“When are you going to have a baby?” “You need to start trying to get pregnant before it’s too late.” “Don’t you think Bobby needs a little brother or sister?” “Don’t you want a family?” “When am I going to be a grandparent? I’m going to be too old if you wait any longer.”
If you are beginning the process of trying to conceive or you are far into your infertility journey, you know how much these simple questions can hurt. You hear them all the time, especially if you are very private about your situation. Your friends and family are well meaning, want to be involved in your life, and oftentimes have no idea that you’re in so much pain. Infertility is a life crisis and devastating to most people. We are uncomfortable talking about a heartbreaking experience; vulnerability is scary.
Unfortunately, other people have no idea how to respond when someone opens up about infertility. It’s not something that’s out in the open because people going through it often feel shame and guilt. There are also many misconceptions about infertility (see post about infertility myths). Furthermore, there’s a sense of failure and a lack of ability to deal with overwhelming emotions. When you’ve taken the risk to tell someone that you trust and they respond with something hurtful or unhelpful, you’re more resistant to opening up again to someone else.
Infertility is a process and you’ll need support along the way. People will inevitably ask you questions about having children or make comments that they are unaware are insensitive. After all, if they don’t know you’re dealing with infertility, how can they effectively communicate about your struggle? Here are some strategies for you and your partner to begin the process of talking about your infertility journey with others.
Come Up With a Plan Together
Have a conversation with your partner about how many details you want to share with people. While explaining your situation to others will likely help you move forward in your journey, you don’t need to share every nitty gritty detail of your sex life or medical procedures with your family over the dinner table. Decide together how much you’re both comfortable disclosing and what you want to say. Respect each other’s privacy and only discuss agreed upon topics. Every person and couple has a different level of openness; it’s better to be prepared and work as a team than to say something that violates your partner’s trust in maintaining discretion. You can also rehearse what to say and the terminology you feel comfortable with, for example, “infertility” versus “trying to get pregnant” or “trying to start a family.”
Think about What Kind of Support You’ll Need
Telling other people what you need is a difficult skill no matter what the topic is, but particularly when dealing with infertility. It’s usually not something you expect to experience and the emotions are unpredictable. Take some time to think about what will be comforting to you and how others will be able to provide support. Be able to communicate that clearly with your family and friends. What you need will be different for everyone, there’s no instruction manual for how to get through it. If you want someone to call you everyday to check on how you’re doing, you can ask someone you trust. If you do not want people to ask you about medical procedures or decisions, say that in a respectful way. People may still try to comfort you in ways that are not helpful to you and it’s ok to explain to them what you need and what you do not want. It will take some practice and time for everyone to understand; be patient with others and with yourself during the process.
Help Others Understand Your Pain
Again, people are likely to make insensitive comments that will be emotionally challenging without even understanding that they’ve hurt your feelings. How will they ever know if you don’t tell them? When dealing with such a taxing experience, it’s hard to feel like you need to take care of other people’s emotions. The truth is you can’t be responsible for other’s feelings, but you can help them to understand yours. Verbalize your pain the best way that you can. Therapy can be very helpful in these situations. Therapy is a place to gain more awareness and find ways to communicate about your emotions in a safe space, prior to talking about them with family and friends.
Understand that Your Family and Friends have their Own Emotions, and That’s Ok
When you’re dealing with something so personal and devastating, it’s hard to cope with what other people say and feel. You may think, “why are they saying that? This is about me, why are they taking it so personally?” You may feel angry that people are making the situation about them and not being sensitive to you. You think that family members, especially hopeful potential grandparents, are being selfish. Take a step back and see the situation from their perspective. Think about the family life cycle. You’ve probably decided to try to conceive because of where you are in your life cycle. Your parents are at a place in their life cycle where their friends are becoming grandparents and they are expecting to do to the same. They need time to grieve about how infertility will affect their lives in the same way that you need time to process. You’ll probably lash out at an inappropriate time, you might harbor resentment. It’s ok. This will take time and practice. Allow yourself mistakes and be aware of your feelings.
If you are struggling with how to talk about your infertility journey or how to cope with difficult emotions and family interactions, call me for a free phone consultation at (832) 827-3288. I can help you grieve, understand your emotions, and navigate your way more effectively. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. Don’t get stuck in your pain, make efforts to heal. You’re worth it.