OtherSpeak: Infertility Support

Today’s post is submitted by Rachel Zimmerman, who writes, “I live on the edge of beautiful Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with my husband and two children who make my world go round.”

Last week was Infertility Awareness Week. Part of me feels as if I have no right to belong to that group of women. I am a mother after all. When the ‘secondary infertility’ phrase rolls off my tongue, I often feel like a fraud. The difference between the women whose bodies have never conceived a child and those that have feels very real. And yet many of the same struggles and feelings are battled with daily.

“Just foster a child and then you’ll get pregnant,” a well-meaning person suggests.

“At least you have two. Be grateful for that,” I hear again and again. I bite my tongue and smile in a fake sort of way. The pain from infertility is not due to a lack of gratefulness, I want to say. But I don’t.

There should be a book of things people should not say, about things they do not understand. “Unsolicited Unhelpful Advice” it would be called. But. I cannot write that book. I too am guilty of doing the very thing I loathe. I’ve offered platitudes and look-on-the-bright side clichés to suffering people. Why? I have a theory of course. It goes as follows: to truly acknowledge someone’s pain and step into it with them is just too messy. Too hard. What if we somehow make it worse?  We don’t know how to do it right or well. We want to fix, to make things better. We want to help by saying something that may encourage them.

And so I have chosen to share a few things that I hope are helpful when you relate to the women in your life that have primary or secondary infertility. Keep in mind everyone is different and what is encouraging to one person may not be to another.

1. Let them know you care. A heart of compassion and love goes a long way. Ask your friend how she is doing, and give her the opportunity to talk. Or not to talk. Sometimes the pain is too great and she really doesn’t have anything to share. Being specific can help start a conversation. Has your friend’s sister recently announced a pregnancy, or had a baby? Ask her how she is doing emotionally since that event. Also a large group is not the place to have this conversation. One on one is probably going to be the safest place that your friend will feel open to sharing. If she does bare her heart, just listen. Don’t offer suggestions, herbal remedies, or success stories from your husband’s cousin’s sister. But then – follow up with her. A month or two later, ask her again how she is doing. Or send her a card to let her know you’re thinking of and praying for her.

2. If you are pregnant or have a newborn, try to keep the baby talk and pregnancy symptoms conversation with her to a minimum. Especially in a group of women, these conversations can take over and your infertile friend may feel isolated. If that happens, strike up a conversation with her one-on-one about something else. She will be so grateful. This does not mean that she doesn’t want to hear about your life. She most certainly does, just don’t let pregnancy and baby talk dominate every conversation. One of the kindest things you can do for her is share your pregnancy news in private.  Pregnancy announcements in a group setting are often very difficult.

3. Remember your friend on Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day can be one of the most difficult days of the year. Send her a card or a text letting her know you see her and care about her pain. Give her flowers or take her a meal. More than likely she has made many baby meals yet received few of her own.

4. Pray for her. Pray that she would see her worth in Christ and that the pain of infertility would not paralyze her. Pray for her marriage and her future. That she would be accepting of God’s plan for her life and find joy even during infertility.

Don’t feel like you need to walk around on eggshells with those in your life that are dealing with infertility. You cannot take away their pain, but you can walk alongside them and show your support and love. If you realize you have said something that was hurtful, just apologize. Your friend knows that you don’t know what it’s like to walk in her shoes. Silence is often worse than blundered words. Imperfect support is still better than no support at all.

So many people in my life have loved me well and supported me through our secondary infertility journey. In turn it has given me a glimpse of how to care for others that are going through difficult things that I know nothing about.

– By Rachel Zimmerman

What “group” have you joined inadvertently, that includes a side of pain and unsolicited advice? In light of that, how do you identify with what Rachel is saying?

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Anonymous (obviously!)
3 years ago

I am in a “group” that I really don’t want to talk about… Partly because we are the totally silent ones, and therefore I have no idea if there is anyone else grouped with me. Also, I in no way want to detract from or minimize the pain of infertility. Yours is the deeper pain. With that disclaimer: A lack of fertility is most definitely not my grief. I have 3 charming children. I have no reason to be speaking right now, right? I am a woman who longs for more children than my husband feels capable of handling. “Discuss this honestly when you’re dating” we often hear. We did…as best we could. How well can you make concrete decisions about something you have no experience with and very little control over? In our very small church we have people who believe strongly in big families. Interpreted that means simply that someone is always pregnant. The lady whose baby was born the same week as mine is pregnant. The lady whose baby is younger than mine is pregnant. When i stand trim-waisted and holding nothing but a small toddler size purse after church, I feel defensive. The size difference between our children feels like condemnation. It feels almost carnal to be driving a minivan with plenty of space inside. To be fair, these are Feelings, my reaction from within. It is not being heaped on me by others. This pain must never, never displace my honor for my husband so I keep it as my carefully guarded secret and love fiercely the precious ones I have. Thanks for those words, Rachel! I have carried the pain of other women’s infertility in my heart. I was one of the silent, helpless friends. You inspire me to do better. Blessings of peace and contentment to you!

Anonymous(too!) :)
3 years ago

Please know that you are not alone in your “group”..there is likely more of us out here than you realize..I treasure the children we do have and I also have a husband (who I love with all my heart!) who came from a small family and never desired a large family either..I know they feel the weight much more of being able to provide for a family..and we love them for that…Blessings to you!

Anon also
3 years ago

Thank you for being brave enough to share. I am also in this group. Every time I (or the “baby”) do something for the last time, there is a bit of grief knowing it is the last. The longing has been a little more intense the last month or so, but having you voice it might help me acknowledge it and move on in a healthy way.

May you be blessed in honoring your husband.

3 years ago

I could take these four points and with minimal adjusting, they would be completely true to my pain of losing a husband to cancer. I’ve have had to bite back my sarcastic response and learn to appreciate that they are trying to care. I’ve noticed that the ones who belong to this “group” usually have less advice to give and are the ones who simply say “I’m sorry.”

I never knew how meaningful it would be to get a card (hundreds of cards!) that say “I’m thinking and praying for you.” Nothing else is needed except to know that I am not forgotten and others are praying. The platitudes, advice, and cliches are not helpful and are sometimes hurtful.

3 years ago

Secondary infertility is still infertility.. though with a different twist than. By God’s grace we have two children, and we are so grateful for them! But that does not mean it isn’t a struggle to hold the future with an open hand.
I think the thing that is hardest for me is when folks make self righteous comments about the size of our family, inferring that we’re selfish to not have more children. If they only knew.. I do encourage being open about our hopes for more children but that conversation isn’t always appropriate.

Could we please just be kind when we have no idea what the reality of another couple’s circumstances actually is?

One blessing in knowing that we might not have more children is that I truly cherish every single day with the two that I do have.

One curse of knowing these two might be our only, is the tendency to hover over them and endlessly worry that something will happen to them, and then our house will be empty. It takes considerable effort to remember that these children are God’s and I can trust Him to care for them and us regardless what happens.

Thank you for sharing this.

Regina S
3 years ago

Thank you Rachel for your kind words of wisdom. After having three children I couldn’t hold a pregnancy and suffered two back to back miscarriages that eventually led to a hysterectomy. I had to many uterine fibroids and apparently the baby would attach to a fibroid. I never wanted to belong to that group. I remember after my first miscarriage I ran into a friend who asked how my pregnancy was going. All I could respond was my baby was decided to go home to Jesus instead of being born and living with us.
I’m also in a group that no one should ever have to be in. It’s a very unpleasant one.

3 years ago

This post was a good read for me right now. I am the only unmarried sister in a family of 4 girls. Recently my sister n hubby lost their first baby at about 9 weeks. The pain is heartbreaking. My heart hurts too. I want to care without being trite or trying to fix anything. Thanks for sharing these words.

3 years ago

As someone who is walking the road of infertility and all that it entails, I can say that this post is spot on. It’s a hard and often incredibly lonely journey. I think in our circles where children are so prized and motherhood is the highest greatest calling it can be especially isolating. Your view of God and relationship with Him takes a beating. Your sense of any worth and healthy body image when your body is failing you so badly…like seriously, bearing life is the one basic thing women are supposed to be able to do! I am thankful for good friends, who truly care in ways this post describes. I am thankful for what God is teaching me through this, revealing idols in my heart and reshaping my view of what His goodness to me actually is. I am so blessed with a godly husband who refuses to let me believe that it’s all my fault and is glad he married me. But. Infertility is hard.

3 years ago

I think I can relate to all three groups, because I became pregnant 1.5 years after the wedding and in the meantime people often stared at my belly to find out if it was already growing. One day when my doctor had just told me that I was probably infertile we went to a befriended church. After the service a woman, whom I hardly knew, came to me, formed a belly with her hands and said: “I expected you to have a bigger belly after so long time”. I could not answer anything but turned around and went away. Soon after this I discovered that I was pregnant despite my doctor’s words.
I had to wait another 2 years for my second pregnancy. And again, after some time, people started staring at my belly. I felt as if I had to defend why I had not become pregnant earlier.
My third pregnancy began unexpectedly, when I was still nursing the second child.
Now my husband thinks he cannot bear any more children and I myself are not sure either.
But in all these situations I want to learn that God knows it best and when we cling to him he will lead us the right way. And our circumstances are no problem for God. He wants to glorify his name in all situations.

3 years ago

Thank-you to all you ladies for sharing your hearts????
I have quite a few friends who never had a baby born to them and yet a lot of them are so engrossed in caring for /reaching out to children that they hardly seem “childless.” I am happy to talk with them about their lives and touched when they ask me how I’m feeling, about my children, etc.
I also have some good friends who are single and I enjoy hearing about their lives as well.
Being asked how many children I have brings with it mixed emotions as our first baby died. Also if somebody asks how old my “oldest” is , it stirs tender feelings. I can tell them how old my oldest living child is , but in my heart I know that my oldest is actually a year older …..
Thank-you Rachel and also thanks to Shari.

3 years ago

Thank you ladies for your kind words and for sharing your stories. There is beauty in community and shared hard places. May we be women who encourage each other no matter how different our lives may be.

Another Nonymouse
3 years ago

We also went through some years of secondary infertility. It was a dark and painful time. I felt like my body was betraying me, and that I was hardly feminine. I struggled with sadness at not being able to give my husband the family he wished for. Other ladies at church had two babies since I’d had one. It was hard for me to hear of unintentional pregnancies, or to think of the many abortions happening. Was God angry with me? Punishing me? Saying I was such a pathetic mom He didn’t want me to ruin any more children? Those were the dark thoughts, the dark days. I can also say that God met me in incredible, beautiful ways through His Word as I searched, clawed, kicked, and wrestled. There were times of rest, peace, and joy. I believe that we honor God when we come just the way we are-honest and unpolished. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect an absence of struggle. What we do with the pain is what’s important.

3 years ago

Yes this is a tough subject — my daughter, has been involved with Moms in the Making, a Christian based infertility support group that has been an incredible help to her! Showing love and support for the hurting is truly living out the gospel! ????

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