Everyone knows someone who has difficulty conceiving. If you are not aware of anyone it is probably because this is such a painful experience that few people are comfortable being completely open about it. Mother’s day and father’s day can be one of the hardest days of the year for someone who has been unable to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term. These dates encourage a celebration of parenthood, but for people who are diagnosed with infertility it is more of a day that reminds them of their failures and of their pain. It creates suffering as they once again question why they are not parents yet.
A few years back I remember pushing myself to go to Church on mother’s day Sunday. Even knowing that everything I would hear that day would remind me of my physical incapacity and emotional pain related to infertility I decided to go. At the end of sacrament meeting all the women older than 18 were asked to stand up to receive a gift in honor of mother’s day. Soon after I heard someone sitting next to me say: “why do women who are not mothers also receive a mother’s day gift?” That caused a personal crisis where I started to cry uncontrollably and went home early. It was just another reminder that as much as the Church recognizes all women have the eternal potential to become mothers, I was not a mother in the technical sense of the word no matter how much I wanted it, how ready we were, or how much we had tried. That taught me to plan better for future mother’s days and especially to count on the support of the people who were sensitive about it.
Here are some things to keep in mind to be sensitive to the experience of those who have been diagnosed with infertility:
- Respect each person’s way to celebrate mother’s day or father’s day. Some people prefer to spend the day in bed while others are able to focus on their extended family. If someone struggling with infertility decides to skip mother’s day or father’s day celebrations it is best to support them in doing so because that is what they need to be emotionally well.
- Respect your friend’s privacy by not gossiping about your friend’s condition. Everything about infertility is private, uncomfortable, and embarrassing, which is why most people don’t tell everyone what they are going through. So don’t share information you know about your friend’s condition with anyone else.
- Refrain from asking those who don’t have children when they are planning to have any. When it comes to infertility, planning has nothing to do with it because it is a medical problem completely beyond one’s control.
- If you don’t know what to say to support your friend, it may be best not to say anything at all. “Relax”, “worse things could happen”, and “just enjoy being able to sleep” are cliché comments infertile people have heard a thousand times. And each time we heard it we found it unhelpful because it indicates other people are minimizing the problem. Another way to handle this is to directly ask your friend what you can do to support him or her.
- Let your friend know you care. Send a card, let them cry on your shoulder, pray for them, or just give them a hug. Offer the same support you would offer someone who has just lost a loved out. Just knowing you are there can significantly decrease your friend’s loneliness and pain.
- Focus on the positive aspects of parenthood. Complaining about pregnancy or childrearing may not be the most positive way to celebrate mother’s day or father’s day. It is clear that there are many discomforts about pregnancy and childrearing, but at least those are happy and fulfilling experiences when compared to infertility. Share your joy and blessings with others by focusing on the positive.
Having supportive friends is essential to surviving infertility, and you can be a supportive force in someone else’s life!