So many times when someone we love is upset, we try to make them feel better. We don’t like it when someone is hurting or sad, and we try to fix it. So we might suggest ways for them to look on the bright side, or give them tips on what we have done in that situation to make things better. I think we all do this at times, myself included. And I think for the most part that this is ok. It seems natural to want to help and many times we are very capable of helping a loved one feel better about something or working with them to solve a problem.
However, there are some situations where there isn’t a way to fix the situation, where there isn’t a way to make someone feel better. Infertility and loss are two of these situations… there are no quick fixes that will heal my broken heart or resolve my infertility.
But even though Matt and I know that there are no quick fixes for infertility, it feels as though the rest of the (fertile) world doesn’t really realize this. The practice of “fixing” seems to be so ingrained in our culture that people with good intentions try to fix us even though they know so little about infertility. Many of the quick fixes we hear over and over are actually much more complicated than they seem on the surface. Suggestions, advice, and minimizations roll off tongues without a second thought as to their actual meanings or implications.
Our culture also doesn’t handle grief or other uncomfortable feelings well, so when a “fix” is suggested, I feel like the person is trying to get me to move on and *just* be happy again. It feels like they don’t understand my experience or think of my emotions as valid. But infertility and pregnancy losses are serious and painful, and it takes time to work through and heal from these situations.
Even though I know that most “quick fixes” come from a place of love (while others come from a place of discomfort…), they are problematic. They are unintentionally hurtful. And it would be easier to walk my path if I didn’t have to shield myself from quick fixes all the time, regardless of how well intentioned they were. So in this post I’m hoping to shed some light on some common quick fixes and suggest what might be a better thing to say instead.
This quick fix is probably the most common one I’ve heard during infertility. It’s also one of the most frustrating ones because it’s so wrong — stress doesn’t cause infertility and relaxing doesn’t cause conception. Infertility and pregnancy loss are medical conditions and they cannot be cured by relaxation. If that were the case, all we would need is a day at the spa and a cup of tea instead of medications, surgeries, and other procedures… Trust me, I’d very much rather go to the spa instead of the doctor’s office, the lab, the pharmacy, and the surgery center, but the fact is that relaxing will not bring me a baby.
When I am told that I *just need to relax*, I like to point out that I *was* relaxed until I failed to get pregnant after months of trying; I was relaxed until my doctor confirmed there was a problem. That’s when I started feeling stressed about conceiving.
For my own mental health I do things to stay calm and relaxed, but *being relaxed* is not going to cure my infertility. We have medical problems that are preventing our conception and if we want to have good odds of conception we’re going to have to treat them. Some people who have experienced infertility do surprisingly conceive after years of trying, but it’s not because they relaxed; it’s because over time, the unlikely event of conception managed to take place.
Additionally, being told that I *just need to relax* makes me feel like I have done something wrong. Believe me, I second guess my every move every month after I fail to conceive, and I won’t even get into how much guilt I feel over my ectopic pregnancy. But I know deep down that I have not caused my infertility and I did not cause my ectopic pregnancy. But when I’m told that I just need to relax, it incorrectly places the blame on me, and that’s not ok. This is not my fault.
Instead of saying, “Just relax”, I suggest asking how you can help. Assuming relaxation is the only thing I need isn’t ok — it’s better to ask to find out what I need. Sometimes I do need to relax for my own mental health, and sometimes that relaxation is better with a friend by my side; but other times I need to rant or cry, or go on a walk, etc. There are lots of things I need to do to care for myself and treat our medical problem during this time, but *just relaxing* isn’t going to fix this.
For more thoughts on the quick fix “just relax”, please visit this post.
“You can always do IVF”
This is another quick fix I’ve heard over and over, and although I know IVF gives many couples their best chance for success, IVF is not an option for everyone and it is so much more complicated and intense than most people realize — IVF is not a quick or easy fix. I also want to note that the people who have told me, “you can always do IVF” did not go through IVF treatment themselves; rather, they conceived easily and naturally; some even conceived accidentally.
Don’t get me wrong here — IVF is a wonderful opportunity for a chance at conception and pregnancy for some people, and Matt and I are currently preparing for IVF treatment. And I am thankful that we have this option. However, it has taken us a lot of time and consideration to get to the point of being ready for IVF. Coming to the conclusion that IVF should be our next step was a hard one. It was not a quick or easy decision for us to make and we’re still in the process of coming to terms with it.
What most people don’t realize about IVF is that it’s very intense. It’s extremely physically demanding and risky. It’s emotional. It’s expensive. And really I can’t even say too much about it because I have yet to experience it myself… but I do have the medication and appointment calendar in my hand, as well as the preparation check list, and financial estimate; and what I’ll say is this: IVF is intense. So for anyone to suggest that it’s an easy fix for infertility means that they really have no clue what IVF entails.
Additionally, IVF is not always such a miracle. It is not 100% successful — not everyone who undergoes IVF treatment will deliver a baby. And not everyone experiencing infertility is able to undergo IVF treatment — different medical conditions or financial restrictions can prohibit some people from undergoing IVF. IVF is not a quick fix for infertility.
Instead of saying, “You can always do IVF”, it might be better to ask what treatment options the doctor is offering at this point and what we might consider. I had people pushing me into IVF way before (months and months) the words crossed the lips of my doctor, and it was so upsetting to me. And when my doctor did suggest IVF it wasn’t, “You can always do IVF now that everything else has failed you.” No. It was nothing like that. Instead, he asked, “Would you be open to considering IVF as the next step?” His gentle approach was unassuming and respectful, and it would be nice if everyone could speak to us in a similar way.
This quick fix implies that adoption is an easy, painless, risk free process that will end and cure my infertility. It’s not. Adoption only cures childlessness, not infertility. That said, adoption can a wonderful family building option, but like any major decision during infertility, it is not easy or quick. Adoption takes time, it can be very expensive, and it is risky — it may not be physically risky, but it’s emotionally and financially risky. There are no guarantees with adoption, and I know several couples who had their hearts broken during the adoption process before a successful adoption went through.
“Just adopt” also has a partner that I’ve heard: “Just adopt and you’ll get pregnant.” This quick fix is a huge disservice to adoption and adopted children. It implies that adoption only serves as a way to achieve pregnancy, and this is terrible. Someone adopting a child is doing so in order to build their family, not in order to later achieve pregnancy. Sure, a small number of people do later conceive, but just like “relaxing”, adoption is not a cure.
“Just adopt” also assumes that everyone experiencing infertility wants to, or should, adopt children; but not everyone wants to adopt — and that’s ok. Another frustrating thing about “just adopt” is that, like “you can always do IVF”, the people suggesting this to me have not adopted; they have biological children. And what I’d like to point out here, is that adoption isn’t an option only for infertile people — fertile people can adopt too.
I’d also like to note that when I’m told to “just adopt” I get frustrated because it’s not like this is a new idea or something — I’m well aware of adoption already. I have friends and family who are adopted, and who have adopted. Adoption can be wonderful. But it’s not a quick fix for infertility. So if you feel that adoption is something I should be considering, rest assured knowing that I already know it’s an option for family building and that Matt and I are carefully weighing all of our options at every step.
Pretty much anything that begins with “at least” is a quick fix for my sadness or disappointment that leaves me feeling like my pain has been ignored or minimized. I’ve heard all varieties of “at least…” but here are a few examples:
“At least you can sleep through the night without kids waking you up.”
“At least you can leave the house or leave town when you want.”
“At least you have a great marriage.”
“At least you can afford treatment.”
“At least you got pregnant.”
I’m not going to break these down one by one, because it’s not worth it. I know and understand that when someone tells me one of these things they are intending to help me find the silver lining. They are trying to bring me out of my sadness to be happy again. But it’s not that easy. I can’t *just* forget about what I’m going through. I need to sit with my emotions and work through them.
When I hear “at least…” I feel like my pain is being minimized. Like the person doesn’t think my pain is real, or like I’m overreacting. Sometimes it makes me doubt my own emotions, and other times it makes me feel like the person *just doesn’t understand me*. And I hate feeling like that, because I’m not a teenager; I’m an adult who’s experiencing heartbreak, and my emotions are valid and they are real, and it’s not okay for my experience to be minimized.
When I hear “at least…” it also makes me feel like the person thinks I’m ungrateful for the good things in my life. But I’m not — I’m very grateful for the good things happening in my life. I practice gratitude. I say thank you and I write thank you notes. But doing those things doesn’t cure my broken heart, and they don’t fix my infertility. They are good for my mental health and my perspective on life, but they aren’t a cure-all.
It’s okay to occasionally remind me that there’s light in my life, but there’s a difference between reminding me of happiness and hope, and minimizing my pain. Anything that begins with “at least” sets me up for feeling minimized, so I suggest avoiding that phrase entirely. A better way to remind me of the good things in my life could me to ask me about them and let me find the light… but if you do this, please also follow my lead — if I’m not receptive, let it go for the time being; sometimes I need be with my grief.
“Don’t worry, the sun will come out tomorrow.”
This and other such promises for the future are quick fixes that do not give me as much hope the speaker intended. Promises such as, “You’ll end up with kids, don’t worry” or, “This is going to work! I can feel it!” or, “Everything will work out” end up making me feel like my pain and fear are being minimized.
Infertility causes lots of fear about the future. No one knows what the future holds for me in regards to parenthood. The end result with infertility is completely out of our hands — no one can fix my situation. Not me. Not Matt. Not my loved ones. Not even my doctor. We are working with our medical team closely to select treatments that will give us our best chance for success, but there are no guarantees.
So when someone tells me that I’m going to be okay or that they *just* know it’s going to work out, it’s frustrating because no one can promise me that, and it dismisses my very real fear and pain about my situation. At the end of the day, *all* of our futures are unknown, so it’s not okay to pretend that we know how someone else’s story is going to turn out. It’s better to sit with someone in their moments of pain, and acknowledge that right now things aren’t okay.
Healing is a process that takes time
I know that many of these quick fixes are said with love and with the intention of making me feel better, giving me hope, or reassuring me… and while on the surface they may seem like they should do just that, they don’t. Quick fixes dismiss fears and minimize pain. Quick fixes sometimes assume things that may not be correct, they might pass judgement, or place blame. And overall, quick fixes for infertility do not exist — there is absolutely no quick fix out there for my infertility and loss. The birth of my own living child, or adoption may end up curing my childlessness, but the wounds caused by my infertility and loss will remain. Healing these wounds will take place over time, probably for the rest of my life. Healing will require acceptance, reflection, great love, understanding, and support. But it will not be quick or easy, and it would be wonderful if people would understand this and be willing to sit with me while I grieve and try to heal.
Note: Please also see my support post, which is closely related to this one.