Monday, September 16, 2013

Things a(n) (Infertile) Woman Should Never Say

In this 2nd post, I do feel it prudent to post the same introduction I posted in the first post.  (That's a lot of post.)  Please read it carefully, and remember that the takeaway message is the bolded, italicized alternate title at the end of this paragraph.  You may wonder why I didn't just entitle my posts by that alternate title.  It was a purposeful decision.  I wanted you to approach this post from a totally different perspective than you approached the first one.  If you are an Infertile woman, read it as one.  If you are not, read it as a person who will benefit from the advice being given to one.

Now, this is different than what other infertility blogs and articles have done in the past.  I am taking the position of "These are some things that many (infertile) women say, and here's why they shouldn't say them, in general" - bearing in mind, of course, that a majority of our population does have normal fertility and these comments can cut those women like a knife when they hear them.  However, this is not just a "What Not to Say to A Fertile" blog post.  Instead, this post is just a good, common sense "What Not to Say to Anybody" post.  Methinks, anyway.

1)  I am Surrounded by Fertile-Myrtles.

a)  What does that even mean?  When I hear this, I envision swarms of child-toting pregnant women encircling you... to request babysitting and money for a pregnancy test, I presume.

b)  Yes, I get what you are implying here, but you are focusing too much on what you don't have.  It only seems like you are surrounded because your focus goes directly to them.  At the end of the day, would you be able to tell me exactly how many lonely single women crossed your path?  I didn't think so.  Yes, it's a hard cross to carry, but try not to let it define you.  Statements like this one not only play up the tendency to self-pity that we all are prone to, but they diminish the crosses of others - yes, even those of normal fertility.

2)  I am just barren.

a)  No.  You're not.  Guess what?  If you have a uterus and ovaries, you are not barren.  And even if you don't, you probably shouldn't make this statement.  Why?  Because it does nothing but exacerbate your self-pity to a level of depression and despondency, and that is not where you should be headed with this cross.
b)  Trust me, the stroking of your own self-pity is truly not necessary.  There is fertile and there is infertile/subfertile.  Barring the fact that the only women who can truly say they are barren are those with no reproductive organs or those who are well past menopause, the only thing this statement does is further alienate you from women of both normal fertility and infertility.  It does not degrade you to a level below all women everywhere, because the moment you utter it, (as you're well aware), other women with primary infertility will jump right on that bandwagon with you.

Usually these comments are said in the very context of a conversation about infertility, and generally speaking, involve someone (either present or not) who is known to have normal fertility.  And so I ask - WHY in the world would you find it appropriate to make these statements other than to make it known that your cross is heavier than another's?  Is that compassion?  I believe it's the opposite.

3)  You should be grateful for what you have.

a) This one's a classic, meant to remind us all to be thankful and remember our blessings, daily.  That, in and of itself, is praiseworthy, and in general, a helpful reminder.  But the words here, and the tone in which they are often said, are not loving.  I *should* be grateful??  Right away, it implies that I'm not grateful - congratulations, I'm already on the defensive.  Not only do you imply I'm ungrateful, but by the mere fact that you are the wise one uttering this reminder to your ungrateful friend, it's an assumption that you, on the other hand, know what gratitude is all about.  You may as well say, "Wow, you are so incredibly selfish and ungrateful, while I live in a state of constant gratitude."  Or here's one even easier:
"I am holier than thou."
b)  You've also just added an incredible sense of guilt into the mind and heart of the person you're talking to.  Part of the human struggle is commiseration.  It's natural to seek out solace in a friend; not to wallow in self-pity, of course, but to help each other carry the cross.  I imagine it would be quite a different story if Simon of Cyrene had said to Jesus, "You should be grateful you can still walk!" instead of stepping up to carry the cross with him.

4)  I hate being infertile.

a)  This may very well be true.  No doubt it is, if you're saying it - why else would you say it?  (Note rhetoric.)  But keep in mind that your audience may not be as like-minded as you'd like to believe.  Even if you're sitting amongst other infertile women, you don't know their stories, what lead to their infertility, how definite their infertility may be, how long they've been infertile compared to you, how they view their own infertility, etc.   Additionally, you don't know what lies ahead of you in your own life.  This is a very difficult comment to "take back" if something wonderful should happen, such as... you were actually early and unknowingly pregnant at the time you said it! ;)
b)  What is "infertile" anyway?  It's a cross like no other which begs us to go deeper into our pain in order to find the love and joy only Christ can provide.  So really think about that.  Would you say, "I hate helping Jesus carry His cross," or "I hate being a child of God?"  (If you would, I'm not touching those, suffice to say, I don't think this blog post will help you.)  The discomforts associated with infertility are real, and I do not mean to take away your need to commiserate.  But I caution you to choose your words wisely.  Perhaps, "I hate negative pregnancy tests!" or "Ugh, I am so sad and hopeless right now!" would be nicer for all involved, including any future children that may be a result of your infertility.

5)  Just wait until you're married!!

a) For what, exactly?  So I can be as knowledgeable, all-powerful, selfless, sanctified, scrupulous, principled, and just on the whole awesome as you are?  Or so that I won't want a husband anymore?  Or so that I will suddenly be included in the only group (wives) that holds the monopoly on being busy, worrying for loved ones, having financial struggles, losing sleep, stressing out, and being stretched thin?
b)  Um.  Some people are already waiting.  And they may wait a lifetime. They don't need your reminder.

While you may be trying to evoke this image:

I guarantee, some are seeing, and yearning for, this image:

6)  You can't even imagine... (fill in the blank, anything about your infertility or your childless status)

a)  Another cliche.  We all say it.  But we shouldn't.  And here's why:  Sometimes, it's true.  And sometimes, that truth stings the soul.  The person you're telling that they cannot even imagine how hard it is to not be able to get pregnant, or to be spending thousands of dollars trying to become pregnant, or to have cycles that are long and irregular, or to have no money left for adoption... yeah, they may not be able to imagine it.  But the irony is, a part of them wishes they could.  Or at the very least, that they could do something to alleviate your pain - but you are making it abundantly clear that they cannot. It's hurtful to those who have not experienced what you have, but it's also condescending.  While they cannot know the exact scenario you're describing to them, everybody knows pain.  Everybody.  And while no two crosses are alike, carrying our crosses we have in common.  Pointing out that someone cannot empathize with you does not help them to sympathize with you, and we should all be working on the latter.

b)  There is no need to say those words, to anybody, ever.  People will know when they cannot imagine your predicament without your needing to tell them.  I think at the base, this is yet another example of our pride in wanting others to know just how badly we suffer, how our hurts are worse than someone else's, etc. in an effort to seek consolation.  O Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console.

The examples above are not restricted to infertile women, hence the parenthetical "infertile."  But since they were a little more specific to that category, I do feel the need to give a disclaimer that the explanations given for each example can be universal.

You may have picked up right away that the explanations for each example are almost identical to the explanations given in the first post- solely a pre-fix of "in-" was added in most cases, and #3?  #3 wasn't changed AT ALL.

The point, my dear sisters in Christ, whether single, religious, widowed, married, separated, divorced, with children, without children, fertile, or infertile - there are things that would be best for us to think about before saying in a way that does not help us progress in our journey.  Not only do the things we say have the potential to be hurtful to another sister, but equally as important, they can have a tendency to make us much too self-involved, much too "whoa is me!" and much too oblivious to the pain and sorrow of another.  Our stories are not black and white, and only Christ knows what is in our hearts, and in our past.  Most of us struggle on a daily basis to heal wounds from the past, and prevent wounds in the future - not realizing that all we can really do is stay in the moment, live for the moment, love in the moment.

I urge you, if you haven't done so already, go back and read the first, or second post - whichever one is most outside your comfort zone.  Bring with you a new perspective as you re-read.  Understand that the suggestions are meant to bring us all closer to holiness, not to ostracize, embarrass, or belittle you, no matter what your stage in life or your cross to carry.  In thinking about the things you shouldn't say (not to any particular person in any particular situation - just in general) - try to imagine what NOT saying those things would look like in your life.  A change of attitude may be necessary to accomplish this.  By merely not saying these examples, you are not changing your heart from feeling them.  So imagine what that change might look like.  I bet there's a sense of peace, mixed with a bit of anticipation and excitement... because that's how I feel imagining it in my own life.  I have a ton of work to do in this department, admittedly.  But I can't wait to start.


@AshleySue at Fertility Pickle said...

Thank you for sharing this! I LOVE this! I LOVE YOU!

I feel honored to carry this cross with someone who has this perspective. I have spent almost three years ebbing and flowing, but when I hurt, it's always internal. It's not about the pregnant women around me, and I have NEVER felt it is OK to lash out or hold them accountable for my own pain, and I have always realized that they hurt just as much for other things.

Then, over the years, women in my life whom are waiting, waiting, waiting for a husband come to mind, and I think how lucky I am and if they feel stabbed a little every time I cry about my hunger for a family of children, as I have this beautiful partner for this journey and they are waiting. I talk with them, and they understand. We commiserate. Just like you said. And my heart hurts for them as theirs does for me.

But so often, on my own blog, when I shared these views like yours, I got ripped apart by some other women in our situation... women who felt not only that it was deserved to put "fertile" women in their places and make them feel badly for us, but that we owed it to ourselves to do so. :/ All I could ever guess is that my point was lost in translation (and pain).

But you so eloquently shared my thoughts, my heart, my own perspective and wish. I had no idea what I was going to get from this post, and what a treasure it is!

God bless you, Sweet One! What a wonderful truth! <3

Hugs and love and prayers!!!!

ecce fiat said...

Thanks for these =) I think it's great to look at it from both sides - it's not like you get a pass on being considerate and sensitive just because you're fertile or infertile! I personally have to work hard at a) not being resentful of pregnant women/mothers (as if our infertility is their fault) and b) not committing the sin of pride by thinking my suffering is just so hard that no one could possibly understand it, etc. I love your emphasis on the fact that we all carry the cross and all can help each other out in whatever our difficulties are.

The only point I have a slight quibble with is #4. I don't know...I guess I think hating being infertile is okay. Not that it's okay to say that to everyone and anyone - and God can bring good out of anything awful, including infertility. But it's still awful, and something to be mourned and grieved, etc. I guess I'm reacting more to the parallel comparison with "I hate being pregnant" from your last post - that one seems different, because pregnancy and new life are positive goods. Not that a pregnant woman can't complain about discomforts (preferably to other pregnant women or recent moms, and not to me) but hating being pregnant and hating being infertile don't seem the same to me. I think I can be grateful for everything that God is teaching me through infertility even while wishing that it had never happened and was over this very instance (maybe "hating" it would be an overblown reaction, but at least something akin to "dislike very very very much...") And if I said it and then found out I was pregnant, well, good riddance infertility =)

(Sorry if I missed your point - and like I said, I really liked these posts and think they're good things to say "out loud"!)

Amy @ This Cross I Embrace said...

Ecce, yes, great point. I struggled writing that one - and didn't want to change it *too* much to lose the original focus.
But, what I was going for was "I hate this cross" with both examples #4. We can't see our future, and this cross may be (should be?) what leads to our salvation. Particularly the discomforts associated with it.
Yeah. That's what I was going for there ;)

the misfit said...

OK, I've now read both of them, and I think there's an interesting point that might paint them in sharper relief: when, and to whom? In the first post, the implication seems to me that fertile women should not make these comments to whomever is in earshot, because they don't know who may be listening or how that person may be affected. I think that's a good rule of charity - and applies to infertiles as well as fertiles. But, be serious: how many infertile women complain ABOUT THEIR INFERTILITY to roomsful of random people in the way that pregnant women do about their fertility/pregnancy/kids? I've never ever heard an infertile woman say "I hate being infertile" to any person who wasn't infertile. Or "I'm surrounded by fertile myrtles" except to another infertile. And I think this road is tough enough that some commiseration is warranted. Wallowing is of limited use beyond a very narrow scope, but there's a vast distance between wallowing in self-pity and telling yourself that you have no hardships to bear. Somewhere in the middle (I contend) is a healthy reality. Similarly, I have no quibble with a pregnant mother of five telling another pregnant mother of five, "I hate being pregnant." No one is hurt, or misled, by that comment. If she says it to me, though, she may find she has some problems. But since I have NEVER told a pregnant mother of five that I'm sick of being surrounded by pregnant women (and I am one of the most outspoken infertile women I know), I think we're talking about apples and oranges here, aren't we? Pregnancy is the cover of People magazine about every month. Infertility is something I'm required to lie to people about (people who call themselves my friends) so they don't have to feel awkward. Obviously all of us should cultivate an attitude of gratitude, selflessness, and fortitude, but I just don't think these two lists are comparable.

Anonymous said...

As a single woman who will very likely always be a single woman (not by choice) and who also will never have children (menopause approaching), thank you for your wisdom.

Mike Brummond said...

I really liked this, even better than the first post. Probably because it was directed at me, and I know I have a lot of gorwing to do! thing I've learned in the past few years is that everyone has their own cross. Whatever that cross may be for each person, it is the hardest for them. Even though our crosses are different, so glad we can all journey togehter.

Catholic Mutt said...

There is a good chance that 2 or 3 years ago, these posts would have made me very uncomfortable. Because I was certain my cross was at least as heavy as some and had to be more heavy than others. Most, I was sure, COULDN'T understand. But in the last year or two, as you so aptly demonstrate here (because you do understand, though my cross is being single), maybe we can't fully understand exactly what others are going through, but there are things about it we can understand.

I think that there's so much more that we can do if we are willing to share the burdens and sorrows and joys of our many walks of life together, rather than doing what I was doing, which was isolating myself from certain other groups that were too painful for me. Which is not to say that there aren't times where that's necessary; just that those times are not nearly as frequent as I was making them.

DM + AM said...

"The point, my dear sisters in Christ, whether single, religious, widowed, married, separated, divorced, with children, without children, fertile, or infertile - there are things that would be best for us to think about before saying in a way that does not help us progress in our journey. "

This is a really good quote. The things I regret in life are those that hinder my journey. Whether it is my words, attitudes or decisions, I regret not doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with ecce fiat and the misfit. Nice points here and there, but this just didn't work.