Opinion Saturday

Infertility. Tough topic. Several times I’ve had friends or relatives coping with the challenge. Sometimes I fear that I’m the last person my friends in pain might want around– a happy mother of many. I fear that the sight of my precious little ones might be like a knife in their heart. Or they will assume that I have no understanding of what they’re going through.

Truth is, my heart is very tender towards people in this struggle. I remember the misery I felt when I wanted to adopt and my husband didn’t. But I don’t want to brashly assume my experience is equivalent, and so I fumble for words. I know it’s probably not the best etiquette to give them my adoption agency’s phone number and scream, ‘adopt!’ But adoption has been such a blessing to us that often at the sight of their pain, that is what my brain is screaming.

What I’d like today is your insight. How can I be a good friend to someone longing for a child? You have until Monday evening to respond. I’ll be giving the Golden Keyboard to the person who offers the most insight.

Oh, and don’t forget to visit Larger Families and read my latest post Of Clutter And Cottage Cheese. And comment over there, OK? I’ll love ya for it!

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  1. It is hard to understand the pain your friends are going through when faced with infertility. Especially when you've been many times over blessed. But when your friends comes to you, it seems to me that they are coming to you for support because they know you love them and are willing to not only pray for them, but be there through the heartaches and joys. And you don't have to have the miracle words of wisdom that will take all their troubles away. It's the very act of just being there – emotionally, spiritually and physically – that brings comfort.

    I was never infertile, but I did suffer from addiction. And those friends who had never gone down that path, but still loved and prayed for me meant more to me than any other. They didn't have the "right" words, but they visited me, they prayed for me, they helped with my children, they just loved me during the entire recovery process.

    And that's what truly counts in my book. Not that they went through it and could guide me through it, but that they were there and loved me.

    Does any of that make sense??

  2. Mary, after a quick conception with my first, it took me almost a year to get pregnant with my second. The fear was overwhelming. And anyone who said things like, "Don't worry, if you have one, you know you can get pregnant again," just rubbed salt into the wound. Or hearing about God's will. That didn't help, either. I mean, what if God's will wasn't for me to have another one?

    Now that we have three (and number three was a surprise!), my newest struggle with her health and prognosis has brought back some of those memories. The best way for someone to minister to me now, especially someone whose children are all healthy, is to hug me, pray for me, and listen without giving me advice, opinions, or answers. A listening ear is the most helpful.

  3. I think that you could be a wonderful help mary – just by being there – and also being ready to share your wonderful experiences with adoption when they are ready to hear.

  4. Mary, this is a good question, and something I've wondered too.

    The sad reality is, I think, that my "quiver full" of kids will likely be painful for them, and there's probably not much I can do about that. With one friend, I even acknowledged this verbally to her, and it really seemed to ease much of that tension. I think she took comfort in knowing that, even if I couldn't relate, I did hurt for her.

    I think Sarah nailed it by being willing to listen without offering "solutions" and platitudes. That is demeaning. After our miscarriage, I thought I'd scream if one more person said "it was for the best." What I really wanted was for someone to sit down, hug me and simply say, "I'm sorry." In situations like this, it's better to err on the side of saying too little.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Mary.

  5. Oh, Mary, once again I'm reading my thoughts in your words. I'm constantly reminding myself that even though my heart aches for adopting a child, that pain is not the same as those struggling with infertility.

    I struggle with this with my friends who are longing for children. So, I have no advice, but I'm looking forward to reading what others have to say about it.

  6. I've been infertile all of my adult life and I even find this question to be a difficult one. I now have a daughter (through adoption this past February) and for me she is such a great blessing that I would not trade my situation now for all the fertility in the world.

    I think the most important approach is to listen and to try to hold off on any advice. For me, what worked was to decide for myself that God had a reason for making me infertile….but this won't work for everyone. I think each infertile woman has to think through her own experience and, at some point, reach acceptance of the situation and find some sort of meaning in it. Some women will decide to adopt, some will make an investment in the lives of the children around them, some may delve themselves into a cause or career….but each woman has to reach this point on her own.

    If an infertile woman wants to hear about my personal experience I share it completely and try to offer her hope. Otherwise I try to listen and help her work through what she's feeling.

    Sorry for rambling!

  7. Well, as a 17 year old gal who has never even had so much as a boyfriend and who certainly hasn't had any kids (although I hope someday to have them) I don't feel quite right responding to this, and yet here I am. =)

    I don't think all the struggles of an infertile couple can be lumped into a category and dealt with in one specific way…the needs will depend on the individual and I think so will the way you can help depend as well. For instance, some might jsut love your children and want tehm around all the time and others might find it to be salt in their wounds.

    I think the best way to help a lady in this situation is go up to her and explain your sympathy, your eagerness to help in any way you can, and your helplessness in knowing how to help.

    I have found this to be true because I have a disease that keeps me shut in all day, makes me allergic to almost everything (even sunlight) and causes me a lot of pain. It's also technically incurable. When I came down with it so many people didn't know how to help without making things wors, so they would just stop trying.

    What has helped me the most is when people visit me and say "I really don't know if I'm helping or hurting things…tell me, does ____ help you? I could do ______ but only if you're absoulutely sure it would be encouraging to you. I just love you and I want to help keep you strong in this, however I am able."

    When people said things like that to me, it was so wonderful. Often times I couldn't think up anything at the moment, but a few weeks later if, for instance, I had an insane cravign for a certain kind of food and I was home alone, I would call up that person and say "Hey, you wanted to help…and here's how you can!" Often they would mess up and do something that just made things worse, but thankfully through their continued exhortion for me to let them know specificsally when that happens, I am now able to bring it up, and then they do their best not to do that.

    Heh, sorry I'm just rambling now. I have not dealt with infertility but with another situation very few understand, and this is what helps me the most. Go to the lady admitting your helplesness in knowing how you can serve her, and once you have made your good intentions understood she will be very blessed through you. And who knows? it is very likely you will be blessed through her as well. =)

    As for the adoption thing, my suggestion is let them bring it up. Chances are they know you've adopted and are very happy with it, and she has most likely at least thought about it from time to time. If you just focus on serving her to the best of your ability, and of course pray for her and ask GOd to help you out….if she has questions about adoption or is considering it then she will bring it up to you.

    Alrighty I think I'm done! May the Lord bless whatever you choose to do. =)

  8. I have a dear friend who I met whilst she & her sweet husband were in the middle of infertility issues. I had just had my 5th baby… and they'd been trying for 4 years to get pregnant.
    She was prickly, and raw, mostly because of the numerous drugs she was on… and I wasn't sure how to befriend her. I, too, felt nearly guilty at the ease at which we had children… and her lack thereof…
    What I found worked for us was
    At my invitation.
    My house, her house, or out to lunch at least once a week.
    Sometimes she was reluctant, siting she just wasn't up to it… but I always talked her into it..
    Eventually, she was the one to remind me of our lunch dates… lest I should forget. 🙂
    I would listen listen listen… as she was consumed with every detail her body was going through.
    I lived through her agony, and lived through her heartache. I lived through her joy, when the call came that they were to pick up their new adopted son. I lived through the joy and fear at finding out she was pregnant a mere 6 weeks later. (Haven't we all heard stories about that?!)
    Our lunch dates were a way to get away from the everyday life… for her to know that I really cared about her..
    She is now pregant after 4 MORE years of infertility with child #3, and sadly lives 18 hours away, and I miss our lunches.
    But our friendship has endured and we often reminisce of our GIRLS DAYS OUT!

  9. I have a few friends who are going through fertility and infertility issues and I ask myself the same question. I think that when someone has a vision for themselves in life (in whatever area it may be) then coming to terms with the fact that what they planned on happening doesn't happen and perhaps will never happen it becomes a loss that has to be mourned. We see it when women who plan on having a vaginal birth have to have a C-section or when a mother who plans on breastfeeding cannot. These are all losses and they are accompanied by denial, pain, anger, and/or grief.

    Women know that adoption is an option. And I think that you Mary are the perfect testament that adoption is a beautiful possibility. There is no way to speed up that decision for anyone. There comes a time in anything when a kind of acceptance or peace takes the place of desperation and ache. And then I think the mourning comes. Perhaps it is somewhere in that process when a couple comes to adoption as part of the path they didn't see before. Once that happens and there is an opening of the heart and soul, that's the only time any of us venture on a new road.

    I'm sure that you are just the right friend she needs right now. Supportive, understanding, and loving.

  10. Hi there! My friend, momteacherfriend sent me the link to your post. My husband and I have been trying to conceive for almost seven years, so she thought I may have some insight on the subject.

    I echo the comments that have been left so far. The best thing you can do for your friend is to be there with a listening ear. People dealing with infertility are in essence grieving a loss. Let them grieve. Let them feel the way they feel and try not to offer answers or advice. If your friend has been infertile for any length of time, chances are they have heard it all: "Maybe it's for the best," "Trust in God's will," "It will happen some day," "You can always adopt," "You can have my kids!" These comments hurt sometimes but I know people usually mean well. When they say things like that I try to educate them on how to approach the subject in a sensitive way.

    Let your friend know you are there to listen if she needs to talk. Be honest with her about your fears. Ask her to help you understand. Ask her if there is any way you can help. Most of my close friends have not experienced infertility, but what I really appreciate about them is that they don't try to pretend they understand what I'm going through. They don't press me with tons of questions, but they also don't avoid the subject altogether.

    As for your fear about the sight of your children being "a knife in their heart"… This is something you have no control over. You need to be free to be yourself. Be the mommy that God has called you to be and don't hide those precious children from your friend. I love that my friends share their children with me and involve me in their lives, but I also love that they understand if I am having a bad day (or week, or month, or year even) and just can't handle being around children for awhile.

    I know I was a little long-winded here but I hope this helps to answer your question. I am completely open about my infertility, so if you have any more questions please don't hesitate to ask.

    God bless!

  11. I'm not super good with words, so I hope that this doesn't come out sounding like a bunch of gibberish… My best friend of 10 years has been married for 6 yrs. and she and her husband have been trying to conceive for 5 of those years. They tried fertility drugs, they tried just about anything that someone would tell them to try. I was blessed with twins, and like you, I was afraid that when I was pregnant and after I had them that it would make her feel bad. It turns out that she thinks that my girls have been a HUGE part of her life. She is currently going to college to become an elementary teacher, and plans to adopt after she graduates next may. Not only did my girls have a huge impact on HER, but SHE is a wonderful blessing to me. She helps me with them as much as she can. My husband works during the day and I work night shift (11 p.m to 7 a.m) so sometimes she takes them for the night. They call her aunt and her husband uncle. It puts a smile on my face to see her and her husband with my girls…not only does it give me a break, but it also helps her to alleviate the pain of not having her own. We even have a special day for her…her name is Lisa, but my girls call her "sessa" so, every year, the saturday before mothers day is "national sessa day". We give her a gift, and we celebrate her being her. I cant wait for them to adopt because I cant imagine any two people being better parents than they would be. We do discuss adoption and infertility, and although it is a touchy subject for her, she knows she has me to talk to and I'll always be there for her. I hope that all that didnt sound crazy!!

  12. I don't have any words of wisdom…but wanted to say that I think we all struggle with what will best help someone…what to say. My sister in law is having infertility problems and another sister in law is not suppose to carry a child so they hope to adopt. I didn't have problems with infertility but after the birth of my first, I did have a miscarriage…and at age 38, I was desparate to have just one more baby and the thought that time was running out was scary. I was lucky that no one discounted how much I wanted a second baby so much. (perhaps this desire stemmed from being a lonely only child myself) But in my case, God was merciful and blessed us with a healthy baby the same month, one year later, as when we lost the pregnancy.

    As others have said, just being there, offering support and prayers, is what may be most needed.

    A thought-provoking post with some great replies, too.

  13. I don't have much to add to all of these people who have shared what's on their hearts. I think that's another key though -We are all different and we all deal with issues such as infertility differently.
    For my husband and I, we were only able to have 1 child (after 2 years of trying) and now we are surrounded by family and friends with many children themselves. I am from a large family (6 kids) and had always wanted a large family myself but it didn't turn out that way.
    I appreciate it when friends bring up the subject so that we can speak openly about it.
    When "friends" creep around about me or when ignorant people make rude or insensitive comments, I have learned to respond appropriately.
    It still hurts sometimes but I love it when my friends bring their children over and I love having a houseful of families. I love the noise and freshness that children bring.
    I often wonder what it would be like to have had that large family but I have also learned that my one child is a blessing I can be thankful for daily.

  14. Besides a hug and a prayer it is hard to tell what an infertile person might want from you. Some days a hug and a prayer might not even be it. Sometimes they want permission to be angry (at the pregnant woman in Target griping about her ankles, at the teenager across the street strutting her pregnant tummy) and sometimes she is sick of petitioning God. What I can tell you are a few things she doesn't want (unless she specifically asks).

    She doesn't want to hear how much work children are. How much laundry you have. How little sleep you got last night.

    She doesn't want advice about which direction to put her bed or whether you got pregnant the first time you tried (by just "doing it" twice on day 14).

    She doesn't want to be told to enjoy the time together with her husband, the quiet, or the lack of mess.

    She doesn't want to see people rubbing their tummies, or snitching crackers in church.

    And yes, those demands are hard on any friendship. How can you enjoy your children without hurting her? Chances are, you probably can't. But a simple, "If you ever decide you want to ask about adoption, I'm always thrilled to talk about it, with no pressure either way," will generally be, if not happily received, easily forgiven (and possibly accepted).

    From a mom that's had it both ways…and really has to watch her tongue some days.

  15. I "lurk" partly because I'm interested in adopting from Ethiopia the next time we do (we adopted our daughter through the foster care system) if we do, but also because I enjoy reading blogs of women with large families. I always wanted a large family but I have been infertile for over 14 years (just writing that made me cringe a bit…saddens me)and do to certain current circumstances it is not likely we'll end up with a large family. Anyway…just wanted to say that I'm impressed by Heidi's insightfulness considering how young she is. Perhaps due to her illness she is able to feel such empathy. The other responses pretty much summed up what I (someone like me…14+ yrs of primary infertility)would like/not like to hear so there isn't much for me to add except that you can't stop experiencing your joy because someone else is trapped in their pain. I have friends who I know have felt guilty and the guilt is what has gotten between us…not their children!

  16. Hi Mary,
    I'm coming out of lurking to comment on this one. Here is my post on it http://www.athirdculture.com/node/9

    I love reading your blog! Thanks for all the fun storys and thoughtful insights.

  17. mary, if someone you know is asking talking to YOU about wanting kids, you know they know what's coming! maybe they're talking to YOU because that's what they want/need to hear!!

  18. well as someone who went through 7 miscarriages over a period if 3 years and led pregnancy loss groups, has written articles on infertility.. .i can tell you i still don't know what to say– it changes from moment to moment– the best things someone can say are often those that cannot be expressed simply with words — love and prayers

  19. I'm way late for the Golden Keyboard, but I'm sure my words wouldn't measure up to some of these great comments anyway.

    My two cents…after trying to conceive the old fashioned way for three years, we found out that we were infertile due to male factor infertility which is about as bad as it gets unless you want to use a sperm donor. We were devastated. Luckily for us, it turned out that though we are infertile, the husband actually has lots of swimmers in there, there's just some sort of barrier…which results in surgery and IVF and all that jazz. We have a baby now and I feel very blessed.

    But back to the question at hand…speaking from experience, it can be a little hard to see families with many children and with wives that seem to get pregnant just by passing their husband in the hallway, but you just have to rationalize that life just isn't always fair. The best thing you can do is to never offer advice unless it's solicited. I never wanted to hear pity of any sort, especially from those that really didn't have any idea how I felt, and it's IMPOSSIBLE to understand how it feels to think you will NEVER be able to carry a child in your womb and experience all that goes with that.

    I think you are very thoughtful for even considering the subject. Here's a tip, since the topic is on your mind….never EVER ask anyone anything related to this question "So when are you guys going to start a family?". The question seems innocent enough; everyone asks it. It's human nature to be curious, but it can rip an infertile couples hearts to pieces.

    So basically, infertility sucks. If you haven't gone through it you can't understand it. Never downplay it or offer alternative solutions because truthfully when you're in that mindset you just don't want to hear it. Lastly, lend a shoulder to cry on and an open ear.

  20. Oh. I love your Deciding to Adopt Story. We recently went through an ALMOST IDENTICAL story, ending with the decision (thank the Lord) to pursue adopting Rayna and then go to Ethiopia – my dream since I was 4 years old. I know what it feels like to be a Mom to a baby you haven't found. My Ethiopian daughters are just as real to me as my sons living in my home. I already love them so much. God is good!–>