The world is a lonely place for couples having trouble getting pregnant. It’s hard to feel like you fit into a society where everyone and their giraffe is knocked up, posting pics of their bumps like they’re the universal outfit of the day.
Instead of further isolating those who are struggling to grow their families, you can support them by following this advice: shut yo mouth and open yo ears.
That’s my snappy adaption of the theme for this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week, an initiative to inform the public about the 1 in 8 couples of childbearing age affected by the disease of infertility. RESOLVE, the organization sponsoring this movement, is throwing back to the old school catchphrase – “Listen Up!” – to help people understand the infertility community’s needs and promote access to a wide variety of family-building options.
During the long and grueling process it took to expand my family, I appreciated those who asked me thoughtful questions and stuck around as I spilled my guts about my screwy lady parts. On the flip side, those who didn’t give me the time of day to listen to my frustrations made my misery and feelings of being an outcast that much worse.
To educate others how they can “listen up,” I wanted to call out specific groups of people who – armed with knowledge and a better grasp on tactfulness – can support someone facing the devastation of infertility in important and distinct ways. And, because this topic is near and dear to me, I’ma preach. So all who have ears, let ’em hear:
Listen up, preggo ladies: The child you’re carrying is a blessing, and a miracle. All babies are, really. While you should celebrate this little life, remember there are many people out there (15 percent of U.S. couples, according to the CDC) who are still waiting on their miracle. If you know a loved one is struggling in this way, don’t dump salt on her wound by talking excessively about your pregnancy. Focus your conversations around non-baby-related subjects you both enjoy, and extend her the courtesy of an invitation to your shower, as well as the grace to bow out of it. And, for the love of Mark Zuckerberg, don’t post your announcement on social media until you’ve shared it with your loved one privately ahead of time.
Listen up, OB/GYNs: As hard as your job is, reaching up uteruses all day long, consider how degrading and defeating it is for a woman who can’t get pregnant to visit your office. She first must wait interminably long in a room surrounded by ballooning bellies, submit to the stirrups for various uncomfortable exams, and talk about her sex life plus other embarrassing topics with a physician who might not even know how to help. Please treat your patients with respect. Don’t downplay the problem – acting as though her irregular periods or ovarian cysts are run-of-the-mill female troubles rather than sources of extreme anguish. And, for Hippocrates’s sake, switch out the clocks in your rooms to ones that don’t tick so damn loud.
Listen up, fertility specialists: Don’t take this personally, but no one wants to see you. Couples who are facing the crushing disappointment of not being able to conceive naturally must reach a level of desperation to seek your help. Don’t make this humiliation worse by either speaking in a condescending tone or behaving in a dismissive manner. One in eight couples are humans – not just a number that could boost or tank your success rates. Show some compassion as you communicate, and treat your patients’ minds and spirits as well as their bodies by supplying resources and contact info for local support groups, psychiatrists, and counselors.
Listen up, alternative therapy providers: You guys are weird. You should probably own up to that. While couples who pursue your line of treatment would do almost anything to have a baby, they don’t need you pushing various get-fertile-fast items that would further bust their budgets or making unfounded promises that could further dash their dreams. Be honest about the strengths and limitations of your services, and don’t look shocked if a client asks you to turn off your hippie background music.
Listen up, adoption caseworkers: While you get the joy of helping bring parents and children together through the beautiful and redemptive process of adoption, you also have the task of drawing out the pain that might have motivated both the adoptive and birthparent(s) to seek this option. Please do NOT tell your prospective parents they must “get over” the disappointment of infertility before they can adopt – as if that grief is different than any other loss that takes time to process and perhaps continues to hurt even after resolution has been reached. You must know that all the adoption paperwork is exhausting, and the undertaking of preparing for a home study feels like a Fixer Upper reno, minus the assistance from Chip and Joanna. So handle your clients with care, and give them continuous status reports as they wait on pins and needles for the call that will change their lives.
Listen up, pastors: If you’ve already preached on the topic of barrenness in the Bible, well done! (There are at least six women in Scripture who struggled getting pregnant – including three of the founding mothers of Israel – so the odds are in your favor here.) You play a critical role in comforting those who have to muster the courage every Sunday to gather in a place dominated by families with children. Lift up the “least of these” in your congregation by researching good books and blogs that you could recommend, and support the efforts of those who facilitate infertility support groups in your community. On Mother’s Day, consider marking the occasion in less ostentatious ways than doing standing ovations or flower presentations, and/or mention the need to appreciate ALL the important women in our lives. And lastly, I beseech you, quit cracking procreation jokes from the pulpit. Not everyone in your church is “good at making babies,” and saying so will ostracize those who might already feel like church is a place where they don’t belong.
In whatever context you encounter those who are facing infertility, the way you handle your interactions can either uplift them or drag them down. We can make the world more compassionate through the simple gesture of listening to those who are hurting.
And all God’s people who are tired of hearing “just relax and you’ll get pregnant” said: “Amen.”