What not to say
09:57 (GMT+2), Fri, 30 September 2011
You’re at a baby shower when someone loudly asks your friend, “So when’s your turn, dear? Meanwhile, your friend has been trying for a baby unsuccessfully for three years. Oops!
When it’s our human instinct to procreate, but our body simply won’t cooperate, it strikes the very core of a woman. Beverly Marcus, a Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist with a special interest in female infertility, says, “A woman may experience feelings of denial, anger, depression, shame, guilt, sadness, confusion and even jealousy or envy towards friends who fall pregnant easily. Her experience can be compared to losing someone dear and going through the mourning process.”
You want to be a source of support for your friend through this time. Beverly says that sincerity is your best option – offer support that feels real, without trying too hard to say and do the right thing all the time.
While it’s important to let your friend know that you’re there for her, you shouldn’t push her to talk if she doesn’t want to. If she’s receiving treatment, tell her that you’ll help out on the days when she’s feeling rough – doing chores and running errands, or going with her if she needs support. If she wants to take you up on your offer, she will.
Beverly cautions though that you shouldn’t treat her as though she’s ill. “And if you feel that she’s becoming emotionally overwhelmed, you can gently suggest that she go for therapy so she can explore and make sense of her situation in a safe place.”
Beverly suggests that you keep your questions more general and give her the opportunity to share what she feels comfortable sharing. “Rather ask an open question like ‘How are things going with you?’. That way, she can lead the conversation and choose to talk about work, her married life, social situations, and other issues, or she can discuss the issue of trying for a baby.”
“Women who are struggling to fall pregnant often feel alone, sad and even ashamed of their situation.” In a case like this, there’s often not much you can say that will make the situation better. All you can do is offer support in a sensitive and genuine manner.”
Avoid telling her that “you know how she feels”. Unless you’ve been in the exact situation, no experience is comparable to hers. Don’t treat her differently but try to be sensitive to her situation. “It often helps to just have someone to talk to. Don’t feel pressured into offering advice – sometimes, it’s just about listening.”
Inevitably, she’ll be invited to christenings and children’s birthday parties. Let her decide whether she wishes to attend. “If she chooses not to attend, respect this and don’t push her. If she chooses to attend, be sensitive, but don’t make a fuss. It’s probably taking a lot of courage for her to be there.”
Should you find out that you’re pregnant, you might not know how to tell her your good news. Beverly advises that you tell her in a sensitive manner in a private setting. “If she struggles to hear your good news, allow her the space to deal with her feelings, and remember that it isn’t that she’s not happy for you; she’s just sad for herself.”
When it comes to insensitive people and loaded questions, the best thing to do is to change the subject quickly. If it’s a stranger, let it go. If it’s a friend who should know better, it might be a good idea to point out her insensitivity in private. And if your friend wants to answer, let her. Give her the space to stand up for herself or to answer in a way she feels is appropriate.
What not to say to someone who’s struggling with infertility
• You can always adopt.
• Maybe you’re not meant to have kids.
• Just relax; it’ll happen.
• But do you really want to be a mother?
• You must be having lots of fun trying to make a baby!
• Are you going on about this again?
• At least now you can focus on your career.
• Maybe you should’ve started trying earlier, when you were younger.
• Is it because of something you did in the past, like smoking, drinking or partying?
• There are worse things that can happen.
• Maybe you’re not trying hard enough.
• Have you tried lifting your legs and hips after sex?
• You can have one of my kids!
• I know what you mean; it took me three whole months to fall pregnant.
• That’s terrible; being a parent is the best thing in the world.
• Everything happens for a reason.
• Be thankful; once you have kids, your life as you know it is over.
• Maybe it’s God’s will. Have you prayed about it?
• Are you sure spending so much money on all this treatment is worth it?
• Do you really want to bring a child into this world? Look at all the crime/pollution/wars, etc.
• You’re still young; give it time.
• Don’t worry; I just know/have a feeling/dreamed that it will happen for you.
• Try eating more egg yolk/drinking cough syrup.
• It’s all in your mind/stop thinking about it/you’re trying too hard.
• The world is overpopulated anyway.
• I know someone who couldn’t have kids and then they adopted and she fell pregnant right after that!