Nobody ever talks about infertility either. First of all, for most of history, it has just been a fact of life that people have to reconcile themselves to. In fact, back then, infertility was like cancer: it was a sad thing to happen to people, and there were few medical treatments that worked. Louise Brown, the first IVF "test tube baby" was only three years old, but that treatment wasn't widely available. Even if it had been, it was more like science fiction than real life.
Infertility as a subject was also off limits because it involved procreation, and procreation involved s-e-x. You couldn't tell your relatives about your sex life. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Confess to your parents that the sex in your marriage wasn't doing what it was supposed to do? Not on your life! So the conversations went un-had, and as a childless friend of mine told me once, "After a while they stop asking when you're going to have kids." And so here and there, even today, you just see couples without children, and you wonder, but you don't ever, ever ask.
Well, I do. I have turned up sad stories of years of trying before giving up, of babies that didn't survive, and also of people who "came to their senses" and realized that life without children would be a lot better! (No, Aunt Jody, this child is not offended in the least). There are lots of people who don't want to talk about the sad things that happen in their lives. But I think there are a lot of people who are hurting and would like some comfort. That means talking about it, or at least acknowledging the pain.
So this is my prescription: open your mouth. Tell your suffering loved ones that you care about them and are sad they're sad. Ask them what they're going through; don't presume to know. And then if they say they don't want to talk about it, at least they'll know that you care.
Now that that point is made, I'm going to complicate things.
There are some things you can say that don't help; in fact, they hurt. Try to stay away from these:
- You could always adopt. [Problem: before you can adopt, you have to grieve the idea that you'll never have your own biological baby. And crazy as it sounds, people want their own babies. What's more, adoptions cost around $35,000 and take years. They aren't automatic and free.]
- It's okay; children are a lot of trouble anyway. At least you get to sleep late. [Problem: I want that trouble. I would give anything, anything, to have a baby. That includes sleep.]
- It's okay; children are really expensive. [Problem: If we were concerned about the expense, we wouldn't have paid $40,000 for the chance to conceive.]
- Just relax: it will happen. [Problem: infertile couples have, by definition, been trying to conceive for over a year. Infertility is a medical condition, not a stress condition. Relaxing is irrelevant.]
- Have you tried putting your hips on a pillow after sex/using an ovulation predictor kit/taking your temperature/going on vacation?... [Problem: you can bet we know more about this process than you do. Your suggestions for what "works" just remind us how easy it is for everybody else.]
- You can share your cousin's baby; she's just darling! [Problem: should be obvious. And yet, this was a real statement from someone I love very much.]
- I know someone who started adoption proceedings, and then she got pregnant. [Problem: we all know someone like this, if not three or four women. It's a neat story. But conception doesn't happen just because you're not thinking about it. Infertile couples have about a 5% chance of spontaneously conceiving a child. The reason some adopters get pregnant is that they fall into that 5%, not because they took their minds off it. Furthermore, if you recommend that we try to adopt a child simply as a means to another end, um, isn't that unfair to the adopted child?]
- Maybe it just wasn't meant to be. [Problem: why should we accept a medical condition as fate? That's no fair.]
The reason I thought about this subject today is that I received a comment on the first blog posting from my friend Aimee. This is what it said:
"My heart and love go to you both. There is just nothing else to say, but please know that you are in my daily thoughts and prayers."
Now that is what I wanted to hear.