What NOT to Say – And How to Actually Support Someone Going Through Infertility

On Monday, we paid for our IVF cycle to the tune of approximately $11,000 (not including medication). That same night, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed before bed and happened upon a pregnancy announcement.  All the feelings hit me at once: the punch to your gut, the feeling of a rug being pulled out from beneath your feet, the sickening dread that you can’t quite put a name to. I usually do a pretty good job of making myself numb to these kind of surprises, but I was feeling particularly vulnerable as we had just nearly emptied our savings account in the name of having the chance to complete our family.

And then, like an idiot, I posted a Facebook status update about my feelings.

As you can probably imagine, I got a wide range of replies. All of them were trying to be supportive, which I really do appreciate. I’m glad I have people in my life who care enough to try and comfort me when I’m going through something awful and physically and emotionally draining. Many of these comments completely missed the mark and offered no comfort whatsoever. In fact, a few of them left me feeling even worse, though I’m sure that was not their intention.

This is largely because infertility is a subject that makes people uncomfortable. No one really knows what to say to someone who is facing the very real possibility of having their dreams of a family forcibly ripped away from them.

But here’s the thing. Infertility is a disease. Just like the many different types of cancer, just like diabetes, like heart disease, liver disease. The way to comfort someone going through infertility is the same as how you would comfort anyone else experiencing health problems.

Now, you might say, “Wait a minute, Stacey! Cancer is life-threatening. Infertility isn’t. Can you really compare them?” Yes. Yes, you can. While infertility might not carry a potential death sentence, the emotional toll it takes is every bit as comparable.  Throughout my years in the infertility community, I have met some amazing women, some of whom have had to end their journey with no living children at all.  I mean, can you even imagine?  I have heard these women say that there were times they wished that they were dead.

The medications and procedures required for ART (Advanced Reproductive Technology, like IVF) put a large strain on the body and can result in things like Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS for short) which can in turn lead to ovarian torsion and the loss of an ovary. Can you really compare the suffering of a cancer patient undergoing chemo and radiation to someone undertaking ART? I very much think you can. At least in many cases, your cancer treatments will be covered by insurance. There are only 15 states in the U.S. that mandate any form of infertility coverage, and even then, the coverage is often very limited.

In any case, research has shown that women suffering with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as women with cancer and other major health concerns (source).

The death of any dream is very hard to handle for anyone, but the death of the dream of your own family can be downright cruel. It’s something that so many people take for granted every day. Now, I can only speak for myself as a woman who always dreamed of having a family, but I always just assumed it would happen. I mean, who dreams as a child of growing up and facing multiple miscarriages, or not being able to get pregnant at all? That’s right, no one. In a way, facing infertility was one of my biggest fears. That’s how much I wanted to be a mother… that not being able to have children was ranked above an untimely death.

Most people don’t have to think about this, but for the approximately 1 in 8 couples in America, this is their reality.

If you’re still reading this, it’s probably because you’re part of the infertility community, too. I’m sorry you can relate to any of this. Or, you might be someone who loves someone who can relate to all of this. In which case, I applaud you for trying to educate yourself!

Read on for a list of things you should absolutely not ever say to someone going through infertility. I will explain why these phrases/platitudes are hurtful (or just generally not helpful or comforting), and things you can say instead.

“It’s God’s plan/God’s will/in God’s time, etc.”

First of all, not everyone believes in God. So it pretty much goes without saying that not everyone would find these sentiments comforting. Second, even those who are religious don’t necessarily find comfort in this. Who wants to be reminded that God is making them wait, or go through this terrible ordeal in order to get pregnant (or sustain a pregnancy), when many (seemingly) undeserving women get pregnant all the time without any trouble? It’s simply not a good thing to say, even if you really believe it.

“Just adopt!”

Many people seem to have a lot of misconceptions about how the adoption process works. They seem to think it goes something like this:

  1. Go to Baby Store
  2. Pick out your baby
  3. Pay a small sum of money
  4. Go home and live happily ever after

That could not be further from the truth. The adoption process (at least here in the U.S.) is a very long and expensive process that does not guarantee happiness at the end of it. The average domestic infant adoption in the U.S. costs anywhere from $35,000 to $40,000 when everything is all said and done (source). That is an expense that MANY people cannot pay, and for obvious reasons. And even when you’re finally home with your new baby, there can be heartache caused by the birth parents changing their minds. Many couples walk away from the adoption process with empty bank accounts, empty arms and broken hearts. So, there is no “just” adopting. Even for people who can afford it, adoption may just not be for them, for whatever reason. Anyone faced with the heartbreaking decisions required to build their family does not come to their resolution lightly. So have a little respect, yeah?

“Have you tried XYZ?”

Look, I’m not going to mince words on this one. Yes, I’ve tried that. And that, too. And also that. It didn’t work. So now I’m under the care of a fertility specialist (Reproductive Endocrinologist, or RE for short) who has the knowledge and means to figure out what’s wrong and get me pregnant. It’s nice that you want to help… but trust us. WE HAVE TRIED IT ALL.

“Just relax/Stop trying so hard/It will happen when you least expect it/Go on vacation/Get drunk/etc”

This is particularly unhelpful because it places blame for the infertility on something the couple is doing wrong. Infertility is diagnosed after 12 months of unprotected sex, with no pregnancies. Recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL for short) is diagnosed after 3 miscarriages (they do not have to be consecutive). That’s just science, OK? There is also virtually no credible or substantial relationship between stress and infertility. I’m not infertile because I stress over it too much. That’s not how it works. Normal, day-to-day stress also cannot cause a miscarriage. “Relaxing” does not cure infertility, no matter the form.

“I’m so fertile! I can’t understand what you’re going through, but I’m glad it isn’t me!”

Does this one even need an explanation? This is just absolutely NOT the right thing to say, at all, under and circumstances. EVER. Even if you’re saying it in a supporting manner, or worded differently. Just… no. Your fertility has literally nothing to do with me, but thanks for rubbing it in that you can get pregnant on demand and I can’t. That’s super helpful and comforting. (I really need a sarcasm font)

“At least you have one child/be thankful for the child(ren) you have/etc.”

I don’t think there is a single person going through secondary infertility that is not thankful for the child(ren) that they have. However, having X number of children does not make the pain of being able to finish your family any less real or painful. I look at my daughter (who is herself a product of fertility treatments) and while I am so, so grateful to have the opportunity to be a mother, the thought that she will maybe have to grow up as an only child because I can’t get pregnant again is sometimes more than I can bear.

“Take my kids!/Borrow my kids and you won’t want any anymore!”

Does this one need an explanation, either? I mean, come on. OBVIOUSLY I don’t want your brats, I want my own brats! I want the experience that comes with being pregnant, giving birth, having a newborn. Creating a person who has never existed before. Someone who looks like me and my husband. Offering me your children is an insult, plain and simple. I know you mean it in a joking way, but it’s a really shitty joke to make. It’s insensitive and honestly, tactless.

“At least you know you can get pregnant!”

To any woman who has ever had a miscarriage, this is probably one of the worst things you could possibly say. Yes, I can get pregnant, but my body seems to take joy in killing my babies. I am so very happy about that! NOT. Please, please don’t say this. It is not comforting in the least to know that you can get pregnant, but not stay pregnant.

“Enjoy life without kids/Travel/You get to sleep in/etc”

While life without children definitely has some perks, those of us working on building our family are well aware of what we would be giving up. And to us, it is worth it. Many of us are spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to become parents, I think we are quite ready for it, and have enjoyed our childless days enough. This is definitely not a helpful thing to say, because it just evokes the feelings of a life we are yearning to move on from but are being prevented from doing so by powers outside of our control.

“Stay positive/Have faith/Don’t be so bitter/etc”

While staying positive and keeping faith might be easy for some people, even in the face of the worst shit that life can throw at you, it is not for others. We will all invariably have our down days, and harbor feelings that we aren’t necessarily proud of. But that’s the thing about grief, and the strain of a stressful situation: everyone handles it differently. You don’t get to decide how someone else grieves. You don’t get to decide how someone else deals with the pain, bitterness, and sometimes aching loneliness of infertility. I can guarantee that whether I am happy, cheerful, sad, angry, bitter or any other emotion… I will STILL be infertile.

So, yeah. There are quite a few terrible things you can say to someone in your attempt to comfort or offer support. I’ve hopefully done a decent job of rounding up the most common ones and offering reasons why they aren’t helpful or OK to say.

Think about infertility again in the context of a disease like cancer: Would you tell a cancer patient to “just relax” and their cancer will resolve itself? No! You wouldn’t, that’s bizarre. So don’t say it to someone suffering with infertility.

When it comes down to it, my infertility isn’t about you. I don’t need you to try and fix me, I have doctors for that. If you’re my friend, or someone I care about, all I need is for you to be there. To listen if I need it, to have some compassion and empathy even if you don’t or can’t understand on a personal level. If you can’t say anything else, say you’re sorry. Don’t offer an asinine platitude just because you’re uncomfortable.

What else would you add? Tell me in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

Books, Depression & Other Meandering Thoughts

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.  Just very down, and my self-esteem has been in the pits.  It certainly doesn’t help matters that my acne has had a major flare up over the past couple of weeks. I’m almost 29 years old and my face looks worse now than when I was 13, just got my period, and had a fresh start on puberty. It sucks. And it doesn’t matter what I do… take off my makeup at the end of the day, or don’t take it off; wash my face 2x a day or not at all; clean pillowcase or not; special face washes and medications or none at all; my zits just will not go away. It’s to the point now where I want to cry looking in the mirror and I’ve been avoiding going out in public because I’m so self -conscious even with makeup on. I’m thinking about making an appointment with my PCM and seeing if she will give me a referral to a dermatologist.

There are two situations in which my skin is amazing: when I’m taking birth control pills and when I am pregnant. Since both options are currently unavailable to me… drugs it is. My skin was doing this the last time I was TTC and I was put on an oral antibiotic along with some skin creams that helped a lot, but that was 3+ years ago.

I actually just got an email from my RE clinic’s IVF coordinator (she asked me to check in with my July period) and she said they will look into starting me on BCPs with my August period so maybe that will help a little? Who knows. But since stims start mid-October, I’m kind of getting anxious that I will be way over suppressed. I brought up my fears of over suppression to my RE at our initial IVF consult because of how long it takes me to stim to get even one stupid mature follicle but he didn’t seem concerned/didn’t seem to think it would be an issue… so I know I’m probably getting all anxious for nothing, but it’s just part of my personality and I can’t help it.

So basically right now I’m an anxious, semi-depressed mess.  I feel super fat and pimply and like I have not a single attractive feature. Usually my husband is here when I get into slumps like this and he can make me feel better. But alas, he is on the other side of the world for 2 more months, so it’s just me and my self-pity for now.

Well, my self-pity and my toddler. She has been super affectionate lately. Like crawling into my lap and giving me kisses and tons of hugs. It’s really sweet. And while it makes me feel marginally better about my life as a whole (because seriously, I have a kid and I never thought it would happen (sometimes, actually a lot, I wonder if she’s real, and I have this horrible thought like I just made her up and everyone in my life just goes along with my fantasy because I’m certifiably insane or something and they don’t want to send me over the edge)), it doesn’t do a whole lot for my anxiety about never giving her a sibling, or watching her grow up alone, feeling lucky to have bested infertility once, but still bitter that I couldn’t have the family I’d dreamed of.

So yeah. That’s where I’m at.

I was just talking to Tony on Facebook and said that I wished dragons were real and that I could do magic. Basically, I wish I lived in a fantasy universe. Dragons! Magic! Helloooo?! Because fuck infertility. Why worry about the sad, sorry state of your reproductive system when there are dragons to ride on, magic to do, and kingdoms to save?? Am I right, or am I right?

So I do a lot of reading when I’m down like this. I don’t tend to like any type of sad, contemporary fiction when I get a little depressed. I gravitate more towards fantasy and sci-fi. Books that have worlds that are totally different from my own and are totally immersive. And I tend to stray more towards Young Adult because there is never ever any pregnancy in those books. Because when you’re depressed and trying to escape your infertility, the last thing you want to do is run into any pregnant, fertile bitches in your fantasy world.

That’s it for right now.

IVF Fundraising

I’m a hobbyist photographer. I’ve had people offer to pay me to take photos, but it never felt right so I’ve mostly done stuff for free.  Well, I figured I could try to do some photography sessions to try and raise a little money for IVF.  At this point, every penny helps.  I don’t have really any other “marketable” skills: I’m not craftsy, I can’t cook/bake, etc.  So anyway, this is the marketing flyer I made.


I have a little bit of interest, but I’m really nervous to post it to a wider audience. What if I really suck? What if people think I suck? What if no one wants to pay me or wants a refund?


Thoughts On Secondary Infertility After Primary Infertility

It has been almost a year since we decided to start trying to conceive again.  Most infertility diagnoses require a minimum of 12 months of unprotected and/or well-timed sex as a starting point. Which is what happened when we were trying to conceive our daughter. But after just a couple of months this time around, it was clear my body was not changed into a magical fertile wonderland as can often happen for other women who experience primary infertility. I was still not ovulating consistently (as evidenced by BBT/OPK usage) and when I did, my luteal phase was an anticlimactic 8-10 days long. We decided to go back to our RE after just 4 months of trying on our own.

I feel weird claiming a title of “secondary infertility” when I never really had any level of fertility to begin with.  I went right from the primary infertility camp to the secondary infertility one, where many women are experiencing the heartache of infertility for the first time.  With the birth of our daughter, I got a temporary reprieve from that heartache, but I’d be lying if I said it ever really left at all.  I look at her sweet face and wonder why I got so lucky, when so very many of my closest infertility sisters have not.  I feel guilty for getting what I so wanted, and then I feel selfish for wanting still more.

But then I get mad that I feel that way. Why should I feel guilty and selfish for wanting what comes so easily to the majority of the world? I’ve always wanted two children, but there was a time when even one seemed like an impossibility and I always said I’d be grateful for whatever I could get. I feel greedy, like I’m pushing the envelope, taking advantage of luck.

Crazy, right? When the first IUI this round failed, I thought… OK, this is my payment for it being so “easy” the first time (we conceived on our first IUI with Indie).  Then the second one failed.  And the third.  And then I start thinking, well maybe I’m really not supposed to have another child, and this is the universe’s way of telling me to just shut up and be happy with what I’ve already been given.  Stop asking for more than I deserve.

We made the stressful decision to move to IVF, not wanting to “waste” the ~$1500 per cycle for a less than 15% chance of conceiving with IUI.  At least with IVF we have a 50-60% chance of pregnancy.  I was explaining to Tony the difference in chances between IUI and IVF and when I said IVF was around 50% he said, “That’s it? We’re going to be paying $15k for a 50/50 chance?” My thoughts exactly, buddy.  What does that say that those odds seem so astronomically high to me and everyone else who takes their chances with IVF and all of its exorbitant costs (if you don’t have insurance that covers it, like us)?  I don’t know.

And then I’m scared that it won’t work. Like, the IUIs failed, maybe I should take the hint and stop while we’re ahead.  But I know I could never do that. If IVF and 1 FET (all we can reasonably afford, even with help from family) fail, then I guess I’ll take the hint.  But I don’t think I could go on with wondering, ‘What if?”

Welcome To My Brain

I plan on using this blog to chronicle my experiences as an infertile woman in a fertile world. I am the mother of a toddler conceived via IUI in January 2013. It’s strange being on the other side of infertility and at the same time back in the thick of it as we try to conceive a second child via IVF this fall.

I hope I don’t bore you too much! (If I get any readers at all, that is.)