Supporting the offbeat & subfertile

January 11 2011 | offbeatresilience
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
Uterus
Knit uterus by ilovebutter, photo used by Creative Commons license

Recently, one of my dearest friends told me she's been having fertility problems for about a year, suffered one miscarriage a few months ago and another this week. I feel really helpless and unsure of the best way to support her.

Should I ask about it, or not mention the subject unless she does? Should I offer to be there for whatever she needs, or just act normal and not draw extra focus to it? My partner and I haven't started to try for a family yet, and I can't begin to know how she is feeling. How can you be a good offbeat pre-auntie or uncle when things aren't going so smoothly?

As someone who struggled with infertility for five years, I can attest to the fact that fertility discussions are an emotional minefield. First, know that it probably took a huge amount of bravery on your friend's behalf to even be able to TALK to you about her fertility issues. There's so much secrecy and shame that comes up when it comes to problems with conceiving … and so many folks suffer in silence.

Fertility issues are challenging for anyone, but progressive, offbeat mamas often deal with the additional weight of feeling conflicted about their own emotions — and things get even more emotionally complex for lesbian mamas. When I was dealing with infertility, I was tremendously conflicted about medical fertility treatments, feeling like they were a biologically-selfish luxury of the affluent. IVF was something for rich, desperate women who should know better! And yet, there I was … doing it. What did that say about who I thought I was? If I felt offbeat at my wedding or job, I felt like a fucking UBERFREAK sitting in the waiting room of a fertility clinic. I felt ostracized from my family/community who kept telling me to pursue acupuncture, massage, herbs, and prayer … but also very separate from many of the people around me at the clinic. Infertility is very, very lonely.

Based on these personal experiences, here's my advice on how to talk to and support your offbeat subfertile friends:

Things to say

  • I know you've been struggling with fertility stuff. How are you feeling about it all? (This is the biggest. Let your friends know you're ready to listen to their fertility fears and heartbreaks. I know for me, I felt like I didn't want to bore my friends with my first-world fertility problems, and it was always such a relief when friends made it clear they wanted to listen and support me. You also give them an easy out to say, "Meh, it's fine. Let's talk about something else.")
  • Have you found any resources that have been helpful? (This is a great way to open discussions about books or websites or research they might be doing. Don't presume to know what they should be reading or doing. If you've heard of a resource that might be helpful, ask first if they want a recommendation.)
  • Are you thinking about pursuing any treatments? (The decisions around whether or how to pursue treatments are a crazy balancing act of emotions, values, philosophy, and finances. Don't suggest treatment in general or specific treatments. Just ask.)
  • Is there anything I can do?

Things NOT to say

  • You just need to relax! (The most common and also most unhelpful comment. When people said this to me, it made me feel like my infertility was somehow my fault — if I could just "relax," I would get pregnant! While stress and anxiety can certainly affect fertility, in my case the issue is very much physical, and no amount of chilling out was going to help.)
  • Everything happens for a reason/It'll happen when it's meant to. (This seems to imply that God or fate doesn't want you to have a baby. It's also sanctimonious and irritating.)
  • You should try _____! (Fill in the blank with any number of holistic OR medical treatments. For me personally, in many cases I had already tried _____, or had my reasons not to want to try _____ and the constant unsolicited suggestions felt exhausting and like people thought I hadn't done my research. It also created a dynamic of always rushing to the next treatment. Sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on, not yet another possible solution shoved down your infertile throat.)
  • Why don't you just adopt? (Why is it always "JUST adopting"? This is grossly dismissive of the process of adoption, which is expensive and complex, both logistically and emotionally. It implies adoption is somehow the easy alternative, and even worse, that adopted children are somehow a band-aid or a second choice.)

Again, my advice is based on my own infertility experiences — I haven't experienced a miscarriage, so I don't feel qualified to offer advice on that. I'd love to hear from readers who might have advice for how to support friends through miscarriages.

  1. YES! Your Things NOT to Say list is right on. As a queer woman who struggled with subfertility, I would add this one or some variation that I heard way too many times: "Well, my friend was struggling too and then she just stopped trying and Poof!–she got pregnant!" Hello?! I don't have the equipment for that. I cannot "stop trying" to get pregnant in order to get pregnant.

    Also, about the adoption suggestion, people would usually say to me "Have you thought about adopting?" I knew they meant well but it would infuriate me because OBVIOUSLY we'd thought about it but at that moment, we were on the conceiving track and what I wanted (desperately) was to be pregnant, not to adopt. So it felt invalidating or like the questioner didn't believe in the possibility of me one day getting pregnant. And I very much needed everyone to believe in that possibility even when (or especially when) I didn't.

    1 agrees
    • Ug, the anecdotes about "it JUST HAPPENED when my friend stopped trying" are so difficult to hear. Again, stress totally does mess with your fertility. But it's not the only thing, and the implication that your head is the only problem is just infuriating.

      4 agree
    • Ugh I hate that "have you thought about adopting". We got that a couple of times. Like, "No, wow, you can do that? Gee whiz!".

      My wife and I did IVF to get knocked up (her bun, my oven) and while most people thought it was awesome, a few people did make comments like "it's much easier the normal way" (that one was from my mother. I didn't even bother asking what she thinks the 'normal way' is for two women!) and questions about why we'd choose such an expensive, invasive route.

      5 agree
      • Ariel – thank you thank you thank you for acknowledging the added emotional stress lesbian couples face. I started crying when I read that. My wife and I are in the middle of figuring out conception options (in the middle of Texas, no less), and this is the first thing I have read or seen in months that has not been either hateful, judgmental, voyeuristic or dismissive. I've lost track of how many people have chastised us for not "just adopting". Because it's so easy for two lesbians to adopt a child! Ugh, I could spend hours on this topic…

        Right now, we're leaning toward reciprocal IVF (her egg, my womb), and finding information about that process specific to queer couples is proving IMPOSSIBLE. Many doctors here won't consider working with gay couples, others will only treat you if you show a history of demonstrated infertility (demonstrating it via dildo does not count, of course.) Gidget, if you'd be willing to share some of your IVF resources/experiences/thought processes with me, I would be beyond grateful. Or any other ladies who've had similar experiences!

        2 agree
        • I live in western MA and my clinic (baystate reproductive medicine) is very, very used to working w/ same-sex couples (my husband is a ftm/ transguy so we knew we'd need a sperm donor, and the clinic helped us deal with insurance requirements and were generally great.) Its a nonissue in terms of how you're treated – you tell them your wishes and they respect that and help you out. If you have the luxury of time off and can pay travel expenses, I have the crash space – email me if you'd like . Good luck to you! ~jayana@yahoo

  2. I have never been pregnant, so my personal experience and advice is more along the lines of yours, Ariel. But I have had the honor of being in a number of settings with women and men grieving the loss of a child, fetus, or a pregnancy through miscarriage. From what I have observed the principles are similar:

    -Let her/them define the experience. Especially with earlier miscarriages – some women experience a fierce identifiction with the life inside them as a baby from the moment they see a positive test. Others don't. Both are valid and involve a different experience of loss if the pregnancy ends in the first trimester. You don't want to imply that someone is grieving too much/not enough.

    – Leave God/Fate out of it. Maybe ironic for someone who is at times the person of faith called in to help someone deal with loss, but I have never found it helpful to use God/Divine Plan/The Universe as a reason for a horrible thing. In fact, leave the "why" question out of it. Unless the person grieving brings it up. I think its better to ask how – as in "how can I help?" or "how are you caring for yourself in this?"

    -Don't ask about "another" or "the next" baby. That will be a different experience, if it is at all.

    and – Don't be afraid to tell your friend that you want to help and don't know what to do. This may give her the freedom to ask you for specific help.

    also food is usually a good idea when someone is grieving, and gives a reason to be present to them that is low-pressure.

    -Listen lots.

    18 agree
  3. Another awesome, direct and helpful post. Thanks Ariel and Off Beat Mama community!

    Most of what can be done has already been said here, but as someone who struggled with infertility/miscarriages as well I can add this context for those who haven't been through it:

    – Don't say "at least you got pregnant, that's a good", particularly if someone has had multiple miscarriages. It really doesn't feel good. At all. If the person experiencing it brings that lens to it, great, but don't go there for them. Feeling like you can't hold/keep a pregnancy, when really there's very little or nothing you can do about this feels scary and out of control. Saying this also implies that next time *something* will be different so that you'll keep the baby, and again quickly transfers blame subtly back to the mama.
    – Try to remember that a miscarriage is not one single event. This kind of blew me away the first time, in that "duh, well that was obvious" kind of way. A miscarriage lasts for days. Often longer than a regular period. So while the language is all "I just had a miscarriage", the reality is "And now four days later I'm still having one". Just being conscious of this and figuring out how to check in with someone during the process would go a long way to making the person experiencing it feel understood.

    9 agree
    • Bingo on the last one especially! I'm going through the waiting period of the miscarriage to complete and I'm struggling on how to help people understand that. I've been saying "I'm in the process of miscarrying" They usually don't know what to say so I thank them for just being with me. That usually helps. Thanks for adding that point on!

      1 agrees
    • Re: "At least you got pregnant." SO TRUE! While not being able to get pregnant at all sucked, watching my friends suffer through miscarriages (in some cases, repeat miscarriages) made me feel like that would be even harder. The roller coaster of each month (am I pregnant? oh, I'm not) was bad enough … the roller coaster of being pregnant/then not always struck me as being even more heartbreaking.

      (Not to get all "who's pain is worse?" because it all sucks.)

      3 agree
      • Re: "At least you got pregnant". Thank you, thank you – I've had that SO many times, and I want to scream at people who say that. Slight variant being, "At least you know you can get pregnant". No, I know I *got* pregnant. That implies nothing about the future.

        4 agree
        • Ditto this. Since my silent miscarriage this past month after an IVF cycle, my husband has been trying to reassure me by telling me "At least we know you can get pregnant." It's not reassuring because there's no guarantee that we'll have this opportunity again (IVF), or that we'll be able to conceive naturally. 🙁

          1 agrees
  4. After my miscarriage, I hated hearing "it just wasn't right at this time." I know that my body miscarried the baby because of X, Y, and Z, but I don't need to hear that when I was suffering the most. I felt like a failure of epic proportions, and the sanctimonious tone of "not right at this time" did not help me at all. The best advice came from my tattoo artist, of all people. He told me that sometimes our bodies are traitors, sometimes they are saviors, and sometimes they are mysteries. We can only go with the flow. Now, looking back, I know that the miscarriage was right because I was in a terrible relationship, and leaving my emotionally abusive ex-husband would have been much harder if I had a child.

    3 agree
    • "sometimes our bodies are traitors, sometimes they are saviors, and sometimes they are mysteries"

      ^That is so very true – thanks, I'm gonna hang on to that one! 🙂

      5 agree
  5. Things not to say when someone miscarries:

    1) "This happens all the time!"
    Believe me, anyone who wants a baby and is actively trying to see a pregnancy through KNOWS that it happens all the time. That doesn't make the hormonal let down, desolate loneliness, and wondering if your family is ever going to get bigger any easier.

    2) "It'll happen when it's meant to happen."
    Really? When the god as you understand him or her deems that it's meant to happen? And until then I'm supposed to hear your patronizing blather as you bounce your baby on your hip and admit that you have never miscarried yourself?

    3) "That usually means that the fetus wasn't viable."
    Again, everyone knows that. Thinking about how you just lost a baby because he or she wasn't VIABLE doesn't make a (hopefully) future mother feel any MORE viable.

    Things to say:

    1) "That sucks. I'm so sorry!"
    Totally. It sucks. Women, especially those under hormonal distress, are all about commiseration. Understand that a woman who miscarries is undergoing a world of suck and just being understood a little could make communication a little better.

    2) Now, this one worked for me because I am a little bit of a cynic, but my husband said, "Wanna go out for beers and extremely rare hamburgers with bleu cheese?" and I was like FUCK YES that would rock the shit out of my WORLD OF SUCK. See also, "Wanna get wasted and pretend to be young and carefree?"

    3) "I've been there."
    If you've been there, let a lady know. I hate to say that misery loves company- but sometimes it's nice to hold hands and know that someone has felt the same way.

    16 agree
    • Yes. This. All of this. "Things to say #2" was my saving grace after my miscarriage. Hello, entire bottle of wine and a lot of sushi.

      1 agrees
    • Oh ya. These are all super awesome. Especially 2 & 3. And since 3 can't apply to everyone, mad props to #2! Bring on the booze and unpasteurized cheese!

      1 agrees
    • I read somewhere where the "It happens all the time" comment was compared to someone's grandparent dying. If your friend came to you and said their grandparent died and they were upset, you wouldn't say "Well they were old- it happens all the time"

      1 agrees
    • Yes! YES! #2 is exactly what we did. Two days after my D&C my husband asked me what I needed and I said alcohol sounded pretty damn good. It was quite possibly the best margarita I have ever had.

    • I heard all 3 of the "things not to say" frequently after opening up about my miscarriage… which @ 18, took months to even get to a point where I admitted I was pregnant and that I was hurting and grieving a loss that only I felt because only I knew.

      I also hated hearing:
      "Maybe it was for the best…"

      And if common sense doesn't tell you not to say, "Women have been having miscarriages for centuries and I only hear you whining about it."
      =)

      Someone is in a bitter, TTC, needing a hit of babycrack, pre-AF moodfest *points @ self*

    • I'd especially like to echo #3—A miscarriage/stillbirth/pregnancy loss does not mean the fetus wasn't viable. I think this is a very common misconception.

  6. Thank you for posting this. I will be referencing this post when people do the "You just need to relax!" We have used no birth control for 8 years and we have two children with the help of clomid. A majority of people say we would have more children if I got a different job, relaxed, found a stress reliever. They want to solve my problems but I would prefer they ask and listen to the struggle of it. I would prefer they not judge my life and point blame to it as the cause of our infertility.

    Again, thank you for posting what and what not to do when these type of conversations come up.

    • And thanks to you for this comment. I don't know how many times I've been told to relax. And I certainly have taken it as a judgement of my lifestyle, so much so that by now, in fact, I've become a passionate defender of the way my husband and I live and work and travel and have fun…
      Great article and great comments and advice. It's a long road, this baby-making business…

  7. When someone has a miscarriage, remember that it isn't something that lasts a finite amount of time. They won't ever "get over" it, they just learn to get through it. They will never forget that baby, and even if they manage to get pregnant again, that baby will be a different child and not a replacement.
    Try to remember due dates, and give support around those dates, which are so, so hard.
    Don't ignore what they're going through. If you don't know what to say, just say the best thing you can: "I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do?" You don't need to say anything else; no platitudes, no searching for a reason, as many of these will cause offence and hurt. Just be there, and don't judge them.

    1 agrees
    • Oops, I posted a half-comment, and meant to delete and just do a big comment. 🙂

      Yes, "remember due dates"! This was so huge for me, especially when people didn't remember. 🙁

      1 agrees
    • That was going to be my suggestion – remember the due date. Put it in your calendar and put a reminder on it if it will help you! And send a little note, just to let them know you're thinking about them.

      Believe me, they remember what it is for. You aren't going to cause them more pain by bringing it up.

  8. I know I'll be duplicating some of what other have said, as "hell yes, this!" support:

    DON'T
    1. don't say things like "It happened for a reason".
    2. don't ignore it. People get some uncomfortable and weird about it, like denying it means it will never happen to them.
    3. don't say "At least you know you can get pregnant". Because nope, getting pregnant once doesn't mean sweet fuck all for the future.
    4. Don't say versions of "It wasn't really a baby yet anyway". This comes across as "your emotions are totally out of proportion to the situation, and I'm denying the baby that was inside you".

    DO
    1. Remember dates, especially what would have been the birth date, mother's/father's day, etc.
    2. Remember the husband/wife/spouse/partners/whomever. People talk to my husband as if he hasn't suffered a loss, and as if he isn't grieving also.
    3. Remember that grief often comes in waves, so there will be good days and not-so-good days, and stay-at-home-in-pjs-eating-ice-cream days.
    4. What a poster above said – share your story.

    Also, depending on your level of friendship, ask if they want to talk about the process. I was desperate to talk about the physical side, what actually happened before, during, and after.

    4 agree
  9. As I read this, I think that a "cut and paste post" with responses to angrymaking conception comments may be in order. When I've tried to navigate conversations away from (non-fertility related) medical issues without spilling all my bidness, I am always stymied. People are so eager to offer advice and it's tough in the moment to figure out how to say, "Yeah, that sounds interesting and all but it has absolutely nothing to do with my issue, and I'd rather not explain why because that would be oversharing. Stop it now, thanks" in a nice way.

    • (posting as anonymous, because I'm not ready to "out" myself to people in my life, just in case they are reading)

      I fully second the request for a "cut and paste" post re: conception plans. I have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which can have pretty serious effects on fertility. I also have vulvar vestibulitis, which means that I'm not able to have intercourse right now AT ALL because of pain issues. My partner and I want to have children, but for obvious reasons that is not in the cards for the time being, as we want to get my health situation under control. My family and friends don't know the extent of my medical issues, and it is so painful to hear comments such as, "Your kids will be so cute," or, "I can't wait for you guys to start having children." Um. We are not even currently able to DO THE THING THAT MAKES THE KIDS because of my pelvic pain. And even if we could, I have the PCOS working against me. So, no, I don't want to hear about how YOU can't wait for me to get pregnant.

      Anyway, ranting aside, I think it would be really helpful to have a few polite but firm replies tucked away in my mind when the topic of pregnancy comes up (particularly from in-laws in my case!).

  10. I am curious for everybody's thoughts on a related issue: how should people act in regards to their own children? Meaning, do we talk about our own children as we normally would? Or do we avoid talking about our children? I mean, I cannot deny my son if a friend has a fertility struggle or a miscarriage. It is false to stop talking about him, or not have him with me. But yet, does that reinforce pain? Or is the pain already there anyway? I also think of this regarding a virtual friend who lost a child in October. Knowing her story makes me think twice about how much child-sharing I do, especially on Facebook. I still do sometimes, but not as much. It occurs to me that it must be so hard to always see people's cute kid pictures show up, or cute kid stories. Yet, at what point do we still have to go about our lives? And are those who have suffered such a horrendous loss already thinking about the loss anyway? Am I over-playing how much anything I say or do even matters anyway considering the endless depths of the pain people have in such situations? I wonder if it is a kind of self-importance to even wonder about the impact of my words.

    So, I would appreciate any of the responders thoughts on this issue, because it is one that causes awkwardness for me. I want to be genuine and authentic, but also to be sensitive.

    • I was just thinking about this, as I read this. I have never experienced pregnancy loss. I have, however, had that awkward moment when a friend who went through IVF says to me, "you are so lucky that you can get pregnant whenever you want" or something to that effect. I never know what to say in those kinds of situations. But I don't think I would scale back on my "child-sharing" in a forum like Facebook, especially since those same friends who had IVF now have kids and do just as much child-sharing as I do, if not more.

      • Honestly, if someone says "Oh, you're so lucky that you ____" the only response I can imagine is "You're right, I AM so lucky. And so grateful for that. I'm glad that you are able to work on changing your bad luck!" or something like that.

        1 agrees
    • As someone who has been trying to conceive for over two years (only to find out my husband's snippage reversal has closed back up on itself, so now we're pursuing IVF), I'll admit to having hidden a few friends on FB who were constantly posting about their babies/pregnancies. However, none of the people I hid are close friends, and it helps when some posts are not about babies/pregnancies. So, I'd say continue to post about your son, but also post about other things.

      1 agrees
    • The best thing to do is to ask your friend what they want you to do. Some of my friends have done this, and it's been helpful and helped me maintain my friendships with them, by doing it on my terms, rather than having their precocious fertility shoved down my throat every second of the day.
      The most important thing to do is not to complain. Yes, we know you're tired/vomiting/whatever, or your child just won't eat bananas or something, but on't complain about the little things to someone who'd give their right arm, and probably their left too to have what you have. Complain by all means, but do it to someone else.
      Thinking about how much child-sharing you do is not a bad thing. Perhaps it'll encourage a little sensitivity. There is such a thing as going overboard in child-sharing.
      If your friend is having a hard time due to recent infertility struggles/miscarriage, then if you meet her, don't bring your kids along. Just be there for her, just you.

      1 agrees
      • Or ask if they want you to bring the kids. A friend of mine who was visiting recently asked me that, and I said yes. It made me feel like I was in the kid's life for a little bit. But definitly, ask.

    • My husband and I haven't started trying for children yet, so I haven't experienced this, but my father died quite suddenly in October. Today at work, something came up and I made a comment about losing my father. My co-worker looked stricken, like she had somehow reminded me and caused me pain. But she hadn't. The pain is always there, and probably always will be. I don't know how much this will transfer to miscarriage, as parents haven't had the opportunity to know their child as an individual. But it's always there. Yes, hearing about someone else's wonderful Christmas spent with both parents makes me sad. But so does any of a hundred things I associate with my father.

      2 agree
    • You still have to live your life, that's very true. And when it's a public forum like facebook, well…I think that's up to the other person to choose whether or not to look. I've hidden several people, but usually just the ones who *only* talk about their pregnancy/babies/children. So personally, I don't think you have to worry about or change your behaviour there.

      When it comes to spending one-on-one time with the person though, be there. My best friend always has screaming kids in the background, and I've never really felt like I can open up because I never know when she's actually listening to me. So what a previous commenter said was good – if you're going to meet up with her, don't bring the kids (if possible) or let her know if you have to bring them so she has the option to cancel. If you find your friend cutting phone calls or visits short, it could be because there's a lot of baby/child talk – but as other people noted it's because the pain is already there.

      "I don't know how much this will transfer to miscarriage, as parents haven't had the opportunity to know their child as an individual." I wasn't sure if I should comment on this, but the phrasing really triggered me. I know it wasn't intentional, but this is something that would be very hurtful to say. You aren't just mourning the loss of a person, you're also mourning the loss of the potential, of the lifestyle, and of so much more. As someone who lost her mother when I was 19, and a baby when I was 5 months pregnant, I can tell you that each is equally difficult for a myriad of reasons.

    • There are other reasons not to overshare about your kids on facebook. They may be the center of your world, but mostly, your childfree friends (also your childed friends, possibly) aren't interested in your kids. They're interested in YOU. This is not to say that you can't includeupdates on milestones in your kids' lives, but don't make your facebook page entirely about them.

      6 agree
    • I would ask – for a couple of my friends, I just can't get enough of their pics and stories. Others, I can't even see them in person or I need to hide their facebook statuses. It depends on the relationship you have with them. You definitely have a right to share what you'd like, and if your friends need distance, its easier to take that distance if they know you understand.

  11. We tried for over a year before finally conceiving, only to miscarry at week 9. It is so early on, but you grow so attached to the idea of that baby that it is devastating to lose it.

    The worst part of everything was when we went to the doctor and they informed us that a miscarriage was imminent. We were sent back out into the waiting room to wait for the doctor and I didn't want to cry in front of all of the happy pregnant couples and the families with babies. I wouldn't talk to or speak to my husband because my pain was so deep that I wouldn't have been able to hold back if I saw his face. At that moment he was alone in his pain and I was not there for him.

    We never told anyone that we were trying to conceive, for many of the same reasons everyone else here has mentioned. So when I miscarried, it seemed strange to tell anyone then. It would have been nice to have friends and family to check in on us/me and for me to have someone to express my pain and fears to.

    I totally knocked back a few cold ones right after the fact. Now my husband and I deal with this pain the same way we deal with everything else, humor. We joke about the failure and how much fun it is to keep trying. Though, I really miss sex for fun not procreation.

    1 agrees
    • I am very sorry for your loss.

      I think doctors' offices should have a different place people can go in these situations. The way our office was set up, one went into one doorway for the ultrasound, and then back to the waiting room, and then through a different door to the doctor. I often speculated about getting bad news at the ultrasound and then sitting in the waiting room with everybody waving around ultrasound pictures and calling grandmother, while waiting to see the doc about a D&C. It seems so insensitive.

      1 agrees
      • It doesn't feel insensitive when you are the one with bad news, at least I didn't feel that way. I just didn't want to be "the one" in the waiting room. You know, the one that you feel sorry for and are happy you aren't. I just didn't want to bring down the overall feeling of joy that most women in that office were experiencing.

        It would have been nice to have had another room we could have gone into just so that we could have cried in privacy.

  12. Ok, I just got this from a well intentioned friend "So Sorry to hear. Do you know if you will be able to carry full term next time?…." Oh and at the end is "God bless you – He has a plan for you".

    Can we put these on the what not to say list please. Thanx.

    She also said she wished she could say something consoling but cant find the words. and that I be in her prayers. I did like that.

    1 agrees
  13. I had two miscarriages before I had my son. And for me, NOT talking about them was actually harder than talking about it. It was all I could think about and acting like nothing had happened felt weird to me. It wasn't always easy, but having someone ask me how I was doing or how things were going was always better than having people pretend like nothing had happened.

    2 agree
  14. Really useful article. I've actually had two women tell me about miscarriages they have had in the past and I wasn't sure what the appropriate response would be. They both brought it up fairly casually in a conversations after I announced my pregnancy.
    So I just said "I'm so sorry to hear that" and left it at that. I wasnt sure if it would be appropriate to say anything else? I wasnt sure what else there was to say…

    • I know that when I mention it, I don't always need a consoling response, but would feel weird not acknowledging the fact that I have also been pregnant. And unless I'm being emotionally open about the loss, it can just be a casual part of a conversation. I can only speak for myself, but talking about the details of my miscarriage or our troubles in trying to get pregnant again are stressful and emotional, but talking about the pregnancy or just mentioning that I've miscarried are not.

  15. I was told (probably inaccurately) that I'll be infertile by 25. So when we had a surprise, but very wanted pregnancy we were ecstatic. Lost the bub at 9 weeks, and one of the worst things was being asked by the doctor if I'd had an abortion before. If he'd used the word miscarriage, instead of using PART of the technical term, I wouldn't have been quite as upset. There were two other upsetting comments, but I truly hope that no one else ever receives them:
    – *Chows down on a large plateful of food* "I feel so fat… I feel pregnant!" *glares and mean laughter*

    – "Having a miscarriage is proof that you're not meant to have children."

    • I am so sorry those things were actually said to you! Who the fuck would actually say the last one? Although I shouldn't be that surprised. When I had my miscarriage it was about four months after our son, who was 1 1/2 at the time, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I had a few people tell me the miscarriage was a blessing because I had too much going on with our Type 1 son. It was like they were saying I wasn't a good enough mother to handle everything and I should feel grateful for losing a baby. Interstingly, those same people at the time of the diabetes diagnosis said they thought I was chosen by God to have a diabetic child because he knew my son would be well cared for by us.

      Bottom line, leave God out of it. No one wants to hear that their pain was brought down on them by the Lord Almighty. How can that possibly be a comfort to anyone?

      4 agree
      • My mom was pregnant for my sister during a particularly rough time in her marriage, and women at church actually told her they were praying for her to miscarry, so an innocent baby wouldn't be brought into such a negative environment. She had had two miscarriages prior to that pregnancy. People can be stunningly cruel.

        1 agrees
  16. Dr. Alan Wolfelt wrote a book on grieving, and some of his advice regarding miscarriages and stillbirths are published online at centerforloss.com. Here I copy and pasted his "Mourner's Bill of Rights," which syncs well with almost everything posted here:

    1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.

    No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don't allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.

    2. You have the right to talk about your grief.

    Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don't feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.

    3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.

    Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don't take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

    4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

    Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do.

    5. You have the right to experience "griefbursts."

    Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

    6. You have the right to make use of ritual.

    The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don't listen.

    7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

    If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won't be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.

    8. You have the right to search for meaning.

    You may find yourself asking, "Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?" Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, "It was God's will" or "Think of what you have to be thankful for" are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.

    9. You have the right to right to treasure your memories.

    Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

    10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

    Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

    6 agree
  17. After my son was stillborn (I was 38 weeks pregnant), I actually had an aunt say to my mother, "if she hadn't been living in sin with her boyfriend, that baby wouldn't have died."

    Weirdly enough, she was the only one who gave me a gift the next Mother's Day.

  18. I am in tears after reading this: thank you, Ariel! I just lost a pregnancy at 12.5 weeks and I couldn't agree more with your list.

    I would also add that saying "you can try again" invalidates a person's experience of being pregnant in the first place and their grief at the loss of that pregnancy. I know it's said to be encouraging in some way, but it's so incredibly insensitive.

    I also had a friend give me the "your body knows what it can handle and what should live" speech, which to my ears implied that I had been carrying around some kind of monster inside of me. Even so, I loved that monster a lot, dammit!

    I need to talk things through to process them and I've found that it makes some people uncomfortable to hear about (like I shouldn't be talking about it). I've just been spending more time with my friends who are willing to listen and will let me ramble. But I'm constantly surprised at how many people will tell me "me too" when they learn of my experience and often I've had no idea. I guess everyone needs to process differently.

  19. There's a whole other side to infertility and subfertility that I see hasn't been brought up yet. I'm half of an infertile couple who isn't the infertile one; he is. We spent quite a while trying to get pregnant before undergoing testing, and the issue is not one that can be solved by "relaxing". Our best shot at having a child genetically related to both of us is via IVF with ICSI, which is not exactly the way most people envision their future children being conceived.

    While I've never been pregnant, the things on your list are definitely hurtful (my least favorite is #2, "Everything happens for a reason/It'll happen when it's meant to) and doubly so when everyone assumes that I'm the one who has the issue when it's actually him. We have chosen to present a united front to our friends and families, because our infertility is a problem we both share, while only one of us is technically infertile. Even though my body functions the way it's supposed to, it still hurts every time someone we know announces a pregnancy, posts an ultrasound photo on Facebook, or complains about an existing child. Navigating the morass of relationships with friends and family members who are planning or have children has been difficult, and I just wish people would realize that there are a variety of reasons for infertility. Assuming it's always the woman's "fault" or "problem" doesn't help the discourse at all, nor does it encourage men who are subfertile or infertile to tell their stories.

    2 agree
    • Anonforthis, I feel you on this! I had a terrible exchange with an old friend who gave me a bunch of unsolicited dietary advice when I told her we were having trouble getting pregnant. Aside from my opinions on whether eating an exclusively raw food diet would have helped with fertility, I was beyond angry at her presumption that the fertility issues were MINE. Granted, they WERE mine — but she had no way of knowing that, and it made the unsolicited advice that much more offensive.

      2 agree
      • Thanks, Ariel, I appreciate the commiseration. I guess it's ignorance and assumptions that really chap my hide when it comes to people's insensitive comments about infertility. I know it's not people's job to know about or understand the topic, since most people are able to get pregnant the old fashioned way, but out of regard for my partner I can't be the one to say "Well actually, it's him not me, and your suggestions are asinine." Even male infertility research seems to be far behind research/treatment/cures for female infertility. Our options are supplements/acupuncture which may help but probably not, or spend thousands of dollars and undergo IVF when my fertility is normal. At least that gives us a reasonable chance of IVF resulting in a pregnancy.

    • Anonforthis, I feel you. My husband is the "cause" of our infertility and we did have IVF with ICSI which (after two tries) resulted in a healthy baby. We, like you, chose to present a united front and didn't even share with our immediate family the cause of our fertility problems. I was truly shocked that EVERYONE, his family, my family and the few friends we told, totally just assumed that I was the one with the trouble conceiving. Especially since statistics show that the reason for infertility is almost evenly divided between both sexes. As a result, we were offered much unsolicited advice regarding "relaxing, letting god's plan work, going on vacation". I just wanted to scream, IT IS PRACTICALLY A SCIENTIFIC IMPOSSIBILITY!!!
      Now that we have a baby, we STILL get people who know what we went through who say, "well, you'll probably get pregnant now that you aren't really trying." Even my ob/gyn who knew what we went through asked me at my 6 week postpartum check up what kind of birth control we planned to use. As did MY OWN MOTHER. I politely explained to both that we would be THRILLED and mystified if I actually got pregnant without another IVF procedure. Many people think that the sadness that infertility brings is totally wiped out when you have a child, but, as lucky as we feel and happy as we are to have our baby, that dark cloud of infertility still looms overhead and the pain is nearly as deep when people ask "are you ready for number two?

      1 agrees
  20. @ Anonforthis

    My father is the one who is infertile (Doctor told him they had a 0.5% chance of conception. Well, I'm the 0.5%). I have seen how peoples assumptions have hurt my mum, even people going as far as to ask if she was my dad's second wife.

    She never outs him, as she doesn't think anybody so rude deserves the truth, but I really feel for him, when they married, they wanted a laaaarge family. But they didn't have one. They had me, and my sister. two 0.5% chances. After our births dad went back to the dr to get re-tested. same results.

    assumption can be a cruel cruel thing.

    and can we get a shout-out to all those siblings of babies who were miscarried/stillborn or parents had major trouble conceiving? It hurts us too. Especially the older ones.

    1 agrees
    • My parents lost two babies. One before me (I'm the oldest), who was born and lived ten hours. The second (between me and my sister) was a miscarriage.

      I can't imagine what it must have felt like for my parents to hold what would turn out to be their only son for just a few hours, but I've been more sensitive than usual to other people's tragedies my whole life. I think it was hearing my mom say, "We probably would have had a lot more kids, but at this rate we were losing every other one."

      It's just heartbreaking, and I'm terribly terribly sorry any of you had to go through it.

      1 agrees
  21. I heard a suggestion once to never bring up the baby thing yourself – let THEM bring it up if they want to, then offer support where needed. The logic behind being that asking, "When are you going to have kids?" often raises one of two feelings:

    1 – "Grr, we don't WANT kids yet/ever. So stop bringing it up!"
    2 – "Grr, we're TRYING to have kids but it's just not working and that's really frustruating. So stop bringing it up!"

    As a non-parent / not-trying-to-become-a-parent / don't-know-if-I-want-to-be-a-parent I'd like to know if y'all mamas feel that this is an appropriate mindset/attitude for a friend?

    1 agrees
    • In general, yes. Don't bring it up. If you KNOW that the person is trying & having trouble AND you're fairly close with them, then you might be able to ask, "I know you and your partner have been trying. If you're okay talking about it, how's it going?" Beyond that, it's a no-no to talk about it first.

      1 agrees
  22. It's really encouraging to read more articles about infertility on OffbeatMama. I have to confess that during some of the 2 years trying to conceive this website has been a bit like "babycrack" for me.

    We found out six months ago that we'd have to use IVF/ICSI to get pregnant and we're incredibly lucky but it worked the first attempt! I'm now almost 10 weeks pregnant, not out of danger zone yet, but almost there.

    I remember having a lecturer at Uni telling us that assisted contraception was the medical hijacking of womens bodies and hugely invasive and basically not feminist at all. But faced with the option, many years later, I didn't hesitate.

    Beforehand, I also faced the barrage of unsolicited advice, just relax, eat this or that, and bizarrely get rid of your cat!?

    Even though I am pregnant I still feel hyper sensitive about infertility. A distant friend (with a month old baby) visiting my hugely pregnant sister recently said to me, "so when are you going to get around to having a baby?

    Ummmm well I've been trying for two years naturally, took my temperature, checked my mucous, cried every month when my period arrived, that didn't work so after a barrage of tests, I've stuck needles and drugs into my stomach every day for two weeks, I blew up like a balloon, (the indignity of looking pregnant but just being incredibly bloated and swollen) then had to go into the clinic for day surgery twice to have the eggs removed and then the fertilised egg put back in…so yes i have been trying…

    Of course I didn't say any of this but smiled pathetically. Another friend has a standard response to the question, "so when are you going to have children?"

    "What makes you think I can?"

    4 agree
  23. So much love and tenderness for y'all who have known these hurts.

    This post talks about how miscarriage can go on for weeks, and provides some basic info, really helpful for friends and family members who are otherwise clueless. I learned a lot from it when I first read it, and it was one of the first things I thought of when reading this post.

    And from the Don't list on this page:
    Sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on, not yet another possible solution shoved down your infertile throat.)
    Remove the word "infertile", and you have great advice for pretty much EVERY problem out there–don't try to solve it, just listen!

    Thanks.

    1 agrees
  24. I've had 3 miscarriages, and now at the phase where everyone else is having babies with nary an issue.

    Its coming up on a year after the third one, and I still grieve. And it doesn't help that people have said ALL the stupid things, and more.

    We're now kind of looking at adoption, surrogacy or IVF with pre implantation genetic screening, and though my high risk OB says my odds are good for carrying to term eventually, I am not so certain.

    What hurts most is when i was pregnant, my friends fled the scene. Now they're having kids and it's like they fear me, and my miscarrying ways.

    Its quite isolating. I can count the number of people who simply said "i'm sorry" on one hand.

    • I'm truly sorry that you've been treated that way by your friends. I felt the same thing from many of the women I knew as well. It's almost as if other women thought it was catching.

  25. Ok, so what do you tell people when they tell you to just relax? I never know what to say.

    I know this is an older post but I'm just getting back into trying for a baby again (technically I still have a few more weeks before I can try). My husband and I tried for a while before I started to suspect I had endometriosis. I am 2.5 weeks post excision for my endo and am finally feeling hopeful about actually getting pregnant. I am so lucky to have found a wonderful doctor. Anyway, I've already had a couple well-meaning friends ask me if we'd want to "just adopt" and it always makes me feel so selfish to say I want to try to have my own baby. When I was younger and a bit more idealistic I always said I wanted to adopt. But then my biological clock started ticking… I'm personally struggling with the idea of conceiving a baby versus adopting and when other people mention adoption it makes me feel even more selfish. I know this is an older post so perhaps this won't even get read, but if anyone has any advice, I'd love to hear it.

  26. I gave birth to a very premature baby almost 6 years ago. I was six months pregnant. She never took a breath, and was the size of my husband's hand.
    The most hurtful comments I received were from the OB on call the night I delivered. He said, "You can try again next month," and "You're young, you'll have lots of babies."
    First of all, that was bad advice medically ( I bled for months afterward, and I had just been through a difficult pregnancy and long labor. My body and soul needed time to heal)

    And secondly, even though I believe he was just really horrible at consoling people in pain, his comments dismissed the tragedy of what had just happened to me and to my child.

    As it turned out, I can't 'just have more children.' It's not impossible, but it's not easy. My husband and I TTC'd for two years and then decided to stop. Eventually we separated and divorced.He now has other children.
    Even if we'd been able to 'just have another baby' it wouldn't have replaced the child I carried. She was, at least to me, a real, distinct person.

    I was surprised at where the best support came from…Our unmarried, childless, male friends. Because they didn't have a frame of reference, they didn't try to say anything to fix it, or offer TTC advice or say anything. They sat with us, let us talk when we needed it, got us good and drunk when we needed it, and offered a shoulder to cry on or a good joke to lighten the mood.

    I am touched when people ask me about my daughter, remember her birthday, even though it's been some time. I like the chance to talk about her even now.

    • Thank you for this post, and thank you for the archives. A friend of mine just had a miscarriage, so this advice is much appreciated.

  27. Thank you, this is exactly what I need to pin to my chest and force people to read before they open their mouths to talk to me.

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