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.