My husband and I have been trying to conceive for the last two years. Most of my friends and acquaintances are aware that we’re trying.
This is my fault.
I’m a pretty open person anyway, and after being married for eight years, I was relieved to finally have a real answer to all those Nosy Nellies who asked, “When are you going to have children?” So, I cheerfully announced two years ago, to anyone who would listen, that my husband and I were ready to start a family.
Do not do this unless you want to provide everyone with regular updates on the status of your reproductive organs and the frequency with which you and your partner are making the two-backed beast.
When the subject comes up, well-intentioned people inevitably say one or more of the five following comments. Depending on my mood, I might nod along or change the subject. (Sometimes I have to suppress my face-punching reflex.) I’ve decided to address these issues, so nobody else has to suffer.
Here are 5 things you should NEVER say to an infertile couple:
1. “Have you thought about adoption?”
Adoption? What a brilliant idea! Of course we’ve thought about adoption. Domestic adoption, international adoption, adoption from foster care, “adoption” from a grocery store cart when a particularly adorable baby’s mother is distracted by the produce. (I think that might technically be considered kidnapping.)
I’ve personally spent hours researching every type of adoption there is, but I’m guessing you haven’t or you would know how daunting the process is. Adopting a child isn’t like going down to the animal shelter and rescuing a lab mix. Please don’t suggest adoption to me unless you’re going to follow up by handing me a check for $30,000 and a glowing letter of recommendation.
2. “When it’s meant to be, it will happen.”
I wish I believed in a rainbow-colored fantasy land where everything that’s meant to be happens, and everything that happens is meant to be. Here in the real world, wars are fought, earthquakes strike and children die of cancer. Sometimes bad people abuse their children, and sometimes good people can’t make babies.
If my husband and I aren’t able to conceive, it’s not because of some moral failing on our part; it’s because our Mommy and Daddy parts aren’t working properly. Maybe I’m too old, or maybe we never would have been able to conceive. Whatever the reason, I don’t think our “unexplained infertility” is part of some cosmic master plan any more than our “unexplained inability to win the Powerball” is.
3. “You have plenty of time. Halle Berry had a baby at 46!”
Oh, Halle. Yes, Halle Berry had a baby at 46. Marcia Cross had twins 44. Female celebrities in their forties have been popping out kids left and right as if they’ve been douching with water from the fountain of youth.
To my knowledge, none of these celebrities have admitted to using donor eggs. The fact of the matter is, the chance of a woman over the age of 44 conceiving and birthing a child using her own eggs, even with IVF, is roughly equivalent to the chance of conceiving and birthing a live unicorn.
4. “When you quit trying, then it will happen.”
If I had a nickel for every time someone told me about their cousin who got pregnant as soon as she “stopped trying,” I’d have enough money to afford private, domestic adoption.
Maybe for your 29 year-old cousin, that was a great strategy. I’m forty years old. I don’t have time to “quit trying.” Between the lifespan of sperm and the viability of an egg, there is a small window of time when a woman can get pregnant each month. I can’t afford to stop keeping track of my cycle and just have sex when the mood strikes.
5. “Just relax! It won’t happen if you stress out about it.”
If stress were an effective method of birth control, there would be a lot fewer pregnancies in the world. There would have been no Jewish babies born in Germany in the late 1930’s, and the poverty-stricken areas of Africa would be unpopulated.
This comment always reminds me of politician Todd Akin saying that women who are raped rarely get pregnant because the body has a way to “shut the whole thing down.” That’s not how reproduction works.
Also? I’m tracking my cycle every day so that my husband and I can coordinate our sexy time for maximum effectiveness. Telling me to “Just relax!” is like telling someone not to think about elephants. See? Now you’re thinking about elephants. Having sex.
My husband and I already feel pretty lousy about not being able to conceive. So many of the comments I hear from people seem to focus on the idea that if we just did XYZ, I’d get pregnant. The thing is, we’ve gone through all of the tests and we still don’t know why this is (or more accurately, isn’t) happening. I question myself all the time: Did I wait too long to start trying? Am I not getting pregnant because I would be a bad mother? Do I not deserve a child?
If you find yourself talking with someone who is struggling with infertility, tread lightly. Unless you have some actual experience with the subject matter yourself, it’s probably best not to offer unsolicited advice. As in any case where someone you care about is hurting, never underestimate the power of a simple: “I’m sorry. Do you want to talk about it?” If it’s a really good friend, maybe, “I’m sorry. Would you like one of my children?”
That would work with me.