the nearest room, baby in my arms, and shut the world out.
More often than not, I would say “We haven’t even gotten that far we are so really enjoying our son, we haven’t even given it a second thought.” Which was the biggest lie in the world because I can tell you three months after he was born as I was marveling over his perfection and how much I loved him, I was secretly planning lobbying my husband I’m trying again.
I just wish back then I had the courage to say “When I’m damn good and ready.”
The comment that is probably the most offensive to me are those that attempt to insert their religious or spiritual philosophy into family building. I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve heard:
“You know, maybe this is not God’s will. You already been blessed with one child. Maybe that’s all God want you to have, because maybe he thinks you can’t handle more than one.” (Yes, some moron actually said those exact words to me)
Please just shut up. Seriously. Has God texted or phoned you, shown up at your house? Have you sat down and had tea or coffee or a meal with your higher power to learn about all of those unexplained mysteries of life? No, I didn’t think so. That being said please do us all a favor and not be the spokesperson for any religious/deity/God/higher power on my or any other infertile woman’s behalf. Come on.
And the whole maybe he thinks you can’t handle more than one child comment? it’s one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve ever heard- I’m sorry but not every person in the world that has a baby is meant to be a parent. And I can tell you most assuredly that I’ve seen lots and lots of parents who can’t take care of themselves let alone a child – and you’re telling me that a higher power is going to choose them to be a mom or a dad over me? I’m sorry but they can just kiss my…
And of course there are those well-meaning parents who are fortunate enough to have more than one child who are harried, stressed, and exhausted. And I get all that, having kids is a full-time job – and many of us work full-time jobs plus parent which can make things rough. But please get a clue when you say:
“Seriously, why do you even want a second child. If I could go back and do it all over again I would just have one – things are absolutely insane now when we added a second child.”
This is from someone who is experiencing second infertility just like me and was lucky enough to have another child. What I wanted to say was you probably need to go sit down and talk with a therapist about all kinds of stuff – time management, stress, resentment etc… but I didn’t – instead I just listened to her express her stress about her life and her family, all the while thinking to myself I would give my eyeteeth to have another child.
Probably the harshest thing I’ve ever heard was a very well-meaning individual who had been listening to me lament about not having the ability to have another child and be a sibling to our son. He said simply 6 words:
Get over it, and move on.
I have to say hearing those words was like having a glass of ice cold water tossed in my face. It made me sit up, take a deep breath and sputter. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Seriously, I could not believe what I was hearing . Not all the therapy in the world could have prepared me to just hear something so black-and-white and abrupt.
The look on my face must’ve said it all because he immediately hugged me and said he didn’t mean to hurt my feelings but did I realize how much I talked about not having the ability to have a second baby – and not everybody else in the world would be as patient as him as I talked on and on and on about what was lacking in my life.
That moment was such a defining moment for me for so many different reasons. It motivated me to create Parents Via Egg Donation. I knew that the only real place that I would find other people like myself that would truly get it would be an organization of like minded individuals who were experiencing the same things that I was going through.
And PVED was born.
So what should you say to an individual experiencing secondary infertility-
I am so sorry. I’m here for you whenever you want to talk. (And mean it when you say it)
The biggest gift you can give to women who is experiencing the pain of infertility is to allow her the time and space she needs to acknowledge her pain of infertility while she’s actively parenting a child. It’s often painful to watch as friends and family go on to get pregnant again when you can’t. So if you are aware of someone who’s experiencing secondary infertility help create a safe space for them to share their struggle.
It’s really OK – you are not selfish because you want another baby.
As we trek through the minefield of infertility just dealing with infertility should be enough. Shame should never be part of it. However, many many women feel selfish, or even guilty if they are parenting one child then undergo fertility treatment in the hopes of having another baby.
And that’s not okay. Women shouldn’t be made to feel badly or guilty for wanting to add to their family ever. In fact, guilt should never enter the equation at all! Women shouldn’t feel badly, or guilty if they choose not to go to other people’s baby showers, baptisms, or what not.
Think about what it’s like being in our shoes. Infertility alone is devastating. We a lot of the time blame ourselves for our diagnosis. We shoulda, woulda, coulda, ourselves all the time. The shame, inadequacies, isolation, depression, and feelings of worthlessness are overwhelming.
Be sensitive to our needs. Be sensitive and understanding to our tender feelings. And please think before you speak and choose your words wisely – words are very powerful.