With the statistics showing that one out of seven couples has difficulty conceiving, the number of couples in our wards, branches, and stakes that are affected by this disease is significant. As if affects so many, how could there be so little information from a Latter-day Saint perspective on the topic? Infertility is a very real disease that brings overwhelming stress, hidden losses, and associated feelings of inadequacy, sadness, and isolation. I have felt all of these; but I have also learned to feel joy, strength, and power. My desire is to offer hope to those who also carry this burden.
Reacting to Comments from Others One of the hardest things to deal with is leaving the house and facing people - including the things people say. We have all heard someone say, "Relax! You are trying too hard!" to a woman who wants to get pregnant. In actuality, some couples dealing with infertility truly need to "try harder" to conceive since the process is, in some way, flawed for them.
I am certain we could all sit down and make an exhaustive list of the hurtful things we have heard people say. Some I have forgotten, others make me smile, while other still haunt me. Here are a few I have collected:
"It will all work out in the Lord's time." "Don't worry. You will be blessed to be a mother in the eternities." "So, when are you going to have a baby?" "Enjoy your time together while you can." "I bet working in the nursery is great birth control." "You have no idea how lucky you are that you don't have to worry about children. You can have one of mine."
It has taken a long time to get to this point, but I am beginning to see comments and questions regarding my infertility as a door being opened for discussion. When you feel comfortable offering some information, it's best to keep it simple, direct, and maybe even a bit vague. Here are some suggestions of what to say when the questions come:
"We are ready for children whenever they join our family." "There is a time and season for everything in life. Children come in a different time and season for every couple." "Our family consists of me and my husband/wife right now." "We are confronting some issues as we try to have a family. We are working with a highly skilled physician and feel confident in his/her abilities. We appreciate you being supportive and understanding."
I think I have used every one of these and several others; they usually move the conversation in another direction. Many times, responding this way makes the questioner realize the magnitude of the question they asked. So my suggestion to you is to come up with a response that you and your spouse will use when the situation arises.
Supporting Someone Who Has Fertility Challenges As I prepared to share my feelings about infertility with my mother, I remember wondering exactly how she would be able to relate. After all, my mom and dad began their family with my older sister who came nine months after they were married and had seven children in thirteen years. I knew that she could not empathize, but I also knew that she sincerely wanted to understand. I realized that I could choose to be angry that her ease of having children did not qualify her to adequately comfort me. Or I could choose to play a pivotal role in teaching her about this sorrow that was unknown to her.
This is written to the mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends of those who experience infertility. Your willingness and ability to help bear the burden of infertility will make the pain more bearable and the sorrow not so deep. Here are some things to consider.
The gospel is family-oriented, as it should be, but it is often hard for a couple dealing with infertility to be reminded of it so often. We find joy in our relationships with those we love and feel comforted that family relationships continue eternally. It is important to remember that families are not just moms and dads with children. A family can be just a husband and wife. A family begins with a husband and wife. A family continues through the experiences of life whether there are no children, one child, or ten children. Make sure that, in cases of infertility, you help couples feel that they are a legitimate family.
Be genuine. Don't fake it. If you fake it, they will know. Are you asking them questions about their infertility because you are curious, because you have stewardship over the couple, or because you heard from someone else about their infertility? Or are you asking them because you are concerned about them and want to offer your support? What will you do with the information you gather? Remember that a truly genuine friend asks questions out of deep concern and love. A genuine friend will offer support and strength no matter what happens. This friend will carefully guard the information gathered and will respect the couple's wishes of who they want to know.
Couples experiencing infertility may be sensitive to announcements of pregnancy, overemphasis on children, or baby showers. Handle these topics with sensitivity. Invite women to baby showers, but do not be offended if they choose not to come. Make sure lessons in Sunday meetings are geared toward men and women across all life situations, taking into account those who are single or childless, those who have children, and those who are empty nesters. Additionally, provide activities that similarly apply to all. Be careful not to make children seem like a requirement.
Be careful about what you say. Infertile couples need less advice and more understanding. They will talk if they want to and if they see a caring friend. If you initiate the conversation, be sure you are motivated by compassion. As you discuss the topic of infertility with a couple, try not to act like the expert and as though you know what their specific problem is. Rather, allow the person experiencing the problem to do most of the talking. Ask questions to clarify and to gain a greater understanding so you can be better educated. Consider saying, "I just can't imagine what you are feeling. Describe it to me so that I can try to understand."
It can be harmful to bring up a story of how someone else got pregnant or how someone you know is experiencing infertility. Instead of offering help, you are taking the focus away from the couple. Provide a listening ear and gentle kindness.
One last thing: Be a good parent yourself. Recognize the truly magnificent gift you have - children. Treat your children well. Teach them. Cherish them.