Tuesday, November 06, 2007

This is National Infertility Awareness Week. I didn't know it until I stumbled across a blog, and as I read the posts of this woman, I relived the pain of those sad years I've barely left behind.

Those of us who've experienced infertility know that we will NEVER forget the pain and struggle that we experienced. The challenge now for me is to make sure that those that I know who are dealing with infertility know that they will always receive compassion and a listening ear from me. Sadly, when I was dealing with infertility, I came across some women who didn't seem to remember the dark valley that they'd walked through. Their comments were hurtful, and I remember that I resolved then and there, during those encounters, that if God ever gave me a child, I would always do my best to be there with others in their dark moments. I wanted to make sure that I tried hard to put myself in their shoes, transport myself back to that time when I felt exactly the same way, and speak from that place ONLY.

If you know a woman or a couple who are dealing with infertility, please take the time to read this. I know I don't have the only perspective on it, but I do think that some of the things I've learned could be helpful.

1. Realize that what they need most is your compassion and love, not your stories or your advice. There are many people who want to cheer up infertile people by telling them stories of people they've known who've managed to conceive after a long time. There are many people who want to give the advice of "just relax," and it'll happen. Resist the urge to be one of these people. Those who are hurting during infertility most need a hug, an "I'm sorry," and for you to be genuinely interested in their life. They need a listening ear and maybe, some compassionate questions. Be sensitive, and be there.

2. Infertile couples can feel very alone in a family centered world. This is especially true in the church, where activities are largely centered around either singles or families. They don't feel like they fit in anywhere after awhile. This can be a very, very lonely place. Please do your best to help these couples feel loved and welcomed around you. Invite them over to dinner, and don't spend the entire evening talking about your kids. Ask them about themselves, their lives, their jobs, their favorite brand of peanut butter, if it comes down to that. If you notice that a woman you know is having a hard time looking at your new baby, discreetly walk away with it for a few minutes. She doesn't despise your child; she is just having a hard time looking at a visible reminder that her arms are empty. The bottom line is, let infertile people know that you want to do whatever it is that they need you to do to make them feel a little less on their own in a family centered world. They will appreciate that you care, and that you're trying to be sensitive, even if you don't always get it exactly right.

3. Please don't try to "fix" infertility. It's in our nature to be fixers. One form of this is hoping to "fix" by reminding the couple of some hardship that they're missing out on by being childless. I once had a woman who was having a hard time with her grown son tell me that having kids wasn't everything it was cracked up to be, and it might not have been so bad to have missed out on it. I was stunned, and my response was, "Would you really say, though, that you wish you'd never become a mother?" She didn't have a response. This is extreme, but other forms of of this are: "Well, at least you weren't up all night with a screaming baby," or "I sure wish I could take a Sunday afternoon nap these days." Infertile people would gladly give up all those afternoon naps for a year of sleepless nights with a colicky baby. I promise. If you have children, just stop and imagine for one second what it would be like if your wonderful ____ had never been born. This should give you pause, and hopefully, it should stop an offhanded comment like the ones I've mentioned.

Another form of fixing is the adoption fix, and it's one that I personally had the hardest time with. Please don't ever say to an infertile couple, "Well, you can always adopt." Deciding to adopt is a difficult quest to embark on for most infertile couples. It isn't something easy that a person just does if they can't have a child naturally. This sentence makes it seem like an quick fix, and it's anything but that. It often requires thousands of dollars, years of paperwork, much waiting and sometimes, heartbreak, and coming to terms with a dream of naturally born children that has died. Yes, you might be able to ask a couple if they've ever considered adoption, but do it cautiously and after much other compassionate conversation has happened, if at all.

After putting out all this advice, I realize that I haven't always taken it. Unwise words have rolled off my tongue without thinking; I know they have. So if you've been the recipient of some insensitive comment from me, please forgive. I didn't mean to hurt you. And please know that I'm praying for you in your journey. God hasn't left you alone in this waiting time, even if it feels like it. He has a plan, even though we have no idea what it is. And one day, all this hurting will end, somehow, and He will wipe every tear away.


Perry and Amanda said...

I am thankful again at how articulate you are. I didn't realize that it was National Infertlity Week. Thanks for listening and encouraging me.

Pamela Jeanne said...

Thank you so much, Ellen, for posting this. You have no idea how much it warms my heart to read how supportive and encouraging you are, still, of those who struggle with the wide-ranging implications of infertility.

As you've noted, too often those who've managed to cross over to parenthood lose their compassion or forget the darkness. Your advice is spot on, and it means so much coming from someone who's been on both sides of the table. You are officially in my book a recipient of my Act of Kindness award! I'll reference and link to your site in my next post later this week. Feel free to link to my site (www.Coming2Terms.com) as well. It's only through candid sharing that we can foster compassion.

Kami said...

I am here from Pamela Jeanne's blog. Although I can't imagine forgetting the wars we fight to have a child, I understand some do. Or maybe they just didn't need to fight that hard and they just think they did.

Thank you for posting this and spreading the word about infertility.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ellen, you hit the nail on the head ... as one who's still "there," it's so good to know that you really understand ...
Love you!
Helen xx