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

I’m sad.

Just cheer up, it will be okay!

I’m anxious.

Just take a deep breath and calm down.

I’m angry.

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.

God’s plan.
Just adopt.
Getting pregnant is so easy.
Just relax.
But you’re the lucky one.
Parenting is the only purpose.
Empathy versus sympathy.
Easy solution.
You’ll change your mind.
Point the finger and blame.
Family planning.

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 hurt.

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.

Ever upward.

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It’s Infertility Support Friday.  What’s on your mind today?  I’ll be glad to answer your questions about surviving the infertility journey.

Infertility Support Friday2

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Come meet and make community with others struggling with infertility or pregnancy loss at Resolve’s free monthly meeting TONIGHT, 12/16 at 7 pm.  Topic?  Getting through the holidays.  The meeting will be held at Ridgedale Library, 12601 Ridgedale Dr, Minnetonka, MN.    If you haven’t seen my article on getting through the holidays, “It’s the Holidays…Again (and You’re Still Struggling with Infertility or Pregnancy Loss)”, here it is again.  Your comments are always welcome.

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From today’s Science Daily, a new preliminary study in the November Journal of Psychiatric Practice by Cynthia L. Battle, PhD has found that pregnant women prefer therapy to antidepressant medication during pregnancy. That sure makes good sense to me. I see many pregnant women with perinatal mood issues (depression and anxiety) who prefer therapy to medications. “Do the work to feel better!” I always say. After delivery, there are some different concerns for mother and baby where medication may be very useful. It’s great for women to know that there are options including psychotherapy, yoga, exercise, light therapy, and couples therapy.

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Face2Face, the Twin Cities chapter of Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope, will start meeting at Partners in Healing of Minneapolis on December 17th at 6:30 pm. Meetings will be held on the third Tuesday of every month! Please join the kick off meeting at the new location on Tuesday, December 17th at 6:30 PM.

Partners in Healing of Minneapolis
10505 Wayzata Boulevard, #200 (2nd floor)
Minnetonka, MN 55305

**Enter the building on the west side across from Voyager Bank.

Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope and it’s Twin Cities chapter, Face2Face, is a support group for those who have suffered stillbirth, miscarriage, or infant loss.  All are welcome.

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I wrote this article for the Resolve national newsletter, For the Journey and Beyond  (Spring 2013 issue.)  Please share it with others so that Mother’s Day can be different this year.



Advertisers sell Mother’s Day as a day filled with family celebrations. For many who are undergoing fertility treatment and family building, this manufactured holiday can generate anxiety, dread, and anger. You want to be one of the people being celebrated, but you are not there yet.

This year, you can decide what you want to do about those ads and others’ requests that you “happy up” for Mother’s Day. Let this day become your own personal Empowerment Day. You may not feel that you have many choices about fertility treatment, but you absolutely do have choices about how you approach Mother’s Day.

Rather than a day of “Why?” let this become a day of “How?” Ask yourself:

“How am I doing on my journey to parenting?”
“How do I need to change my perspective or treatment protocol?”
“How would I LIKE to spend the day?”

Let this be a decision day about where you are in your life, not just in your attempts to conceive. Let this be a day that is all about you. Embrace self-care as part of your quest to be a mother.

Did you know that you do not have to attend celebrations, even though you have been asked or even if someone demanded you attend? What would you like to do? Being honest does not make you Debbie Downer. It makes you human, and real, and a person. Here’s a truth—someone else may not like you making a different kind of decision, but you will do better. You have absolute permission to stay in bed the entire day, to cry, and to breathe.

But there are other options. You might do something you enjoy by yourself or with your partner. Commit to changing your diet to better support your health and well-being, not just your fertility. Let this be a day when you have that glass of wine or big cup of coffee that you avoid while you are doing fertility treatment. Commit on that day to living in the most authentic, empowered way you can. Remind yourself that you are a person on this earth and you matter. You deserve love and compassion 365 days of the year.

Here’s another thought that might be surprising. Mother’s Day is just a Sunday, as there are 51 others throughout the year. God will support you if you choose not to attend a church service that day where the sanctuary is overflowing with children. You, yes you, get to choose on Empowerment Day.

In advance, commit to talking with your clergy person about how he or she can recognize the struggle of parents-to-be. He or she may have no idea how difficult it is for you on a daily basis, but especially during holidays that promote and celebrate families. What if we all suggested that clergy set aside for a day of prayer for those who are struggling to bring their dreams of parenting to reality?

You can also choose to engage in celebration of your own mother. This year, find a way to do so that fits with your love for her and for yourself. In whatever ways you choose to spend that day, empower yourself to be the beautiful person you were before your fertility journey began and the person you will be after your fertility challenges are resolved.

Deborah S. Simmons, PhD, LMFT is co-owner of Partners in Healing of Minneapolis.  Dr. Simmons has been a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine for 15 years and has counseled many individuals and couples during the journey to parenting.

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