“Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”
Here’s the thing that nobody speaks about. It’s the slow journey into this surreal situation, the one where you end up in a hospital lecture room with 11 other hopeful couples who’ve somehow overcome their natural British reserve and are resigned to the fact that they’ll have to go through some fairly invasive and embarrassing procedures in order to be in with a smaller than average chance (roughly 1 in 4) of having a baby.
It’s that feeling of jealousy, despair, a sense of unfairness when yet another of your friends blithely announces their pregnancy after about a week of trying halfheartedly, when you haven’t shown even the slightest sign of anything for over ten years. The smile you plaster on your face when you tell them that you’re happy for them and you throw them a baby shower and buy their child loads of gifts (because part of you is wondering if you’ll ever get to buy those things for your own baby). The show of interest when they are whingeing on about baby brain and sleepless nights and you feel like telling them to shut the **** up and be grateful that they didn’t have to go through this because it hurts and you don’t know how much longer you can pretend to be happy for them.
But the worst thing is the dumb things people say. It comes from work colleagues, friends and sanctimommies – when you’re female of childbearing age, pretty much anyone considers you fair game for comment. I thought I’d do a rundown of the top 10 dumb things people say when it comes to infertility, mainly because I’m sick to bloody death of hearing them and it’s cathartic for me to have a rant about them!
1) “What are your plans for having a baby?”
Would you ask someone whether they’re having sex and how often? Really? Would you? I’m not sure why anyone feels it necessary to delve into such detail about what goes on in people’s private lives. The default assumption seems to be that if you’re a female of marriageable age (in my experience this goes from 21 upwards), your reproductive system is somehow fair game for everyone to comment on. Newsflash: It’s really none of your business.
You don’t know what anyone’s story is. You don’t know if they’ve decided they don’t want a baby, or if they’ve gone through countless miscarriages that you’re forcing them to drag up and think about, or if they’re in an unhappy relationship, or if they’re a victim of abuse, or have psychological issues around having a baby. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a good reason why they don’t have a baby right now, or maybe there isn’t. It’s not for you to pontificate. And maybe, just maybe, it’s none of your damn business and you shouldn’t put them in a situation when they have to explain this.
As someone who’s experienced long term infertility, several procedures and operations, and has now entered the sad but hopeful world of assisted conception, I would really appreciate it if people stopped asking me this question, with its implicit assumption that I haven’t really thought about it. Because I have. More than most of you sanctimommies ever did. And I don’t want to have to keep explaining where I’m at on my fertility journey – especially in the middle of the office when I’m likely to burst into tears.
2) “[Your dog/cat/hamster] is just a baby substitute”
I can’t even put into words how irritating this is, not to mention insulting to your dog/cat/hamster. My dog is my dog. Your cat is your cat. A baby is a baby, not a pet. A pet isn’t a substitute for a baby. FWIW, I definitely wouldn’t stop loving my pet because I had a baby, despite what people seem to think. It’s possible to love more than one thing at once. Stop being so stupid.
3) “You’ll regret it if you put your career before having a baby.”
Really. This is a winner… You ladies who have a “decent” job will be familiar with this one. This usually comes from work colleagues (even male ones seem to think they have a right to comment) and smug mummies who think that the only reason why you don’t have a baby is because you decided to prioritise your career instead. (Usually to make up for the fact that they have deprioritised their careers and are now applying the same project management philosophy to their opinionated brand of helicopter organic whole foods breastapo parenting. Not that I’m bitter or anything.)
This is actually one of the ones that makes me most sad (or angry, depending on the time of the month) because I don’t throw myself into my career because I would prefer that to being a parent… I do it because it’s never happened for me. And on those days when some nasty senior (generally self satisfied middle aged man) is being horrible to me and disrespecting me, I really wish I wasn’t there and was cosied up at home with a little one instead. But I just suck it up.
So yeah… Don’t assume that just because someone has a decent job and no baby that it’s by their own design. Chances are it isn’t, and you telling them that they’ve made the “wrong” decision is just rubbing salt into the wound.
4) “You need to get a move on… tick tock!”
How many times have you heard this one? If I had a fertilised egg for every time someone had said this to me, I’d be the mother of 5000 children! You get together with someone – people think it’s fair game to comment on your (lack of) reproductivity. You get engaged – yes, you’re definitely going to have one, and your friends start commenting on it every time they see you. You get married – it’s definitely time you got a move on… and the only possible reason you haven’t had one is because you’re slow / stubborn / you don’t want one…
Because of course I had a choice in the matter. There I was, just sitting around surrounded by a surplus of available, wannabe daddies who were just dying to get into a committed relationship and impregnate me, and it was just silly me who didn’t listen to my biological clock. What a dumbo I am! :O
And meanwhile, everyone else who gets cohabited, engaged, married or even touches a member of the opposite sex gets pregnant.
As my dad always said… Life isn’t fair.
5) “If you just relax, it will happen [+ insert other ridiculous suggestions here]”
OH NO IT WON’T! Do you think I was this uptight about it 15 years ago, when I had all the time in the world? No I wasn’t! It took years and years of (completely unnecessary, as it turns out – now isn’t that ironic, as Alanis would say) contraception, then not-not-trying, then sort-of-trying, then actively trying, then a load of doctor’s appointments and operations to tell me that it’s really not about whether I’m bloody relaxed or not!
Yes… I’ve been on holiday. I’ve “not thought about it”. (Which, by the way, is quite difficult – try not to think about a white bear, to paraphrase Dostoevsky – turns out that’s a bit difficult.) I’ve relaxed. I’ve taken charge. I’ve measured my temperature, I’ve tracked my ovulation, I’ve even found out about that darned CM – and believe me, you have to get over the ick factor pretty quickly once you start having TV scans (no, that’s not about finding extra digital channels, sadly).
Here’s the thing… Just because it happened for you really quickly, that doesn’t mean you can take the credit for it. If someone has infertility issues, it could be for a myriad of reasons and most of them won’t be their fault. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles. You are super fertile, therefore you “relaxed” and that one time you got jiggy with it on your honeymoon you also got up the duff. Lucky you! I’m happy for you, really. But please stop shoving your “helpful” suggestions in my face.
6) “Never mind, you can just adopt.”
I have personal experience of adoption and I can tell you, this is not the easy option. Adopting a child is a serious undertaking and it should not be considered consolation prize for people who can’t have a baby naturally. You can’t just nip down to the shops and buy a child. The process takes years. It’s invasive – even more invasive than IVF, because they’re poking around in your head – you have to be pretty special and strong to get through that. In the UK it’s unlikely that you’d be able to adopt a baby, and it’s also likely that any child in care is in care because of a serious breakdown in the ability of their family to look after them, so you’re also looking at a situation that involves a lot of emotional and psychological requirements other than just pesky fertility. It’s not something that you enter into lightly, and it’s not something that you should suggest to people without being pretty sure they’d be open to your advice.
In summary: Being adopted is great. Telling adopted people to “just adopt” = not so great and about as sensitive as throwing a brick at someone’s head.
7) “You’ll never know what love is until you give birth to your own child”
Waaaaaah. Is it me or is this the most annoying, patronising pile of rubbish anyone could ever say to you? Seriously, just shut up! I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me that I don’t know what love is.
Here’s the thing… I do know what love is, and I love a lot of people (and small furry beings) and I don’t have a finite amount. Getting a new being to love won’t dilute the love I have for the beings I already have in my life. And I think that’s pretty insulting to anyone who’s ever adopted a child, to suggest that they somehow don’t know how to love.
And as anyone who’s adopted a human (or an animal) knows…
(Credit: No longer on Etsy, poem by Fleur Conkling Heyliger – often used for adoptees)
8) “If it doesn’t happen, it means it’s not part of God’s plan”
As my mother would say, peel me a grape! Actually I’m not really that way inclined, but I refuse to believe that even a putative Flying Spaghetti Monster would be so mean as to spend time randomly doling out infertility to undeserving couples. If it’s God’s plan then I’m pretty sure He would make sure that no child ever grew up unwanted, and nothing bad ever happened, and perfectly nice people would be able to have children.
If I look at people I know who’ve given birth to babies, I can’t see any rhyme nor reason as to why they’ve managed to do this, whilst others have struggled. They’re not more godly. If anything, many of these children were conceived in a state of inebriation, which I’m fairly sure was not part of God’s plan (although John 2: 1-11 does mention Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding, so maybe he was trying to help out the couple’s fertility). 😉 What can I say? It’s pretty darned insensitive to start blethering on about it being God’s plan to someone who’s infertile – it’s like telling them they’re less deserving than you. I’m pretty sure you’re not a good judge of that, up on your high horse.
9) “You’re lucky you don’t have children, because you can [go out drinking/stay slim/insert other stupid reason here]”
No! Just no! Stop right there! You think you’re doing us a favour by saying this, but you’re not!
It’s well meaning, possibly… But it’s bloody upsetting when you have to put up with hearing this from your pregnant / sanctimommy / unsensitive friends. I don’t really care if you’ve put on 4 stone and you now never go out without an infant suckling you and you haven’t washed your hair since 2003. That’s your choice! And I would like the choice. (*I’d like to think I’d be able to wash my hair, but tbh I don’t even do that at the weekend when I’m home alone, so I’d most likely turn into a hobo.)
Lists usually seem to involve 10 things, and so mine has ten… so I’ll reserve this last one for Any Other Blether. You know, the kind of stuff where you know someone who’s going through a load of heartache around infertility (or it doesn’t even enter your head that they might be), and you decide that it’s entirely within your rights to force them to talk about it, in your own clodhoppery way.
If you think what you’re saying might be upsetting, then how about you just don’t say it?
An Infertile Friend