Want more fertility compassion and less “just relax?” Me, too! I want to share with you this excellent blog post, “Please Just Stop Trying to Make It Better – Part 1″ by Justine Brooks Froelker on her website Ever Upward. Justine has been surveying women about the dumb, irritating, stupid things that people say to those who are struggling with infertility. She talks eloquently about the lack of “fertility compassion.” Justine chronicles her journey through infertility and surrogacy in her new book Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life. The book is out on October 1st.
As Justine says on her website, “If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you”.
Yes, please share with others! We can all educate others to have more fertility compassion.
Please Just Stop Trying to Make It Better – Part 1
Because you can’t, sometimes things just can’t be fixed
by Justine Brooks Froelker, LPC
Just cheer up, it will be okay!
Just take a deep breath and calm down.
Just count to 10 or walk away.
We’re having trouble getting pregnant.
Just adopt! Just relax! Just stopping trying!
We think these above statements are empathy. But, really they are pity filled sympathetic responses to provide that quick fix; our attempt to try to make it better.
It seems like empathy skills are missing for a lot of us. We aren’t taught how to be empathic and, I think, we even sometimes think we would rather have sympathy than empathy.
Sympathy is I feel for you; pity.
Empathy is I feel with you; I get it.
A think a major confusion is that we are mistaken in thinking that we must have gone through the exact same instance in order to have empathy. But that just isn’t how it works. In order to be empathetic we simply need to be able to understand and know what it feels like to feel the feeling that someone is experiencing. As Brené Brown states in The Daring Way™ curriculum, if you have ever experienced guilt, sadness, anger, disappointment, etc. then you are equipped for empathy.
So we all (outside of the extreme sociopath, read the Underwood’s from House of Cards) are able to show empathy and yet we are so quick to just fix it coming from a place of sympathy.
When we hear someone is in struggle we want to take away the pain, we want to make it better, we want to fix it.
We cannot stand discomfort.
We don’t like to feel sad or mad or disappointed ourselves, let alone to be with someone we care about in their sadness or anger or disappointment.
We don’t want someone we love, hell even a complete stranger, to feel this discomfort either. But, really it’s more about our struggle sit with them through it.
So, we try to fix it with a quick solution, a just stop talking about it.
And when we do this we minimize and invalidate; even if it does come from a place of love.
Practicing empathy means being willing to sit with someone in their discomfort. It means being willing to just be with someone maybe not saying a single word. It means simply saying, that is so hard, that sucks, I can’t imagine, ugh.
This is where I birthed fertility compassion.
The world needs a whole lot more compassion in every area. But through my work in Ever Upward, fertility seems to be one of the biggest areas.
Because everyone has an opinion on family planning and it is assumed that everyone wants, needs and is able to make a family.
When in reality, this can’t be further from the truth.
My #fertilitycompassion survey had three questions:
What are some of the most difficult/insensitive statements or questions you have received in regards to your family planning?
How did you respond? And why?
What could have been a better way for the question to be asked?
The survey was anonymous and was answered by both men and women and by both people with and without children, fertile and infertile, and some childfree by choice, chance or circumstance.
Unfortunately, the results were not surprising to me as this has been my life, especially for the last years since we tried to have kids with a surrogate and are now accepting a childfree life.
Question #1 – The minimizing, invalidating, simple fix questions
These fell into 11 categories.
Getting pregnant is so easy.
But you’re the lucky one.
Parenting is the only purpose.
Empathy versus sympathy.
You’ll change your mind.
Point the finger and blame.
1. God’s plan – reading these statements made my heart ache and my eyes sting with tears.
“You’re just not being faithful enough. You aren’t praying the right healing prayers. It’s just not in His plan for you to be a mom. God doesn’t think you’re financially ready to be a parent. It’s just not meant to be.”
2. Just adopt – these still spark some anger in me, mostly at the lack of understanding.
“Just adopt. Why don’t you just foster? There are so many minority kids who need good homes. Don’t you think you should save a child before having any more of your own?”
3. Getting pregnant is so easy – obviously not: 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage.
“You’re so young, you have so much time. You’re next! A lot of women miscarry! You were so early!”
4. Just relax – if only it were this simple for all of us.
“Just relax. Go on vacation. Have a margarita. Just don’t think about it.”
5. But you’re the lucky one – the one upper, I have it so much worse.
“You have it so easy without kids. You don’t need time off work, you don’t have kids waiting for you at home. Oh, I’m a terrible mother, you can have my kids. You can borrow mine any time.”
6. Parenting is the only purpose – if this is true I’m screwed.
“You aren’t a parent, you wouldn’t understand. But kids is the only purpose we have in life. Who will take care of you when you are old? But, having kids is the only way to really feel love.”
7. Empathy versus sympathy – your pity does nothing for me and only leaves me feeling even more alone.
“I feel for sorry for you. Oh, I am so glad we never struggled, I can’t imagine.”
8. Easy solution – there are a millions way to make a family, none of them easy.
“Have you tried this? Or that? $15,000 isn’t that much money, just do IVF. My friend had that too, she got pregnant just fine. Just try again. I’ll carry for you.”
9. You’ll change your mind – we each have our own path, allow everyone to own theirs even if it is different than yours.
“But how do you know you won’t want kids later in life? You can always just adopt later on.”
10. Point the finger and blame – this feels so damning.
“Is he shooting blanks? What’s wrong with you? Who’s fault is it? There must have been something wrong with it.”
11. Family planning – everyone has an opinion they must share or could this just be a bid for connection?
“Everyone assumes we have 3 because we stopped trying.”
“You must want a girl or aren’t you glad you didn’t have a girl?! (We have three boys and our little girl is in heaven).”
“When are you having another?”
“Be thankful for the one healthy child you have.”
“You don’t want them too far apart! (we’ve had three miscarriages after our first)”
“You should really try for a girl next time. (we have two boys; we have lost three female babies).”
“Shouldn’t you just be happy with the two you have.”
“You don’t want to be too old.”
“Was she an accident? (she is five years younger than her brothers).”
Before I move on to writing about questions 2 and 3, I will let these settle in some.
Are we all just being too sensitive?
But as someone who has struggled to do the very thing that many of us believe we were put on earth to do, be a parent, these questions and statements cut like a knife.
They invalidate the painful journey we have been on.
They minimize the paths before us.
And, even though I sincerely believe they come from love (and curiosity), I also know they come from ignorance and comparison.
So for now, think before you speak and watch your tone, you honestly have no idea what the person on the other side of your words has gone through; the pain they have suffered, the losses they have endured and the struggles of their daily lives.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”—Rev. John Watson
“Including you.”—Glennon Melton
Don’t make your words added pain.
And, in part 2 I will share how people respond to these questions and statements. But, mostly I will focus on what we all really want and need to hear instead.
Compassion. Empathy. Hope.
Many of my infertility clients dread one seemingly benign but very personal question above all: “When are you going to have kids?” This question sets off the rollercoaster of emotion that is the infertility journey. Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo wrote this terrific, snarky blog post in The Huffington Post on the dreaded question. I love sharing it with you here. Please share it with others! It’s that good.
Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo
Writer, Stand-Up Comic, Current Infertile, Author of the blog, ‘The 2 Week Wait,’ the Director of Patient Care at FertilityAuthority.com and a Proud IVF Mom
Maybe I’m naïve or maybe it’s because I went through years of infertility treatment but I’m continually stunned at how many people ask the question, “When are you going to have kids?”
It’s true that there are people out there who don’t plan these things or put a lot of thought into whether or not they will have kids. They get married, their husband sneezes on them and they get pregnant. (Ok, a slight exaggeration in how biology works but you get my point.) In general, when you imagine starting a family, the majority of people picture romance, music, having sex perhaps only one or two times and bam — you’re posting a picture of a positive pregnancy test on Facebook.
This is not the experience of those struggling to conceive. Our journey usually entails blood work, sonograms, injecting ourselves with hormones and not telling a soul you’re pregnant (if you are even lucky enough to get pregnant) until you’re well past your first trimester out of total fear.
Infertility affects 7.3 million people in the United States. So it’s entirely possible that the next time you ask someone, “When are you going to have kids?” you have a one in eight chance of unintentionally being an insensitive jerk.
Through my job and my personal blog on infertility, I’ve connected with those who have had multiple miscarriages, male factor fertility issues, egg quality issues, PCOS, Endometriosis and/or financial strains trying to pay for their fertility treatment. To then have some well-meaning nimrod at a family function casually say, “What’s the hold up? You know you’re not getting any younger!” not only doesn’t help, but this relative should feel lucky they don’t get punched in the face.
I once knew a couple who had an extremely long and difficult time having children. Whenever anyone asked them when they were having kids, they would immediately respond with, “When do you plan on trying anal sex?” Yes, this is a blunt and graphic retort but, boy, was it effective! It made it clear that perhaps asking them about their plans to procreate is not up for an open forum.
Whether you’re fertile or not, to me, asking someone when they are going to have children is personal. Even before I knew I had fertility issues, this question as well as the, “When are you getting married?” “Are you gay?” or “How much do you get paid?” inquiries were on the top of my “Don’t ask, don’t tell” list of questions. In all of these cases, these are topics that unless someone volunteers the information, are probably best to stay away from.
One could argue that if everyone knew that someone was having fertility issues, no one would ask when they were going to have a family. I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. Instead, what ends up happening is you then open yourself to a slew of anecdotal or silly advice.
Between me and my fertility-challenged friends, we’ve been told that having long hair causes miscarriages (when your hair is too long, all of the nourishment goes to your hair and not a baby), if you buy a new mezuzah, you’ll get pregnant without any issues, you should stop jogging, douching is the key to conceiving or the ever popular, “just relax and you’ll get pregnant in no time!” line.
The fact that your friends or relatives think they can tell you why you’re not getting pregnant when your reproductive endocrinologist (who specializes in infertility) can’t, never ceases to astound me. I saw some of the top doctors in Manhattan and I assure you, if any of them believed that my husband wearing his socks made any difference, they would have mentioned it.
Infertility is an actual medical issue. Imagine you’re speaking to someone who has been recently diagnosed with diabetes. Their blood sugar levels are high and they are worried about it. Would you say to them, “Have you tried going on vacation?” or “Don’t think about it so much and your sugar level will drop on its own!” You wouldn’t. You know why? Because it’s dumb and you’re not a doctor.
If someone confides in you that they haven’t been able to get pregnant, just say, “I’m so sorry. Please let me know how I can support you.” I also recommend not asking them every day thereafter, “Any luck yet?” I always tell anyone who shares this information with me, “Please know that I’m not going to ask you about this as I don’t want to add to the pressure. If you want to ever talk about it, just let me know.”
Ultimately, I know no one out there thinks that asking when you plan to have a family can be hurtful, but the odds are that it really can be. So I’m requesting that you think before you ask or comment about someone’s parental status. It will not only avoid possibly hurting someone’s feelings but it might save you from provoking the wrath of a frustrated and hormonal person.
Follow Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennpal
Many of my clients have told me about their terribly painful periods. Many women, maybe most–are told by their doctors that painful periods are normal. Terribly painful periods are NOT normal. It might be endometriosis, a painful chronic condition that can affect your fertility. Diagnosis can take years to confirm. Read here from Endo Hope about what it is like to live with the pain of endometriosis. If this sounds like you, talk with your OB/GYN or fertility specialist about your symptoms and your concerns.
Endometriosis: what does the pain feel like?
September 5, 2012 www.endohope.org
Chronic pain is the largest aspect of living with endometriosis. Someone might know what endometriosis is, but factual discussion about endometriosis tends to leave out the very personal story about how it feels.
Endometriosis pain is so subjective. It feels different for every woman, but we shouldn’t step away from trying to describe the experience of it in our own words.
Everyones experience with endometriosis is different
It’s impossible to talk definitively about everyone’s experience of pain and endometriosis, but it’s important to at least attempt to verbalise our experiences.
Exclaiming that the pain is “horrible” and “unexplainable” is partially true, but it also dismisses potential support from someone who is trying to understand your illness.
Broadly there are several types of pain that most women with endometriosis experience, this is by no means authoritative.
- Abdominal pain
- Back pain
- Leg pain
- Painful periods
- Headaches or migraines
- Pain from fatigue
- Pain from medication side effects and/or treatment
- Emotional trauma
Abdominal pain caused by endometriosis
What follows is just one experience of endometriosis pain. It doesn’t reflect everyones, but will hopefully give some insight.
Endometriosis feels like a ripple of sudden, twinge-like pain. Like the nerves in your abdomen have been singed with a extremely hot tool. This pain stabs the area below the stomach and just above the groin repeatedly, with no obvious pattern. If you need to imagine the pain, think of the raw, sharp pain of a toothache, and imagine that feeling stuck perpetually somewhere (or perhaps many places) deep inside your abdomen.
The pain is often accompanied by a tugging sensation, the feeling that the area inside you is caught somehow, snagged on some unseen surface.
The pain has no pattern, it arrives and leaves as it wants. It can stay for hours, days or weeks on a whim. It can be escaped only by ongoing treatment, and painkillers. Both of which have their own unique side effects, or may only provide short relief to dull the pain.
The pain caused by endometriosis haunts you both in sleep and in waking, tiring your body and causing chronic fatigue.
Crucially endometriosis can hurt a person constantly, or hardly at all. Such is the randomness of the illness and its side-effects. This aspect of the disease is one of the hardest aspects to come to terms with. Ultimately the ripples of pain appearing (and perhaps disappearing) throughout a year vastly effect a woman’s quality of life.
Endometriosis & back pain
The pain from endometriosis can naturally spread to the back of the body. This is normally caused by two aspects of the disease.
- The fact that the womb and ovaries are near to, and indeed compliment the back area.
- The person effected by endometriosis often has to hold herself in such a way to try and escape the worst effects of the pain, causing back pain in addition.
This is complicated further by the fact that the combination of back pain, and abdominal pain makes things like bending, sitting or moving very difficult. At its worst endometriosis causes issues which prevents resting or sitting in a comfortable position.
How endometriosis causes leg pain
This is another cruel issue with endometriosis. The pain from the abdomen spreads down into the hip or leg causing difficulty or an inability to walk. This is due to the fact that the adhesions caused by endometriosis can play havoc with the sciatic nerve. Something as simple as walking becomes a painful, extracted affair of limping and resting.
Most women are experience some pain during their period. This sort of pain feels like a sort of writhing or cramping below the stomach and towards the groin.
Women who develop endometriosis have suffered with extremely painful periods for most of their adult life as a side-effect of undiagnosed endometriosis. They struggle on for years (before endometriosis is diagnosed) in monthly agony. Ignored by doctors, or sent away with only painkillers, there is usually little or no attempt to look at the root cause of their pain.
It’s often (but not always) one of the first signs that something is wrong with a woman’s body.
This complaint is known as dysmenorrhoea, while awful complicates the issue of endometriosis. It does this by:
- Making people think that endometriosis is “just a painful period”
- Equating endometriosis with the “female condition” i.e. “being nothing to worry about”
- Establishing the idea that endometriosis only hurts once a month and therefore “isn’t too bad”.
A common treatment for endometriosis is to prevent a women from experiencing a period by putting her on a constant stream of oral contraceptives, to “trick” her body into believing she is either pregnant or experiencing the menopause. So even women who no longer experience a period, may still feel pain, or worse pain during the time that their body would normally bleed.
The emotional trauma of endometriosis
A frequently overlooked aspect of pain. The emotional toil of managing with endometriosis causes both chronic pain and chronic fatigue in combination.
Living with endometriosis means coping with the following emotional problems:
The pain isn’t insurmountable and endometriosis doesn’t mean giving up on life, or the things you enjoy doing. The first step to feeling better is talking about the pain it causes, not just the outward symptoms, but how endometriosis feels for you.
Regarding your treatment and diagnosis
I welcome your comments below, and this is by far the most popular page on my website. However I must point out that I am not a doctor and therefore cannot advise on your current endometriosis treatment or whether or not you have endometriosis. Discussions like that are best had with your health professional. You are however more than welcome to share your story with me.
Don’t forget to take a look at my help with endometriosis page for more information about living with endometriosis, and how I use pain management to cope with its effects.