PSA: Things You Didn’t Know You Were Saying, and Undoubtedly Wish You Hadn’t.

Here is a brief list of translations. These translations reflect what fertility-challenged women actually hear when people say certain common things to us. I will preface this by owning that I am quite sure I’ve said one or more of these things to women I knew who were going through this before we started trying. To those women I apologize, wholeheartedly, on bended knee. I had no idea what I was really saying to you.

1) “Just relax and it will happen.”

This is probably the most common. I think the intent is to encourage us to take it easy on ourselves, to try to get some rest from the unbelievable stress of trying and failing to conceive. What we actually hear is: “If only you weren’t such a giant hysterical neurotic freakshow, you’d have had five kids by now.” You want to try to help a woman NOT blame herself, not shame her into feeling like she’s going even crazier than she previously suspected. Women conceive under tremendous amounts of stress, and they also conceive in lovely relaxed environments with soft lighting and frequent foot rubs. The fact that no amount of soft lighting and foot rubs will increase our chances of getting pregnant only makes us feel more helpless, and since we can’t control our environment any more than we already do, militantly and with temperature charts, what you’re essentially saying is that we are making ourselves infertile. What you don’t know is that this is a fear with which we already wrestle in the dark of night and work really hard to disprove in the light of day. Which is fucking stressful. So don’t tell us to relax.

2) “My cousin/sister/coworker/etc went through EXACTLY what you’re going through, and then she tried acupuncture/naturopathy/colon cleansing/Mayan uterine massage/Chinese dried frog tea/etc and she got pregnant like THE NEXT DAY. Seriously. You should totally try acupuncture/naturopathy/colon cleansing/Mayan uterine massage/Chinese dried frog tea. I’ll email you the info.”

Again, this is most certainly an attempt to be helpful and proactive. No one likes feeling helpless, and there is no kind of helpless that is more spectacularly helpless than long-term infertility. We go through unbelievable acrobatics to find out what’s going on in there, and sometimes there is an answer, but more often there isn’t. More often you end up with a prize collection of the apologetic shoulder-shrugs of various health professionals, and after you’re poked and prodded and bled and ablated and ultrasounded and generally violated in a hundred different ways at the end of the day there’s still no answer. You’re just not getting pregnant. Or staying pregnant. *Pitying smile* Sorry!

It’s exhausting. All the hope, all the effort, all the faithful, methodical adherence to whatever new regime you’re trying this time, and still you’re barren. And once again you’re left with the sickly, sinking feeling that if you’d only done that other thing that someone told you their aunt/grandmother/hairstylist did, New Guinean fucking shark-fat enemas or what the fuck ever, it would have happened. So it’s your fault. Again.

So you can imagine how our insides must cringe and collapse when we hear about the miracles of the flaxseed-enriched transvaginal herb douches that your Starbuck’s barista positively swears by. Chances are we’ve tried it.

3) “Just don’t focus on it so much.”

Very similar to the “relax” travesty, but with added verve. There’s something they call the “two week wait”. It’s a thing. There’s, like, websites and stuff. What it means is the time between when you meticulously choreograph the introduction of sperm to egg – be it through intercourse, or at-home insemination, or intrauterine insemination, or in vitro fertilization, or however those two crazy kids meet and hopefully strike up a little romance – and the time when you can reasonably take a pregnancy test. And it is a shit show.

The first week is usually ok. Not much happens for a little while, even if an egg has been fertilized. But those last four days of the second week, oh-ho-ho. You don’t know from crazy till you’ve lived through the last four days of the second week. At that point all bets are off.

You become near-psychotically attuned to every atom of your body. Your nipples become the subject of round-the-clock reflection: ok, they hurt, but do they hurt like pregnant hurt or like PMS hurt? Wait, that felt more like a pinch than an ache. That’s EXACTLY what it felt like the last time I was pregnant. I’m totally pregnant! But no, I’m probably not pregnant, cause wasn’t there this other time when they hurt like that but we missed the window so there was no chance I could be pregnant? Does it hurt like that time or this other time when… It goes a mile-a-minute and it is constant and unrelenting and there is NO way not to think about it because it is happening INSIDE YOUR BODY, which is where you LIVE.

If you are having a conversation with a woman in the final four days of the two week wait, I guarantee you that as she talks to you she is fiercely evaluating the state of her nipples. Or her cervical mucus. Or something else you don’t want to know about. She cannot help it, because this crazy shit is happening in her body. Asking her not to focus on it is like asking a person in a burning house to just ignore it and think about unicorns instead.

If you have perpetrated any of these fertility faux-pas, nil desperandum. It’s because you want to help, and we know that. As I mentioned above, I have totally said the same things. Because I wanted to help. Just don’t keep saying them. And pass it on.

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5 thoughts on “PSA: Things You Didn’t Know You Were Saying, and Undoubtedly Wish You Hadn’t.

  1. Great Post. I’m starting a new career in Cognitive Hypnotherapy and fertility issues are one of the key areas I’m working in. There is a big difference between what is said and what is heard.
    I’ve started following your blog by the way
    All the best
    Tony

  2. Thanks Tony! It would be interesting to hear about this treatment modality. I’m a community mental health psychotherapist imyself and while the population I serve isn’t usually struggling with infertility – mostly the opposite, actually – I work with a lot of women with some kind of sexual or reproductive trauma. I’m always on the lookout for new perspectives and new interventions.

  3. […] there’s more of an interest in New Guinean shark-fat enemas than any of us ever […]

  4. Sarah says:

    I feel like printing this out and handing it to people when they (inevitably) commit the above faux pas. Freakin’ brilliant!

  5. […] is an uncomfortably incurable one. (When I first started the blog almost 3 years ago, I wrote a handy little list of things people shouldn’t say to their loved ones struggling with infertility. Please feel free to pass it […]

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