Struggling to get pregnant was one of the most anxiety ridden, emotional, isolating, and frustrating times of my life. I had a healthy pregnancy after 14 months of actively trying to conceive, but because I started having recurrent early miscarriages after only a few months, the weight of possibly not being able to get pregnant settled in heavily very early in the process. Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant for twelve months or more, despite regular unprotected sex. My husband and I were SO READY to have a child. I met with my doctor six months before we started trying to make sure all was well, and to get tips on what vitamins I should be taking and any dietary changes I should make. I gave up alcohol and refined sugar, and I finally kicked my occasional social/stress smoking habit. I had read all the things. My husband knew he couldn't take hot baths, or work with his laptop directly on his lap anymore. After a decade of stressing about birth control, it seemed like getting pregnant couldn't be too hard. I had my first positive pregnancy test a few months later, the week of my husband's birthday. Food tasted metallic and I was exhausted. I told my mom the names we were thinking of, with happy tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. The day of the surprise party I threw for my husband, I started bleeding heavily. The next day I was nauseous, with painful cramps, and I bled all day, and the day after that I took another pregnancy test that came out negative. From that day on, my journey to becoming a mother went from exciting and hopeful to stressful and exhausting. In the months that followed, a lot of people said a lot of things to me that I wish they hadn't, and they didn't say a lot of things I wish they had. I checked in with some of the wonderful friends I made during my journey trying to conceive (TTC), and together we would like to share with you the top 7 things your friends struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss wish you knew. (All names have been changed for privacy.)
1) Don't make comments asking when people are going to have a kid (or more kids.) Ever. Your loved ones will share what they want to share, when they want to share it. You very well may not know that your friends or family members are struggling to conceive, and those "so when are you going to give me a niece/nephew/grandchild" ribbing comments really sting when there's nothing you'd like more but it's not going as planned. Passive aggressive questions poking around asking if people are planning on kids are no's too. Mariah shares "we were telling (family) about our new house and ...they asked 'oh, does it have any extra bedrooms for kids someday or just enough for you two?'" When you're trying your hardest to get pregnant these "harmless" questions feel like a punch in the gut. Regardless of the issues surrounding infertility and pregnancy loss, it's just good practice to respect people's privacy and not ask about their reproductive plans, remind yourself that those kinds of questions are literally asking people about their sex life.
2) Check yourself before you make comments when someone gets pregnant. Karen shared this about when she got pregnant after a long time trying: "We heard: 'it was about time!' and 'oh, I thought you just wanted to have dogs!' Which stung quite a bit. I think in general, it's best to just not get into people's' business and ask about/ comment on their reproductive plans. It's intimate, it's sensitive, and it's highly inappropriate at best. If anyone wants to talk to you about their family planning, fertility, or infertility, trust that they will." Another friend had someone assume it was an accidental pregnancy because they had been married so long without kids, so the clueless commenter had assumed they must not have wanted any. Just like the above, pause for a moment before you comment, and use empathy, restraint, and respect to decide what to say. It's truly baffling to me the things people think are appropriate to say when it comes to pregnancy.
3) If you haven't been there, don't give advice. Literally no one experiencing infertility wants to hear "stop trying and it will happen," and I am pretty sure all of us have at one point, because everyone has one of those "helpful" anecdotes about someone who gave up trying and then immediately got pregnant. I needed DNA testing, extensive blood work, a special diet, special vitamins and supplements, and in depth knowledge of the timing of my reproductive cycle in order to finally have a successful pregnancy, so all those "you're just stressing yourself out and that's why it's not happening" people can shove it. Also please don't offer well intentioned health advice like "stop eating gluten," "lose/gain weight " or the very popular "you need to do yoga." Leave that to the medical professionals. Instead of advice, if you have a friend or family member struggling to conceive, try offering unqualified support instead. Kristy said about her TTC journey "the quick 'thinking of you!' And 'how are you?' Were SO appreciated."
4) If you know someone who has had a miscarriage, offer your support. Do not say any of the following:
"Well at least you know you can get pregnant." (If you can't carry a healthy pregnancy what good is that?)
"It's not really a miscarriage, it was so early!" (When you are trying hard for a baby and dreaming of it, that baby is real to you the moment you see the positive test.)
"It was God's plan/for the best." (No, just no. You can think this, but it's not a helpful thing to say.)
"You can always adopt!" (Adoption is expensive and difficult, and not what everyone wants. My husband is adopted, so it meant a lot that he have a biological relative in our child.)
"You shouldn't have told people so early." (This is encouraging people to hide the reality of pregnancy loss. Telling people early means there will be people who know what's going on, and can support you if there is a loss. The choice of when and whom to share with is up to no one but the parents to be.)
"You will have a healthy pregnancy eventually, don't worry" (You have no idea if this is true, and we know it, so this brand of positivity is not helpful.)
Instead, Emily offers this advice: "I think the best thing anyone said to me after my losses was "what can I do for you?" No advice, no "I know what you're going through", because even if they've had the same experience, everyone experiences it differently and needs different things. Just knowing someone was there for me was all I needed and wanted."
5) Secondary infertility is a thing. Secondary infertility is when someone experiences infertility after already conceiving and carrying a baby to term without difficulty. Grace shared this with me when I asked what she wanted people to know about infertility: "I had my first two children very easily... I was pretty vocal to friends and family that we always wanted three, so when we struggled to get pregnant the third time, it was a shock and extremely discouraging. We tried for over a year and also experienced a miscarriage. I had numerous people tell me that I should just be happy and content with the two healthy babies I had. So not only did I feel guilty that we couldn't get pregnant, but I felt guilty for wanting another. I guess I would want people to understand that infertility can look very different....it's not just the young, newly married couples trying for their first child. It can be couples with 2, 3, 4....children who want to grow their families and there should be no guilt or shame in that." Bearing that in mind, asking "when are you going to give so and so a sibling?" falls under #1. Not only is it oblivious and hurtful if the person is experiencing secondary infertility, but it also assumes that they want another child, which very well may not be the case.
6) Don't compare experiences. I had someone tell me after my second loss that I hadn't needed any surgeries or IVF yet, so really it wasn't so bad. That really wasn't what I needed to hear in that moment. I can't count how many times someone said something to the effect of "Oh I know just how you feel, it took us three months and it was agonizing." It's not that your experience isn't valid, but any kind of comparison in these situations really doesn't help.
7) If your friend or family member talks with you about their struggles with infertility or pregnancy loss, try to be there for them, even if you feel uncomfortable. This is one of those times when it really needs to not be about you. I found infertility and pregnancy loss very isolating because I was hurting so much, but it felt like oversharing to talk with people about what was going on. Lisa shared about the aftermath of her miscarriage:"Avoiding it or pretending it didn't happen was killer for me. I wanted and needed to talk about it. Acknowledge it. It happened. It was a big thing. I know not everyone wants to talk but for me I did. It sucked when I would bring it up and friends immediately showed discomfort at the subject. I wish there was a way to make it not seem so awkward. I feel it's no different than any other loss and if I said my grandpa died people would know what to say or just be there and supportive. Maybe because it's so intangible until you've been there it's more difficult." This article covers the complicated subject of grieving over a miscarriage when you are pro-choice, and I would encourage you to consider her perspective, especially if this is part of what makes you uncomfortable in being there for your friend who has experienced a loss, or grieving your own. This is another one.
I want to wrap up with this simple but powerful bit of wisdom from Lila on how to support your friends experiencing infertility and pregnancy loss; "listen and listen and listen and try to understand what their mental and physical state is like at that time. Be empathetic and say things like "God that's so unfair. It must be so stressful. Is there anything I can do to help make this easier? What do you need?" It's not 'wallowing' to acknowledge how a person is feeling. It shows that you are trying to understand and acknowledge that they are having a really sh*tty time."
A huge thank you to the close-knit sisterhood of women who I have connected with through the Kindara fertility tracking app community. Not only did you contribute wisdom and honesty to this post, but you have been there every step of the way for me, and I love you all dearly. If you are trying to conceive, I would highly recommend the Kindara app for invaluable information and a truly supportive community. I would also like to share the incredibly detailed, honest, and thoughtful account of my friend's journey through 18 months of trying to conceive; hopefully her diligence and openness can help others who are faced with similar struggles. If you have faced these challenges, and feel I left something important off this list, please join the conversation on Facebook and let me know.