Passing Woman, Pregnancy, Volatile bodies

Why don’t you get a puppy instead? Dealing with people who struggle with infertility: Just listen

I’m gonna give you guys some advice. If you don’t like communication tactics for dealing with people who suffer from a serious, life-altering illness, you don’t have to read this. And then you don’t have to comment on our infertility, either. After today I will not be answering questions I deem hurtful.

I’m gonna give you an allegory, a story that I feel relates to how I feel, and leave that as a guideline to communicating with people struggling with infertility. If you feel you have trouble communicating or relating to people with infertility issues, just remind yourself of this allegory. Ask yourself – if they had cancer, would I ask them this? Would I give them this advice?

You remember Sex and the City, when Samantha gets breast cancer? She tries to tell Carrie about her fear of dying, but Carrie brushes it off saying “you will be fine, that doesn’t concern you, you are being treated”. Samantha asks Carrie to let her share her fear, her really real fear of dying. That’s what she needs from her friend. Sharing. Listening.

What she doesn’t need is advice or brushing the whole thing off.

When you ask: Why don’t you adopt?

What we hear you say is “why won’t you give up already and just get a puppy instead since you’re so damaged and it isn’t working naturally the way it’s supposed to?”

I am as entitled to have my own biological children as anyone. Would you take someone else’s child and give yours away? Have a heart and have some decency. These things are not interchangeable.

Facing infertility is like facing any serious illness. It takes time, trying different treatments, hearing professionals out and it takes a mental journey, one that many luckily never have to face. We want what everybody wants. We desire what every able bodied people can without being chastised fort their desire as selfish: our own biological children, carrying them for the nine months and giving birth to them, and seeing our parents in them, our heritage and our love. Seeing ourselves in them.

The change from wanting our children to wanting children, period, is not self-evident.

Many people never want someone else’s kids.

I love my sister’s kids, but they are not mine.

I have a hard time facing pregnancy news, but it gets easier pretty quickly, because that is not my child she is carrying. And how do I know this? Because it is not me, who is pregnant. Those would be my children. The ones that have miscarried so early, only some cells developed.

Some decide to take the road to adoption, but it is a road that might take years and a lot of money. What people fail to realize, when they talk about adoption as getting a puppy – just do it, just like they talk about deciding to have children – is that it is not easy. And it is not for everyone, for many reasons starting with emotional and ending with financial ones.

For starters, you have to give up on the infertility treatments. That’s the first step. That is the requisite  for even starting the adoption process. (Except for very, very rich people.) You have to give up the hope of having your own children. Ever.

Then there’s the testing, the getting approved by financial and emotional and social merits. And then wait years and years, spend thousands and thousands on it.

Finally, in the end, you might get a child. But there are no guarantees. And it will not be genetically yours.

It is extremely painful to hear people just offer adoption straight away as the solution to something that hasn’t been proven to be completely broken yet. I still believe. I am not ready to give up hope on children that would look like me and Wonderboy, who would carry our genes into the future. That is something I will not be chastised about. I will not offer more explanations or try to defend my feelings and decision on this.

If I some day have to give up hope, I will tell you. It is a beautiful thing, hope. Adoption is a hope for those who have lost theirs.

When you ask: Have you tried vitamin X, grapefruit juice, acupuncture, whatever your grandmother told you would work?

You are undermining the fact that we are talking about a serious illness. Do you ask those questions of people who are diagnosed with cancer? No? Then you shouldn’t ask infertile people those questions either.

Do you think that people with cancer haven’t concidered and tried every means possible to them? Do you honestly think that those people haven’t read everything there is to know about their illness? It’s their life on the line after all. It’s exactly the same with infertilite couples.

You don’t have to offer advice. It’s enough, if you listen to what they want to tell you.

When you ask: Why don’t you just relax? My cousin’s friend got pregnant when she got a new job. My friend’s sister got pregnant, when they adopted.

See above. Cancer doesn’t magically go away, if you don’t think about it. Neither does infertility. Don’t you think in two years (or ten in some cases) there hasn’t been a time, when it was still relaxed? Is it an effective method of birth control to just not relax? Well, then. Don’t offer it to the infertiles as such.

The just relax comment seems to me as brushing the seriousness of the issue away. It seems too much like blaming us with fertility issues for having feelings. Would it be okay to tell the same thing to someone who is struggling with cancer? Just don’t think about it? What I hear, when people say this, is their own fear of infertility. I hear, how they can’t accept it as a serious illness that might not have a cure. Sort your own fears yourself. We have enough to deal with.

Also, the adpoting makes you pregnant trope is such a strong one, I want to address it spesifically. Do you think it’s magic, that someone would get pregnant, when they adopt? Consider this: they have first tried more than a year naturally, then they have gone into treatments that have been going on for 2-7 years. then they have started the adoption process. This all might amount to anywhere from 4 to 15 years. If you just stop and think about probability for a second you will realize that adding more years might affect that. Right? Right.

Now, you might have your own thoughts on how to get pregnant. Maybe you ate only youghurt and went to acupuncture. Maybe some hormones worked for you immediately. Maybe you didn’t even think about trying and it happened. When infertiles tell you their own feelings and their own experiences, keep your thoughts to yourself. You have absolutely no proof of something working on them and it will not help one bit to be told what worked for you or your friend or so you think.

Are you a health care specialist? If you aren’t, it’s best if you just listen.

Just listen.

That is the best gift you can give.

Let them tell you how scared they are, just like Samantha. Let them tell you, how betrayed they feel, how their bodies have betrayed them. Offer coffee or juice, offer your shoulder, offer your sympathies. Ask if they want to talk about it and if not take them for a walk or to movies or cook them dinner. Let them play with your children, if they want to. If you want to offer advice, ask “would you like to X”. Do not start sentences with “have you tried X?” or “you should try X”. There is no should in infertility.

Some of these reactions might sound unreasonable to you. Some of them maybe make you angry and frustrated. I just want the best for you! I just wanted to help. What you can’t change, is how people coping with infertility will react and feel about something. What you can change is the way you interact with them.

Infertility is a serious illness just like any other. It is worse than some, because it also strips us of our image of an able body. This is hard to face, when it’s something you can’t see. We suffering from infertility have to face it.

You don’t have to understand. You just have to listen.


15 thoughts on “Why don’t you get a puppy instead? Dealing with people who struggle with infertility: Just listen

  1. This post was prompted by, but not by any means only answering to, Sexperts comment and questions on the earlier post about hope.

    These are questions I face all the time and this is how I feel about them. It is not an accusation, it is here, because I believe the people who ask these questions actually mean well, or at least don’t mean to be hurtful. But they end up hurting none the less.

    These are easy steps into interactions with infertile people. This is insight they might not be able to give you, when you are facing them with your questions, but they feel these feelings, or some of these feelings, or some painful but different feelings, after the situation is over, anyway.

    I want ot add that I cried through answering the comments of the last post as I cried through writing this. I’m saying that just to show you, how incredibly fragile we are, and how incredibly careful you should be with us. But I think my post already did that in more ways than I can emphasize here.

  2. Mac says:

    this comment is not meant to be disparaging or to discredit what you said in your post, but as someone who has the privilege of working with adoptive parents, i can tell you that they feel that the child they adopt is absolutely, 100% their child, even though someone else carried that child. if you ultimately pursue that route, whether or not you have a bio child, i hope you & wonderboy will feel the same way

  3. Mac,

    you are absolutely right. But what I try to convey in my post is that this “adoptive parenting instinct” comes with a price.

    I’m absolutely not trying to undermine adoptive parent’s parenthood. But it isn’t the first instinct and it has been a road through hell to get there, as I’m sure you’d agree. Letting go of the dream of biological children is one of the most difficult emotional processes one can face. The people who couldn’t think of adoptive children as their own are the people who don’t end up adopting. (I surely hope so!)

    I’m just saying, that some people – and we might be among them – can’t see it like that. So, adoption is not an option you can offer someone lightly as the clear and sure “second option”. Sometimes infertility doesn’t have a happy ending. Not a happy ending with children, that is.

  4. I also got a little curious about you working with adoptive parents, Mac. Did you happen to find my blog because of the fertility issues or because of the other content?

    And thank you for wishing us well on that regard as well. I only have one family friend, who was adopted, but as I learned, she never had any trouble calling her parents her parents no matter who gave birth to her.

  5. For starters, you have to give up on the infertility treatments. That’s the first step. That is the requisite for even starting the adoption process. (Except for very, very rich people.) You have to give up the hope of having your own children. Ever.

    That actually makes sense to me. How heart-rendingly sad to have to give up on give up on your dream for only a hope of getting a pale shadow of what you really want.

    I’m probably one of the hardest people out there to explain the pain of infertility to, given that I actively want not to have children, am determined not to pass on my genes, and am absolutely convinced that time spent together is far more important to the bond between parent and child than sharing genes.

    Even with all of that, I think you might have given me a glimmer of understanding of why infertility hurts people so much.

  6. Mac says:

    i found your blog while looking for blogs written by subs…always nice to hear another sub’s thoughts 😉

    becoming a parent, or not, is a very personal decision. i was concerned that my comment could be misconstrued as making light of the difficulties you are currently facing and that was not my intention. i realize that sometimes it’s easy for people to boil down the issue to “oh well, you want a kid and there’s a kid that needs a home, so just adopt”…but if we’re using that logic, adoption should be suggested to anyone interested in becoming a parent, not just to those struggling to conceive. and not for nothing, i know that the suggestion of adoption often comes with a guilt trip, so why not lay that same guilt on every single person who is capable of financially providing for a child. just to be clear, i don’t think that’s appropriate – everybody knows that adoption is an option; if they wanted to to adopt, they would. no need to state the obvious.

    best of luck to you two

  7. but if we’re using that logic, adoption should be suggested to anyone interested in becoming a parent, not just to those struggling to conceive. and not for nothing, i know that the suggestion of adoption often comes with a guilt trip, so why not lay that same guilt on every single person who is capable of financially providing for a child.

    Exactly. Exactly this. If adoption really was a fair option, why aren’t other people, who want kids considering it, huh? 🙂 They should “do good” and take car of a child that’s been abandoned. Selfish people, don’t think about the bigger picture and the starving children somewhere else. 😉

  8. Stabbity,

    I actually share your thoughts on most parts. I think it’s selfish to want your genes replicated in the next generation. I believe that social parenting is far more important than the genes one is given.

    But I don’t feel that way.

    I am not a machine. I can’t live by some theory I have of social constructions. My body doesn’t feel it. My body only feels the dire need to get pregnant and have a baby. My memories and feelings only see meaning in a baby that would be part me and part my husband, part my parents and his. When they are gone, I want to be able to look at my children and see them, and remember them. This is not a thought or theory, this is a need. It’s bare, it’s undeniable. It hurts.

    I don’t blame myself for the need anymore, because honestly, that’s what us mammals were built for. Reproducing. If we didn’t have the need, would there be any of us? But I used to. I used to think it was somehow too selfish to wish for my own children. I had all this intellectual theory jammed up in my head that I thought I should follow. I don’t use should anymore. I only use need and want.

    And I’m happy I am able to make you see, out of all the people, how devastating this is. Because it is. Devastating.

  9. Sorry that you are dealing with infertility. And even sorrier that you had to deal with people making inappropriate remarks. Good luck on your journey and try to ignore the people who don’t understand what you are going through.


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