Monday, April 23, 2012

Don't Ignore Us

This week, April 22nd-29th is National Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sex, or the inability to carry a child to full-term.

Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples. So whether you are struggling with infertility, or just know someone who is, I challenge you to spread the word about this suffering that is often kept too silent.

My goal for this week is to educate those around me who do not know much about infertility, so that they can be better informed and hopefully more sensitive and empathetic to people they may know who are impacted by infertility.

I have previously written a blog post specifically about sensitivity, but yesterday was the Family Planning Panel in our Sunday School class and it was so refreshing to hear from another couple who struggled with infertility for 4 years, and thankfully now have two children. Her wisdom and tips for friends of infertile couples have inspired me to re-summarize some thoughts here too.

Emotional Struggles of Infertile Couples
In this section I want to shed some light on how couples who struggle with infertility may find themselves feeling or struggling - take this moment to put yourself in their shoes. The following list is comprised of emotions that infertile couples struggle with quite often, even though deep down we know we should have a joyful and hopeful heart. The enemy loves to use the following emotions to lead us into the pit of despair.
  • Forgotten - It's easy to feel forgotten and ignored. When you first learn about a couple who's struggling, you're likely to reach out to comfort them often at the beginning, but over time, as months and months pass, their struggle may slowly move to the back of your mind. Infertile couples may start to perceive that people ask them less often how they're doing or how they can be prayed for. How You Can Help: I encourage you to continue telling your infertile friend that you love them, care for them, and are praying for them. Remember that for infertile couples, this is something we struggle with monthly, weekly, daily, hourly.
  • Inadequate - Because our bodies are not producing what everyone else's are so easily able to (it's not true, but appears that way), infertile couples can struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Shame and guilt also play a role here too - as if we had made better choices, or done certain things, perhaps we wouldn't be in our infertile situation. How You Can Help: Encourage your infertile friend that he/she is NOT inadequate. That their infertility is NOT a result of past sin or a failure on their part - remind him/her that this is out of their control entirely, therefore the "blame" for infertility is certainly not their own.
  • Sadness/Depression -This may apply more so to the wife of an infertile couple, but each month the woman rides a roller coaster of emotion: begins with hope in the "fresh start" of her cycle, hoping and praying that intercourse is timed successfully (or procedure is successful) around ovulation, then waiting and hoping during the "two week wait" (but trying not to get your hopes too high or read too much into possible early pregnancy symptoms), and then when her period starts, it's a very sad time of mourning and crying because it's a big, red slap in the face that you are in fact not pregnant this month either. This cycle repeats this way month after month, year after year. How You Can Help: Ask your infertile girl-friend where she is in her cycle (so you know what stage of the roller coaster she's on), and encourage her to keep her chin up no matter what. Remind her that she won't be struggling with this forever. And tell her you're praying for her (and actually pray for her!) If she's really struggling with the onset of her period, take her out for a drink or some ice cream to help cheer her up. The best thing you can do is just be there for her and encourage her.
  • Bitter-Sweet - When friends of the infertile couple become pregnant or have children, it's a very bitter-sweet emotion for the infertile couple. On the one hand, we are SO happy for the friend because we truly recognize and appreciate the blessing that children are. But on the other hand, we feel sad that it's not our time yet to experience pregnancy and children. Others being pregnant or having children also reminds us that we do not have that blessing yet. It can very painful as we deal with those conflicting emotions. How You Can Help: Use discretion when talking about your pregnancy or children. See my tips below in the section "When Announcing Your Pregnancy to an Infertile Couple".
  • Impatience - Who likes waiting for long periods of time for something they desperately want? Not me! And certainly not other infertile couples. Although on some level we are glad that we can still go on spontaneous dates, we also really, really, really want children. Like, yesterday! With infertility there is SO MUCH WAITING! You not only wait month-to-month as each cycle proves unsuccessful in conceiving a child, but you also wait within the month's cycle for certain milestones to occur (ovulation, two week wait) - the end result is you feel almost as if each day drags slowly by. How You Can Help: Pray for your infertile friends to have more patience, and encourage them with Scripture and other words of wisdom that the waiting will not last forever and challenge them to use this time of waiting for God's glory and good, to not let this time go to waste. Do NOT say things like "Well, at least you can get a full night's sleep, have a quiet house and time to yourselves."
  • Worries/Doubts/Fears - This is the biggest struggle for me personally, which the enemy frequently and most often uses to get me to lose hope. It's so easy for me to dwell on a worrisome or fearful thought. It can be as tiny as "Am I drinking enough water everyday...maybe if I drink even more water, that will help me get pregnant." So many different thoughts can trigger these emotions. The tiniest thing can trigger a mountain of emotion. And with a person averaging about 3,000 thoughts per day, it's no wonder why this is my biggest struggle! When I start to dwell on a thought like this, it can be really hard to snap myself out of it even after praying and reading the Word. The same thought can be recurring too. How You Can Help: Speak truth to your infertile friends when they express their worries/fears/doubts. If they say something like "What if I have some terrible disease that I haven't been tested for yet, and I'm sitting here trying to get pregnant and have no idea that this disease is making it difficult to, and I could be getting treatment if I only knew about it..." Speak truth that God is bigger and greater than anything and everything. If the friend is truly worried about it, you can encourage them to see a specialist, but always remind them that God is ultimately in control and that God makes the impossible possible, as He has shown us in His Word time and time again. Also pray for your infertile friends to have strength to overcome those fears and doubts and surrender them to God.
  • Anger/Frustration - Infertile couples often struggle with anger and frustration. Sometimes these emotions are directed inwardly at themselves because they're just plain angry that they're stuck in the infertility situation that they're in and want answers. Now! But anger and frustration can also be directed at others who either knowingly or unknowingly say/do something to offend them. How You Can Help: Encourage them that it's okay to be angry. But don't let that anger become a stumbling block in their walk with the Lord. Remind them that the Lord is not ignoring their prayers, and to not give up. And remind them that when offended by other people, it's a wonderful opportunity to express grace and forgiveness even when an apology is not given. Also refer to the section below called "Do's and Don'ts of Comfort- and Advice-Giving" to hopefully avoid being the target of offense.
Do's and Don'ts of Comfort- and Advice-Giving
  • DO tell your infertile friend you're praying for them
  • DO pray for your infertile friend (it's easy to say you'll be praying, but don't just speak empty words - actually follow through!)
  • DO encourage your friend through Scripture and wisdom
  • DON'T tell your friend that it's all in their head, they need to relax, or to stop thinking about it
  • DON'T tell the infertile couple that they should adopt or ask if they have considered adopting. Though adoption can be a beautiful journey on its own, it is NOT the same as having biological children.
  • DO ask the infertile couple how they're doing and how you can help (if at all)
  • DON'T ask the couple "Are you sure you really want kids?"
  • DON'T say careless things like "We'll enjoy marriage for 2 years and then we'll have 3 kids" or even just "When we have kids...." - Hopefully you won't learn the hard way, but there are no certainties, and with God, sometimes your plans mean squat.
  • DO empathize with the infertile couple - tell them "I'm so sorry you're going through this, that must be so incredibly hard."
  • DON'T pretend to empathize by saying something like "Oh my goodness, I totally understand how you took me three whole months to get pregnant with my second child."
  • DO hug your infertile friend
  • DO reassure and complement your infertile friend
  • DON'T "show off" your pregnancy or baby to your infertile friend (either in person or social media - consider how often you draw attention to yourself)
  • DON'T complain about your pregnancy or new-found parenthood
  • DON'T be offended if your infertile friend avoids going to your baby shower or meeting your baby
When Announcing Your Pregnancy to an Infertile Couple
  • Tell your infertile friends in private so that they can process the news in a private setting. The BEST way to tell your infertile friends you're expecting is via email/letter because when the friend receives your joyous news, he/she can process it on their own in the moment. The next best method would be via telephone. Your LAST RESORT should be telling them in person in private. And you should NEVER tell them in person, in a public setting.
  • If you plan to announce your pregnancy in a group/social setting (Sunday School, work, Facebook, Bible Study, even an email announcement sent to a group of people), you should always strive to tell the infertile friends privately beforehand via the method above. That doesn't mean you have to tell them before your family, but you should strive to avoid the "surprise" announcements in social settings by telling the infertile friends before you announce publicly in their presence or where they may quickly hear the news.
  • Never avoid telling the infertile friend you're pregnant, thinking you're hiding something or sparing the pain from them (after all, seeing you with a huge belly kind of gives it away). The chances are great that they will find out through mutual friends, and it would be way more hurtful if you left them out of the loop entirely instead of being sensitive, direct, and upfront in considering their feelings.
  • Try to avoid complaining about your pregnancy (or newborns/children) around your infertile friends. Here's a relevant example: Let's say you love chocolate. Really love it. But suddenly you found out that you are deathly allergic to chocolate. It would be really rude and inconsiderate of me to stand in front of you and talk and talk about the chocolate brownie I'm holding, and how good it tastes, and how gooey and warm and delicious it is. And it would be even more rude and thoughtless of me to hold said chocolate fudge brownie and complain about how it's not the right kind of chocolate, it's too warm or gooey, not enough sugar, makes me feel sick, etc.  Apply that same analogy to your pregnancy. Most infertiles, me included, would gladly throw up every day if it meant that we were carrying a child. So be careful that you do not come across as ungrateful or obnoxiously "showy". In fact, as tough as it may be, it may be most considerate for you to behave in such as way as if you were not pregnant around your infertile friends. If she wants to know how you're feeling, how your pants fit, if you've felt the baby move, know the gender, have an ultrasound picture etc. - she'll ask you. There's no need to throw any of those comments/pictures in her face.
  • Ask the infertile friend privately if they even want to receive a baby shower invitation. Each couple may feel differently. For us, I like to receive the invitation, but I'm most likely going to decline and just give you a gift in private some other time. Don't be offended if your infertile friend chooses not to come. It's not that she doesn't love you or isn't happy for you, but it's because baby showers are just too painful because the focus is 100% baby. It can feel very suffocating for infertile couples.
Remember my challenge for you this week to help spread the word about Infertility Awareness. Teach others around you about this painful struggle!


  1. You are prayed for often, Christine. I don't get online as much anymore, but the Lord has placed you on my heart frequently and I pray with faith that you will be pregnant soon. Thank you for sharing so much wisdom and sharing your heartache so openly. We haven't been trying for all that long, but we are starting that journey of wondering what God is up to in this area of waiting for us as well. The two week wait really is an emotional time as is the week that follows. I've now experienced the "just relax", "it'll happen at the right time" comments and just went to a baby shower that was painful to attend (carpooling with a friend who is 6 weeks along...) I know nothing compared to your rollercoaster, but I am starting to experience a bit of this, too, and it does set off a range of emotions.

  2. Praying for you, Friend. You are a beautiful person and admired for waiting on the Lord and trusting His perfect timing.

  3. Praying for you both and for God's perfect time. Thank you for sharing such helpful information, it helps me understand what you and many others are going through. Much love to you both

  4. Thank you so much for this blog. It was a blessing to find and read. You have convicted me to look at my infertility in a different light.