Monday, April 23, 2012

Think Before You Speak

This week is Infertility Awareness Week.  I can't write about this topic with authority or experience, except what I've learned from listening to other people, reading blogs, and realizing that life isn't fair, babies don't go to the most deserving parents (SHOCKER), and modern medicine is as exasperating and expensive as it is miraculous.

Probably the most important lesson I've learned about infertility is that unless you have a medical degree in getting people pregnant or you've experienced it yourself, the best thing you can do is shut the hell up about it.  Or at least THINK before you open your mouth.

What I do know from personal experience is the way a innocent comment can hit like a grenade, and while that's true for those of us in the trenches of grief after an unimaginable loss, I know that people struggling with infertility frequently find themselves navigating minefields in everyday conversation.

Last night we went to dinner with some good friends (who just married a year ago and don't have kids).  We had plenty of non-pregnancy things to talk about during dinner (travel plans, recent dissertation defenses, an experiment with sausage-making) so the conversation had not gone in the direction of babies.  As we were signing the check, my friend asked me how things were going really.  I didn't want to get too deep into the emotional rollercoaster, so I just said that I'm looking forward to weekly monitoring, and I am so ready for this baby to be here.  The conversation wandered one direction and then another, and we were keeping it light and making each other laugh.  Then there was mention of tax credit and how expensive kids are, and then my friend said, "I mean, you better go ahead and open a 529 now."

I managed to smile through the rest of our conversation and our good byes.  I made it to the car before I burst into tears.

Because, yeah.  We have a 529 college savings account.  We opened it when I was six months pregnant with Eliza.  It was for her.  One more piece of evidence that we were prepared, dedicated, enthusiastic parents making the best choices possible for our baby.  We opened it with a small lump sum and a plan to make monthly deposits.  I felt so smug and secure and confident that day.

We made four monthly deposits before...  we canceled them.  The small sum has just been sitting there.  For sixteen months.

My friend meant no harm, but it was another unexpected grief trigger that caught me off guard and completely threw me for a loop.  It got me thinking about all the "harmless" comments that can slice and burn people who are struggling with loss, or grief, or struggling to get pregnant.

So here are a few things that might have / would have / could have / did come out of my mouth at some point in time, some things that people have said to me (or that I've heard them say to others), and other pregnancy-related comments that might seem completely harmless, but that I will NEVER say again, excepting unusual circumstances (like a lobotomy or a VERY close friendship with another person in which we already know each other's backstories).

"So, when do you guys want to have kids?"

"Is this your first baby?"

"Why aren't you knocked up yet?"

"I am so tired of being pregnant."

"You want kids?  Take mine."

"Have you considered adoption?"

"Everything happens for a reason."

"I'm eight weeks pregnant!"

"One boy and one girl?  You have the perfect family!"

"So do you think she looks like you or your husband?"

"Did you know So&So is pregnant AGAIN?  It was a total accident."

"Why did you wait so long to have kids?"

"It's better that he died and didn't have to suffer."

"At least she died before you really got to know her."

"Well, she lost one of the twins, but she's got the other one, so that's good!"

"Do you want it to be a boy or a girl?"

"Oh, that due date [of Christmas or the hottest point in the summer] sucks!"

"You are probably just really stressed out and need to relax.  It will happen when the time is right."

The best answer or response to any of these comments (as far as I'm concerned) is the title of a Cee Lo Green song that has the lyrics changed to "Forget You" when it gets radio play.

So anyway, while I can't write about infertility awareness from an experienced perspective, I certainly have experience with being the recipient of insensitive remarks and (I cringe) I'm sure I have probably been thoughtless and self-absorbed enough to say similar things to other people.

My suggestion (and personal goal) for Infertility Awareness Week is:  Think Before You Speak.  You never know what your listener has been through.


  1. Ugh.. I hate all of those stupid comments. After losing my Drew at 37.5 weeks pregnant, I am now struggling with infertility and it's really hard. One of the worst comments I've heard is "You should adopt a baby, because I bet you'll be one of those people that gets pregnant right away after the baby is here."

    So what, then you want me to give the adopted baby back, because it served its purpose? We are slowly getting closer to the adoption route and will NOT be doing it just so I can "get pregnant right away". We will be doing it so that we can add to our family and finally bring a baby home with us.

    People really are just so stupid.

  2. Amen. I feel terrible for so many having kids/pregnancy casual comments and questions that came out of my mouth over the years because I just didn't know any better.

  3. Oh, definitely. I've heard a bunch. My son nearly didn't make it at birth (prolapsed cord) and then I got an infection and I nearly didn't make it. Two years and 4 pregnancies later,.. I have one son and im 6 weeks pregnant. My second baby was a miscarriage at 7 weeks and my third was an ectopic I lost both baby and my right fallopian tube in Jan at 7 weeks. 7 weeks is my kryptonite. I hate hearing, "maybe your body needs a break.", "it'll happen when it does, everything happens when its supposed to and for a reason." "Tell the drs to find out what the $&#* is wrong with you!" "Well, they weren't really babies, more so a mass of cells like a cyst." (She then promptly became pregnant and HER 7 weeks ball of cells was certainly a baby!) Anyway, yes, people need to think before they speak!

  4. Your experience has certainly made me more careful about what I say to pregnant women.

    And people have made the "boy plus girl equals perfect family" to ME before, while looking at my family. Excuse me?

  5. I cringe at some of the things I used to say/think. I often think that Sam's gift to me was to teach me to shut my mouth and listen when it comes to things I know nothing about.

  6. Thumbs up to this post.

    Do you know how many people have already said to me, 'oh i hope this one is a girl?' already? A frickin lot. And that's with hardly anyone knowing/not really showing yet.

  7. The worst thing I said to a friend who has been unable to get pregnant was: you'll get pregnant when the baby you're supposed to have is ready.

    That I thought was true. But it's not. It's bullshit. The baby you conceive and you give birth to is the one you're supposed to have. I was trying uptake the pressure off her and put it on the baby. I'm sure it was a helpful comment (snark) she probably cussed me out in her head. She was one of my closest friends. I certainly have learned to keep my trap shut.

  8. Ahhhh, "Everything happens for a reason!" my favorite.
    I am perpetually amazed at how often I find new things I will never ever say to another person.

  9. Excellent post! After having a son who is now 5, experiencing a first- trimester miscarriage, and losing our daughter at 38 weeks gestation, we find ourselves having fertility problems. We can pregnant, but staying pregnant is the problem, and we've had 3 miscarriages since. We've simply stopped telling people anything about our attempts to grow our family, partly because they say stupid things and offer ridiculous advice, and partly because I feel like such a downer. This experience certainly has taught me to think before I speak though. I don't even ask people how many kids they have anymore because I still have trouble answering that one. Ugh.

  10. Great post and everything you said is true. It certainly has made me think twice before saying something after all I've been through. I try to think to myself that everyone is going through something and we all need to be more sensitive to making comments that could hurt.

  11. Well said, mama. And what Monique said as well.

  12. i experienced something similar yesterday. a woman at work, who knows our story, asked about me and baby girl. she asked to see pics of her (which i don't usually show to people except those who have be supportive of us). but since she had, i whipped out my phone and showed her. and she said "omg, she's so cute. see, you have a little girl, and all i have are boys {insert sad face}". needless to say i felt like i had been punched in the gut. hard.

  13. Amen.

    Worst one I got was "don't worry you can have another"

    "Forget You" indeed.

  14. Great post (as usual, Brooke).

    I don't know if you have a Pandora bracelet, but I saw one of their charms on Facebook this morning & immediately thought of you. (Hint, hint, David...)

    I am marking National Infertility Awareness Week -- by hiding. :p Last Friday, one of my cousins found a blog post I had written about my grandparents, & posted a link to it on our family FB group (!!). Fortunately, I saw the link about 20 minutes later & since I am an admin of the group, I deleted it -- but of course, a lot of people get e-mail notifications (including my mother...!). I have told the cousin who posted, my mother (who asked about it), and another cousin who saw the link & posted a comment before I could delete it, that this was from my infertility blog (you would think she might have noticed that, it's all over the header, etc....) & there was other stuff posted there that I would prefer not to have them read. And then I made my blog private, for now. I'm hoping that by the weekend, it will have blown over, people will forget about it & I can resurrect my blog. I miss it already. :(

  15. Amen, sister. I'm sitting here smiling at all you've learned - the hard way and through Listening to others - and your guts in putting it out there.
    Your compassion for those you've met who've struggled with infertility (and loss) shines in this post - along with irreverency for The Innocents who haven't experienced either. That irreverent quality is something I adore about you, and I relish the smug little Forget You we get to have as we stand together in our sad but strong and spirited little club.
    Thanks for all those comments of what not to say. I feel like some of them you wrote just for me. :)