Through the years that we've dealt with infertility, we have met many responses to our story. We have received an overwhelming amount of support. Many times people have told us that although they don't know what to say or do, they want to let us know that they recognize our unique struggle, and wish to show us support. For all that support, we will be eternally grateful.
However, there have been some comments that we have found to be more painful to deal with. We understand and appreciate that most of these situations resulted from someone sincerely wishing to be supportive, but, from the standpoint of an infertile couple, the statements were difficult for us to process. So, as we move towards building our family through adoption, we thought we would share how couples dealing with infertility may feel when certain comments are made, and some guidelines in relating to them.
These ideas are not entirely unique to us, and we've drawn from several websites to corroborate what we've discovered.
1. Church is a difficult place for infertile couples. Remember that the husband and wife are the center of the family. Even when there are no children in the home, they are a family. Recognize that homes that are blessed with children will eventually revert back to the husband and wife. Couples dealing with infertility may not have children and therefore may seem to logically have more time to do more in the church, but please appreciate the fact that they have their own hardships to go through.
2. Avoid giving advice. Trust us, infertile couples get advice of all kinds. We've had advice from "try this doctor, my friend's cousin went there, and they got pregnant within two months" to "Rub honey on your gums at night and you WILL get pregnant" to "Oh, now that you've moved, and can RELAX, you'll get pregnant", to "You should have an anointing service in church". As you can tell, advice ranges from outright hilarious to very well meaning.
3. Every couple's story is different. There are a myriad of reasons why couples can't conceive. The treatment that works for one couple may not work for another couple because their cause for infertility, on a biological level, may be completely different. A couple may deal with infertility in different ways emotionally. There are differences in every couple's story regarding how they feel. Please don't assume that you know how a couple feels. There may be similarities between couple's stories, but there are strong differences too. Each couple will go through different amounts of pain at different times.
4. A couple that has dealt with infertility can have a happy and fulfilled life, and may go through periods of utter contentment in their childless state. We have found this to be true. There have been times where you couldn't have paid us to have kids. We were happy, and fulfilled. In fact, we are thrilled that we were unable to conceive when we first began trying. There are so many rich life experiences we've had that we would have never had, had we had children.
5. A couple has to be ready in their hearts to try a new treatment or alternative to building a family. This ties in with giving advice. Frankly, couples will seek out advice as they are ready to receive it. We found that although we didn't try all possible routes of fertility, we never felt at peace about trying them. There was never any real excitement about treatments such as IVF. We never felt we needed to exercise every possible option to have biological kids. However, if a couple feels that they wish to try IVF, IUI, fertility drugs, or any other treatment, by all means, we support them fully.
6. Infertility is not merely a women's issue. Men struggle with infertility too, and may have a difficult time dealing with the fact that they may never father biological offspring. There are many reasons a couple can't conceive, and in 50% of couples male factor infertility is involved (http://www.sharedjourney.com/articles/fam.html).
7. Infertility is a legitimate reason for grief. Couples that are unable to conceive may grieve things like no biological offspring, no kids to give them cards that say "I love you, Mom!" or ugly mugs that say "World's Best Dad!". They may even grieve the fact that they don't have a kid in the fight when their friends break up a fight between their kids :).
8. Please be sensitive to the fact that although infertile couples wish to be invited to baby showers, and Father's Day and Mother's Day services at church, they may wish not to attend. Be sensitive to the fact that although childless couples wish to hear about your pregnancy, they may have a difficult time dealing with the fact that you got pregnant.
10. When sharing news about other infertile couples that are FINALLY pregnant with couples struggling with infertility just say that they're pregnant. Please don't dwell on how long they've tried, or that they must have finally relaxed, or that this new doc they're with helped them out. Again, see #2.
11. Respect a couple's decision about having children, not having children, pursuing fertility treatments, pursuing adoption, etc. Raising children is a HUGE responsibility, and if a couple chooses not to have children, or to adopt, etc., allow them to make that decision. They are the ones that will raise the children or live without children.
12. If a couple decides to adopt, please don't say, "Oh, now you're gonna get pregnant! Why, I know someone that tried for years to get pregnant and couldn't, and then just as they were adopting, they found out they were pregnant!" Statistically speaking, less than 10% of infertile couples that adopt fall pregnant.
13. Please do pray for couples. Please tell them you care. Please, if you don't know what to say, say, "I don't know what to say that will make you feel better, but I want you to know that I recognize that you are dealing with a difficult issue in your struggle with fertility, and I'm praying for you." Please ask about a couple's struggle occasionally, while at the same time recognizing that infertility is not the only thing that defines these couples.
14. Invite infertile couples to go with your family to go bowling, mini golfing, out for a meal, or to play games with your family. We may grieve our children, but that is only because we love children. We love hanging out with yours.
All of these guidelines are not meant to offend or hurt anyone, rather they are meant to be used as a guide in your interaction with those of us who are unable to have biological children. If a certain statement targets you, or you feel hurt by it, we apologize, and please rest assured knowing that any slight was unintentional. We have had people tell us in the past that they wished that they knew how to be properly supportive and that they knew the do's and don'ts of relating to the childless, so here is our version.
We would be very interested in hearing how other couples dealing with infertility feel about the points above. Have you found things to be different for you? Did we get some of these wrong?