I have hesitated to write this post, and struggled in the writing, because it can become a toe-stomping hoedown. I’ve had infections that hurt less than some of the things that were said to me during the years we were trying to find our family. I know friends that have experienced the same thing. There was no place where I was immune from the inappropriate questions and remarks. But there was one place where I was especially exposed. One place worse than all the others. One place where all the questioners seemed to gather with dry-cleaned clothes and journals full of great ideas.
As I type, I can feel the deep sigh escaping my chest. Church is where I was first asked if Todd was shooting blanks. Church is where the young mothers stand at the back bouncing their “misbehaving” babies on their hips. Church is where the raw wound of infertility and the deep longing for relief was in my face, no matter who I was talking to or what corner I tried to stand in. Because church was where the families gathered. Where the pregnant people waddled in with their husbands. And where the small talk abounded before and after the assembly. Church was where a person leaned down to a 3 year old, the mother of whom had just miscarried, and said, “Tell your mom YOU want a baby.” Another person elbowed that same mother and said, “You don’t know what it’s like to be a parent until you’ve had your second one.”
Ah, that was helpful, wasn’t it? SO helpful.
For me, church was full of loving, caring friends. But among them, there were a few problematic clumps of people:
- Those who had never been through the challenge of infertility. They simply didn’t get it. Therefore, they had no idea how their questions and comments would injure me.
- Those who didn’t have a filter. If they thought it, they said it. That was their gift to the world.
- Those who thought they were close to everyone. They knew everyone by name and would pat them on the back, which to them opened the door to extremely personal topics. Anything was fair game. To them. Not to me.
Before I say any more, I want to be clear. Church is not the problem. I am a Christian. I love the church. And I’m certain that I contribute to other people’s pain on occasion. I am as often a part of the problem as I am a part of the solution. But regarding a person’s family, I am very, very careful.
Church wasn’t the problem.
Church was simply the place where the problematic people tended to open their mouths most freely.
And whether people are well meaning and just ignorant or whether they really know better and forge ahead anyway, it still needs to stop.
So this will be a short post (Todd read it and said it most certainly wasn’t short. Agree to disagree, I guess.) with a few observations about how NOT to be a part of the problem.
- Less is more. Sometimes less is more. Fewer words means fewer mistakes. My mother always taught me to simply say “I’m sorry” when someone was suffering or had lost a loved one. It was the most awkward sounding thing to my ears when it came out of my mouth. We think we need to offer something pithy or novel. Something creative. Something smart or deep or interesting. A suffering person doesn’t need smart or deep or interesting. When in doubt, say less.
- Unless it’s YOUR business, it’s none of your business. A friend recently wrote me something pretty good. “When and if a couple has children is an intensely personal decision and not up for public discussion.” Public is anyone. Parents. Best friends. Anyone. If the suffering person or couple comes to you, then they’ve invited you in. That’s different. If they didn’t come to you, walk away. It isn’t your business. Don’t ask. Don’t tell.
- Don’t joke. Infertility is never funny to someone dealing with it. If you simply must joke about it, do so privately with your buddy who is reproducing like a family of rabbits. I’m sure he’d love it. I didn’t.
- Reach out/Reach in. If you’ve been invited into a situation and you know what’s going on with a couple, offer what you have. Maybe it’s just sympathy. Maybe it’s a hug. Maybe it’s the name of a good therapist (I was thankful for this. I wouldn’t have known how to set that up on my own). Maybe it’s dropping by one morning with Starbucks. Maybe it’s leaving a small token on the porch with a card. Maybe it’s texting your friend on a day you know is hard and telling them you love them. Maybe it’s dinner. Which brings me to…
- Be gently forceful and very specific. Most people like free food. Exhausted people love it. This is an easy way to reach out, but if it isn’t done right it adds an extra burden on the one suffering. Don’t side hug your friend as you are walking past and say, “Let me know if I can ever do anything,” or “Let me know what I can do to help.” Those statements won’t bring results. Those types of offers make the recipient come crawling to you, which they likely won’t do. It forces them to think and, I assure you, a person suffering isn’t doing their best thinking. Their brains are already working at capacity. A better offering is, “I’m bringing you dinner this week. What night is best for you? Italian or pot roast?” Now you’ve let them know that you are already on board and you’ve given them a couple of easy decisions. A suffering person doesn’t have the energy to deal with non-specific, open-ended offers.
- Think. Be sensitive and think ahead. The person you are talking to may have just had a miscarriage. Maybe they’ve been trying to figure things out for 2 years. Play it safe if you don’t know.
- Pray. Really pray for these people. And if you are praying for them, tell them.
- Approach privately. If you are in that inner circle with a person suffering from infertility, stay in touch with them and ask them privately how they are and how you can help. Sometimes it’s all a person can do to just go through the motions of a public situation, whether it’s church or work or a social gathering. There were times when I wanted to know someone cared, but I could not discuss it in public without breaking down.
- Be patient. No one wants a fast fix more than the person walking this road. But unfortunately, sometimes this road is very dark and very long. Grab and hand and hang in there for however long it takes.
I know from experience what it’s like to want something you may never get. It’s painful and often directionless and you don’t know if or when or how relief will come. It’s hard to be that person. I also know it’s hard to love that person. It was hard to love me during those years. My husband tried to help me, but I was helpless. My friends tried to console me, but I was inconsolable. My doctors tried to fix me, but my body had other ideas.
It wasn’t easy to love me.
I’m thankful they kept trying.
Nobody stopped trying.
For all the helpers out there, dealing with someone like me, keep trying.
And I hope this helps.