It turned out an autoimmune disease had been silently whisking away my fertility. I had no idea and I stumbled to my car and fell into a secret depression for the next year. I say secret because baby-making problems are an uncomfortable topic for most people. So I said nothing, except to my partner and a small handful of friends. I swear it made the whole shitty experience even harder. On the outside I was the same sunny-natured person, but inside, the sadness was suffocating. It felt like I had a permanent lead weight in my chest.
“The silence around infertility and IVF means that people affected are often just trying to function in their daily life, walking around with a ticking time bomb that nobody knows about,” says counsellor and life coach Claire Hall, who wrote the book Empowered Fertility, A Practical Twelve-Step Guide. “They feel a rollercoaster of anger, blame, shame and regret. It can crush your identity, your self-esteem and self-confidence.”
Over the next few years I chased and chased and chased my dream, to have what so many women seemed to have. I did get there eventually, and I will never be more thankful for anything. But during that time I changed, into someone angry and heartbroken in secret. There wasn’t any place to turn to figure out what I was feeling about my body, my femininity, my life.
We need to talk about infertility. And we need to give insight to those who have no idea what struggling to get pregnant feels like, so that they can support those around them going through it (it affects one in six couples in Australia), and not say insulting things that make you want to kick life in the face, things fertility specialist Dr Devorah Liberman, who wrote Empowered Fertility with Hall, calls #fertilityshaming. I suspect that the majority of people who say the wrong things do so because they have no clue what to really say. I’ll start the conversation - here’s how to talk about it in a better way.
The majority of people who say the wrong things do so because they have no clue what to really say.
Do say: I’m sorry you’re going through this.
After a failed IVF cycle or some crappy test results, you just want to be angry at the world without being offered solutions. Infertility is a bitter pill to swallow, and you wonder if you are being indulgent as you’re not dying and your grief is for something you never had. It’s confusing. Acknowledging your friend is having a tough time validates their feelings.
Don’t say: Have you tried [insert alternative therapy/relaxation/holiday suggestion here]?
The answer is yes. Yes I have. I tried more woo-woo therapies than you can name, including one fertility meditation CD that involved standing with my arms stretched out pushing onto a wall and imagining ‘the supportive power of a simple wall.’ Screw you wall, you did not help one iota when I failed yet another IVF cycle. As for relaxing, why yes I tried it once, for half an hour in between working full-time, and overtime to pay for fertility treatments, spending weekends avoiding baby showers and evenings drinking maca root powder smoothies. It didn’t work.
Do say: Come over and have cuddles with little Milo
Because sometimes a cuddle and belly laughs from a child is the exact medicine we need to forget about our grief for a while. Except when we’re feeling super-sensitive around kids. Yes – it’s a tricky line to walk and we hate that we are ‘that’ person that people have to tread on baby eggshells around, but attempting to be sensitive to this predicament (however awkward it makes us both feel) is GREATLY appreciated.
If your friend becomes a no-show at Friday night drinks, or won’t drink coffee or sit in the gym sauna anymore don’t get mad at her.
Do say: Wanna see Batman V Superman?
Pursuing a child is a full-time job. It affects what you eat, whether you take a promotion at work, your daily routine, all the phone calls, appointments, blood tests. Many people don’t realise this. So if your friend becomes a no-show at Friday night drinks, or won’t drink coffee or sit in the gym sauna anymore don’t get mad at her for being crazy. Offer to do something chill together like taking a yoga class or seeing a movie. She’ll love you for it. Especially if you shout her.
Don’t say: Why don’t you adopt?
Because adoption, aside from being an incredibly long and arduous undertaking, with masses of red-tape – is a totally different prospect to trying to get pregnant. It’s not an either-or situation.
Do say: Hang in there
If you’re struggling to have a baby, mostly you just need a hug, some understanding and some biscuits. Chocolate ones. Whether your friend is on their 8th IVF cycle or has trying for eight months, it’s hard. You may not understand why they keep going against the odds, but it’s their choice, their dream to chase and you know, miracles DO happen. I have one sleeping upstairs right now.
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