One of the main topics that comes up for my clients going through infertility (and anxiety, pregnancy loss, depression, abuse, infidelity and basically anything they are coming to see me for) is how to talk about it with other people. Infertility is particularly difficult because of the lack of education around this topic, the stigma associated with it, and the uncomfortable details these conversations might include. So many clients and friends have cried over the unintentionally hurtful things that other people have said to them in a time when they were looking for support.
When you take a step back, it becomes clear that people really are trying to be helpful, it’s just that they have no idea HOW to help you. They care about you and they love you, but they haven’t got a clue of how to give you support in these moments. Truthfully, they panic. At a loss of what to say, they say the first thing that comes to their heads. Based on my experience with this issues, I’ve devised four categories that people typically fall into: the fixer, the minimizer, the existentialist, and the blamer. I will talk about each category in separate posts, so for now we’ll focus on the fixer.
So what does a “fixer” look like? I’m sure we’ve all had experience with a fixer. The conversation goes a little something like this. I’ll refer to the person going through infertility as Person I.
Fixer: “So when are you going to start a family?”
Person I: “We’re not sure. To be honest, we’ve been having some trouble getting pregnant.”
Fixer: “Oh my goodness, have you talked to your doctor about it?”
Person I: “Yes, we’ve actually had some testing done and will be starting infertility treatments soon.”
Fixer: “Are you doing IVF?”
Person I: “Not to start with. First we will try IUI. This whole process has been really difficult.”
Fixer: “Well you’ll probably end up doing IVF, that’s what my cousin did. Have you talked to Dr. So and so, she’s supposed to be the best. You know, I bet if you relax that will make things so much easier. Also, there’s a book about some of this stuff, I’ll find it online for you and send it to you.”
Person I: “Thanks, I really appreciate that. We are trying to take things one step at a time.”
Fixer: “Well you definitely need to stay on top of things and do your research. Have you thought about acupuncture? You know, if it doesn’t work out you can always adopt.”
The fixer is that well-meaning friend that immediately jumps into problem solving when something serious or scary has come up. They so desperately want to help and for a fixer, this is how they are showing support. Fixers are people who like to have a lot of control over situations, are usually perfectionists, and are the take charge 0 to 100 type. Fixers are good people to have in your corner because they are great problem solvers, have lots of ideas that perhaps you didn’t think of, and jump right in to help. However, in emotionally challenging times, fixers forget to have some boundaries and check in to see where you are. Their brains are already 6-8 steps ahead of what’s happening right now. What’s happening now is uncomfortable, so they avoid it by moving at warp speed.
How can you deal with a fixer when you’re trying to have a meaningful conversation about infertility?
1. Ask them to slow down: You’ll have to be honest with them that they are moving too fast. Here’s the thing, they can’t solve infertility for you. Yes, they can come up with suggestions about the next steps to take and how to move forward, but they can’t fix it-and all a fixer wants to do is fix it. Remind them that in this situation, that’s not helpful.
2. Tell them how their words make you feel: Fixers are moving so fast and so many steps ahead that they have no idea how something they said made you feel. This might be a conversation that’s uncomfortable to you, but if you continue to feel dismissed and like the fixer isn’t hearing you, you will build resentments against them. Resentments are poison to relationships. Let them know you believe they are trying their best to help, but actually things they are saying are hurtful and you’ll need to explain why.
3. Let them know how to support you: Ok, now the fixer has slowed down and understands your perspective of the situation and the emotional side of things. Now what? They don’t know what to do because their way of helping is to fix things, so a fixer will struggle with how to help with something they can’t fix. This will look different for everyone, so you’ll have to be the one to decide what support will be most helpful. Be honest with them, and let them know that what you need is a hug and an “I’m so sorry.”
4. Acknowledge when they’ve done something helpful: Let the fixer know what they have done that was helpful to you. A fixer feels good when they’ve pinpointed exactly what to do in a difficult situation, it helps them feel in control. If they made a great point about something, share your appreciation. If they remembered to ask how you’re feeling, let them know how much it meant to you.
It’s important to try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, as weird as that may seem. After all, you’re in so much pain. Why don’t other people understand that? But you have to remember that people are not mind readers, and friends and family are generally well intentioned. They just don’t know HOW to help. If you want to truly feel supported during this time, you’ll have to let people into that pain just a little bit. This is typically the first step in opening up a meaningful conversation instead of a surface level one that results in hurt feelings, isolation, and resentment.
Check out my next post for how to deal with a “minimizer.” If you are looking for additional support in your infertility journey, don’t hesitate to give me a call. I’m passionate about working with clients going through the emotional turmoil of infertility, which can be such an isolating experience. I’m a Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. Please call me at (832) 827-3288 for your free phone consultation.