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?