What Not to Say When You’re the Lucky One
Thoughts on supporting friends who are trying to conceive.
Posted Jul 18, 2018
Guest Post by Emma Williams, co-author of Beyond the Egg Timer: A Companion Guide for Having Babies in Your Mid-Thirties or Older.
Recently a friend from work told me that she’s delighted that she finally overcame her challenges in conceiving in her late thirties and has a beautiful baby boy, but here’s one more challenge: What to say to her friend who’s had three failed In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) cycles?
At first, I thought I should have some wisdom to share on that subject. Sharon and I recently published a book about women trying to conceive in their thirties and forties. I already have two children when we started writing the book, while my co-author was trying to conceive her first and hitting multiple roadblocks. Plus, I have been in that situation with other friends and family members.
Then I remembered specific things I had said on this subject, and decided I should write a blog about what not to say.
First, although this doesn’t relate directly to my friend’s scenario, don’t assume anyone is not trying to conceive (except maybe if they became a parent in the past few weeks.) Once I brought my infant, Lila, to a wedding, and Rebecca,* a college friend that I’d largely lost touch with over the past few years, held Lila much of the time. I said, “Watch out, Rebecca, you might catch baby fever.” She was married, but I assumed they did not want children yet. Then she told me that they had been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for several years. I cringe when I think of what an insensitive remark that was. That was before I started writing the book–one of those valuable parts of the writing Beyond the Egg Timer is that it made me more sensitive to the widespread, let largely invisible, challenges people face around fertility.
Don’t be an oracle or a Hallmark greeting card. My friend Kristyn once had a miscarriage with medical complications while on a work trip to Uganda, which was just as traumatic as you might imagine from that short description. One year later, she delivered a healthy baby boy, and she said to me, “Right after the miscarriage, you told me that I would have another baby this time next year!” I have no recollection of making that idiotic statement. It’s nice that the story has a happy ending, but we should never promise things like that when we have no way of knowing that our prophesies will come true. (In my defense, I had two children under three years old and was completely exhausted most of the time.)
Remember that it’s OK if she doesn’t want to talk to you about this. My cousin Meg recently reminded me that sometimes it’s better to let the other person decide that they want to talk about a difficult subject. Try not to worry that this difference in your situations will wreck your friendship. Most women are able to become mothers if they keep persisting. It’s likely that her fertility challenges phase will end, possibly in a short time. Then you can start having baby play dates.
Don’t assume that your joy is killing her inside. My friend Jessica has two sons on the autism spectrum, and people often worry that spending time with “normal” children will upset her. It really doesn’t. She loves and appreciates her children and accepts them as they are. Likewise, although it is possible that a childless friend would envy you for having a baby, it is equally likely that she feels encouraged by your experience, especially if your ages are similar, or if you did not conceive easily.
Finally, forgive yourself if you say something that you later regret, especially if you said it while parenting a newborn. Or if you keep making this mistake despite your best efforts, since infertility is such a taboo subject, and it is not polite to ask people if they are trying to conceive.
We shared more thoughts of this subject in a previous blog post and in our book.
* All names are pseudonym’s, except Meg’s.