Talking about infertility, I’ve learned, is as hard for the people being confided in as it is for the people doing the confiding. Like a death, an illness in the family, or the loss of a job, infertility often leaves people scrambling for the right words. And since the chances that any individual has personally dealt with infertility are much lower than the chances that they’ve dealt with, let’s say, a sick loved one, it’s nearly impossible for them to truly relate and empathize. So, understandably, in situations like these we all fall back on the old reliables: the comforting, the sympathies, the encouragements.
What makes infertility hard to talk about is that there is no safely assumed outcome. Yes, you may end up with a child, but you will go through physical, mental, and emotional hell to get there, all while draining your bank account. And it’s just as possible that after all that, you won’t be able to get pregnant. Or you will and you’ll miscarry. There’s no guarantee of a happy ending or that time will heal this wound. It’s a shitty situation where even the positive outcomes come with hefty price tags, and there’s no escaping that reality, which often makes talking about it even more difficult. Sometimes when you’re facing an uphill battle, it’s hard to hear ‘everything will be ok’ and ‘it will all be worth it.’ Will it?
Experiencing this rollercoaster in such a public way has encouraged many people in our lives to reach out with their own stories. We’ve heard about IVF successes, of course, but we’ve heard about just as many failures - the people who didn’t have the means to attempt treatment to begin with or only enough for one cycle that didn’t work; the ones who figured out a way to swing it but suffered through failed cycle after failed cycle; the women whose bodies turned against them as they went through the rigorous process of injections and drugs; and the people who suffered miscarriage after miscarriage and still can’t figure out why. Talking to these people has been eye-opening, and gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking. But going through this process has taught me how to receive their stories, to listen deeply, and to respond in a meaningful way.
I’ve found that most people are like me and Bobby - they’re often afraid to talk about their problems because it feels like an emotional unloading of an overwhelming weight on an unsuspecting victim. In turn, our victims respond the best way they know how - with pity, sympathy, and encouragement. It’s human nature to hear something sad or difficult or upsetting, and react with as much light and love as we can muster. Doing so helps us feel as though we are protecting our loved ones from their own hurt by bombarding them with good vibes and uplifting energies. But there are some situations - infertility, for one - that a positive attitude can’t change.
Looking back, I can remember so many times in my life that someone I cared about was hurting and I didn’t know what to say. But this experience has taught me that the best thing you can do is be raw, genuine, and honest, and not succumb to our natural inclination to provide uplift, because that’s impossible. Sometimes people just want to release the emotions that are weighing them down without having to accept and then mirror their loved one’s positive thoughts to assure them that they’re ok. Sometimes we’re not ok - and that is ok - but acting like we are is exhausting. So those who are struggling keep their secrets and hold onto their burdens until they become too heavy to bear alone.
What I’ve learned about myself, and many others I’ve spoken to, is that often the best way to respond is to allow the other person to feel deeply, to not protect them from their feelings but divulge with them. I’m hardly suggesting that we never turn to positivity and encouragement to support someone who is suffering, but rather that we use those words more thoughtfully, and with an acknowledgement of their situation. To tell someone who is facing infertility that it sucks (literally, in those words), and that it’s a terrible thing to go through, and they must be feeling awful is not going to turn them into a ball of tears (well, it might, but only because they’ve been dying to hear those words).
You are not telling them anything they don’t know.
Quite the opposite - by giving their feelings a voice, you’re telling them that it’s ok to be sad, frustrated, and pissed off around you, that their situation is crap, and there’s no two ways around it, but you’re here to listen. You’re acknowledging that the pain they feel is real, and you don’t believe that your words are going to change that (because they’re not). What they hear is that you’re there to walk this road together - that you can’t carry the weight for them, but you can be a crutch when it becomes too heavy to shoulder alone. These are powerful sentiments for anyone who is struggling - not just with infertility but any profound, life-altering situation. And sometimes they can be the difference between a secret silently suffered and a burden shared.