Awkward

I’ve never written about this topic before. And I highly doubt that I ever will again. It’s just not something I like to talk about. But I thought I would just this once. Not to get sympathy, but to help some of y’all out. Because there are some well meaning, but clueless people out there. I know you’re like, “What the heck are you talking about? Spit it out already!”. So here it is – infertility.

I have problems with infertility. I have no children. This is very odd for a 37 year old woman who’s been married as long as I have. Throw in the whole practicing, orthodox Catholic thing, and you have a recipe for disastrous first interactions with people. I’ve met with everything from out and out snarkiness to well meaning, but completely awkward (as in you don’t know me well enough for this conversation) sympathy. And a little, superior “I know how you’re feeling” while bouncing their beautiful child on their lap, thrown in for good measure.

You would think that I would at least, not have any trouble with the whole population control crowd. But when they find out that I don’t have a job, they are so astounded and offended by my housewifelyness, that they can hardly contain their distaste.

The ultimate whammy is the part of the orthodox Catholic crowd that is equally offended by my childlessness and my joblessness. Good times.

In the past, I’ve tried really hard to be understanding of the “foot in mouth” thing that occurs quite often when people find out this tidbit about me. After all, I’m not exactly great about thinking before I speak. And I’ve had plenty of “foot in mouth” moments myself. Over the last couple of years, a few things have happened. I have become more sensitive and these moments have increased in frequency. It’s hard for me to say which came first. Did I become more sensitive because of the increase in incidents? Or was it the other way around? I really don’t know. What I do know is that I would like it to stop. Of course, that’s not going to happen. So I’m trying to figure out a way to deal with them, where I don’t end up crying or angry or both. Hopefully, this will also help those that I meet feel less awkward and not make an ass of themselves. This consideration is secondary though, since my sympathy for clueless people is waning.

My first act in this new venture happened today. I was speaking to someone on the phone for the first time. We were making plans to meet for the first time in a few days. I decided to warn her about my childlessness. It was awkward (so awkward!), but I still think it’s better than the alternative. Which is to be stuck together for the entire evening after she puts her foot in her mouth, and I try to be gracious but end up crying. I have no idea if this would have happened. This person could be a rare, sensitive and adroit soul. But I decided not to take the chance. We’ll see if I continue with this policy.

For those of you who don’t have the amazing opportunity of an awkward conversation with me, here are a few things you should keep in mind to navigate such situations:

1. If you ask someone if they have children and the answer is no, move on to another topic. If that person wants to discuss or explain their situation, they will turn the conversation back that way. But I wouldn’t count on it. Remember, it’s none of your business. They will share if they want, but don’t force it.

2. Don’t offer the number of your doctor. Unless the person indicates that they are searching for a new doctor, treatment plan, etc… Remember that not everyone has the same beliefs in regards to the treatment of infertility. Also, in having to respond to your offer of help, many will feel that they have to reveal information that they do not want to. I know this is difficult. I am myself, an overly helpful person. I am guilty of this sin. If you are a really good friend, this probably doesn’t apply to you. You can always let them know that the info. is available, but don’t push.

3. Never assume. We all do this and it’s very difficult not to. The Catholics and the population control people all assume the same stuff about me with very different reactions. Their assumptions are not true. Remember, you don’t know what goes on with someone’s health or situation. You are basing your assumptions on your beliefs and life experiences, not theirs. Along these same lines, did you know that there is such a thing as secondary infertility? I know people who have it. Never assume that someone has only one child because that’s all that they want. You just don’t know.

4. If you are pregnant and are wondering how to deal with an infertile friend:
a. Be sensitive about telling your friend and be sure she hears it from you first.
b. That also means that she should not feel like you and all of your mutual friends have been discussing behind her back how to tell her.
c. If she doesn’t come to your baby shower or the first birthday party, don’t be offended. I don’t personally have a problem with this, but I know people who do. It’s not that they don’t wish you well. It’s just that they don’t want to embarrass themselves or mar your special days in any way.

5. If you meet someone who is old enough to have children, but doesn’t – TRY TO REMEMBER. Asking me once is totally understandable and expected and asking twice is fine. But after that, it’s just annoying! Doing it for the fifth time while holding one of your beautiful children is just plain cruel. This doesn’t mean you are a bad person. But it does mean that you are thoughtless. (Can you tell this has happened to me?)

6. If you have dealt with infertility in the past, but are now blessed with children, be careful. If you don’t know the currently infertile person well and vice versa, they may not appreciate your identifying with them. They won’t know your story in depth. And it’s possible that you have forgotten exactly how it feels. This happens to everyone. Some women forget the pain of childbirth. Lots of people forget how it feels to be poor once they achieve prosperity. Be aware that you are now on the other side of this painful thing, and they may be skeptical of your street cred.

7. Despite what I have said above, please don’t be afraid of your infertile friends or of me. Just do the best that you can and for Pete’s sake, don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to mind!

I want to reiterate what I said above. I didn’t write this in a bid for sympathy. I know that those of you who read this and know me personally will probably become very alarmed and review your past conversations with me. Please do not do this! The chances that you have committed one of these sins is very minimal. And if we are still friends, then I have survived and I’ve moved on. By the way, I have never lost a friend or stopped speaking to someone over this. I’m sure that I have forgotten some things or said something that someone else in my situation would disagree with. In that sense, I am just like all of you fertile people. I’m just doing the best that I can.

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28 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Liz on November 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    All I can say is you hit this right on. My husband & I also do not have children and cannot have children and will never have children. I’m always amazed at the comments that people make.

    I do have to work, but it’s only with my DH and I have very flexible hours. We get comments about that too. I really wish that people wouldn’t feel the need to be so nosy about others.

    Oh and I’m one of those people who attend the baby showers and birthday parties and then spend days crying afterward. I’m trying to learn not to torture myself, but it’s really hard when they are good friends and you want to celebrate with them.

    Just know your not alone.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Mary on November 8, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    I love you, Nichole. Want me to send Sebastian to live with you? (Please take me up on this offer.)

    Reply

  3. Posted by Melanie on November 8, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I want to say how very proud I am of you, and how very honored I am to call you family! Thank you for speaking out!

    Reply

  4. This is such great advice! This should be required reading for all of us who ever go out in public. Love to you… Anna

    Reply

  5. Posted by Erika on November 8, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Very, very well said, my friend. You just said everything I wish I could say! I love you and am so proud of you for putting it out there. :) Erika

    Reply

  6. Posted by lisa on November 9, 2010 at 12:23 am

    This is so good for people to read…
    Lisa

    Reply

  7. Posted by lou on November 9, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Well said:) And I love you, too!

    Reply

  8. Posted by Andrea on November 9, 2010 at 10:44 am

    I treasure our conversations and you truely are one of a kind!…in a completely awesome way! You are one of the best people I know, so I hope people really read this because it speaks volumes.

    Reply

  9. I could’ve written this post but I can’t bring myself to it. Except for the part about not having a job, I do have one & I’m SOOOO JEALOUS of you!! HAHA!! The showers & bday parties get to me & I’ve just recently convinced myself that it’s ok to skip these. It’s not being selfish. If I lose a friend over it then they weren’t really a friend right?? I’ve had people ask why I don’t have kids & when I respond with “because I can’t” their response is “I didn’t know that”. That’s right you didn’t because I didn’t tell you because it’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!!! Can you tell you’ve struck a nerve?? Anyway, thanks for writing this. I enjoy your blog.

    Reply

    • Traci, I love your attitude! I wish next time that you would actually say ” That’s right you didn’t because I didn’t tell you because it’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!!!” and take a picture of their face. Strike a blow for all!

      Okay, enough crazy from me. Good for you for skipping the parties. I know your really good friends will understand. Thanks so much for the comment.

      Reply

  10. This is my first time here and I want to thank you for your comment on my blog. :-)

    It’s so hard to comment about what you wrote because I don’t know you, so whatever I say can be too personal. But I am really, really moved by everything that you wrote. I have two children myself, but my best friend is dealing with infertility and that hurts me so much because I love her and whenever you love somebody you want to see them achieving everything they want. So, I got your advice and even thou I try to be a good friend in that department too, I am even more aware now and I thank you for that.

    It’s interesting, today when I woke up thought how important is to talk to people, any body, any person you meet… talking is the best way to go thru all the problems we have. Today you opened you heart… and whenever you do that you let the sorrow be transformed in blessings. Sharing a piece of you here is transforming.

    Thank you for that.

    Luciane at HomeBunch.com

    Reply

  11. yes- “it’s none of your business”- I suppose if kids and health and infertility is the topic of conversation and you are among actual friends- talk about it.

    I especially find it annoying when strangers ask these personal questions

    Reply

  12. Posted by Susan Likens on November 11, 2010 at 1:17 am

    Hi Nichole – I just wanted to say, that it makes me very sad to read this and know how insensitive people can be. I would never DREAM of saying the kinds of things or asking the kinds of questions to someone that you mentioned, but there are alot of thoughtless, and/or insensitive people out there, who don’t realize their boundries. Honestly, I would LIKE to think that alot of that is said out of discomfort with the situation, and an effort to just say ‘something’ – but who knows. (just like people who stupidly say to a woman who just had a miscarriage, “it was probably for the best” or “well, you can always have another one”) I think everything you said was good advice to people (who are otherwise too ‘stupid’ to know better themselves!) and actually wish you could publish it somehow for ALL people to see.
    Love you guys and miss you! Wish we could see you more often then every few years! Maybe someday we can get down that way to visit!
    Susan

    Reply

    • Susan, Thanks so much for your kind words. You are correct that some of the problem is caused by people’s discomfort when they don’t know what to say. And so I’ve tried to be gracious and understanding. Especially since I’ve stuck my foot in it a time or two. :) And there is a faction that is just plain clueless and don’t even realize how annoying and hurtful their comments are. Those are the people who need to read this. They probably didn’t, but oh well. :)

      Wish that we saw you guys more, too. Maybe there will have to be a Likens family reunion in the next couple of years. (No, I’m not volunteering to organize! :) )

      Reply

  13. I just happened to stumble upon your blog, and I don’t think it is a mistake. I, too, am a married 30-something with no children- even though we desperately want them. I love your advice on dealing with people in our situation… man, you just can’t know what it is like to live through the hope/disappointment/pain of infertility until you have done it. For me, your post was a lovely reminder that I am not alone in this strange and unfair challenge… even though, some days it really feels like it.

    Thanks for being vulnerable. I know how difficult it can be- and I just wanted you to know that your words meant the world to a stranger today!

    Reply

    • You are so welcome! And thanks for leaving such a lovely comment that may have been difficult to write to a stranger. I really do appreciate it. :)

      Reply

  14. So wonderful for you to share this. At the risk of violating #6, I’ve been down that road … and it is hard to say these things to people who do mean well … but it doesn’t feel that way!

    Reply

    • Traci, You definitely didn’t violate. :). Thanks for the sweet comments. I love seeing pictures of your boys. :). Merry Christmas!

      Nichole

      Sent from my iPad

      Reply

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