Last winter I had a telephone interview with Rachael Jackson, president of Shattered Media. She compiled a lot of what we discussed into an article for Shattered Magazine, hoping those who have friends and family suffering with infertility will learn what words are comforting and what words are hurtful, especially on Mother’s Day.
Survival Tip 5: “7 Things Not to Say to Couples Dealing With Infertility”
Amanda Hope Haley, author of Barren Among the Fruitful: Navigating Infertility with Hope, Wisdom, and Patience, and her husband struggled for infertility in silence for almost seven years. Seven Mother’s Days went by in silent pain. Month after month of trying, five miscarriages, and who knows how many negative pregnancy tests had ended with no children. Believing it was one thing God had created her to do, she turned inward—tracking her temperature, food, exercise, ovulation, everything. Amanda geared her entire life toward one major task: getting pregnant.
“Why am I not good enough?” Amanda wondered, all while struggling with shame and depression. For years, Amanda Hope Haley went to Mother’s Day services, baby showers, and baby dedications for all of her friends in her life group—seven of them to be exact—putting up the smile and her white picket fence. Amanda carried the burden alone until one day she could carry it no longer.
One Sunday morning, they were at the end of their rope and almost done trying to have children. Innocently, a guy at church asked her, “How’s it going?” and Amanda literally collapsed onto the floor and dissolved into a bucket of tears. The women came and picked her up to comfort her and hold her, and in the midst of their care, she blurted out loud that she had been in therapy, struggling with infertility and was incredibly messed up inside by depression. Their response to her “confession?” Well, what do you know, they had been going to therapy too. The women found common ground and support from each other as they shared their stories.
And it was that moment—when she fell apart and heard the stories of the women helping her—that she learned the Christian life is about relationships. Real, open, and authentic relationships where truth can be shared unashamedly because of the common bond in Christ, who has offered us all hope.
But sometimes, we just don’t know what to do in relationships with people who are struggling. And sometimes, when we don’t know what to say or do, we just turn away. And sometimes, we even say things that are incredibly hurtful and insensitive, even when spoken earnestly and in love.
So to help you this Mother’s Day, here is Amanda Hope Haley’s list of seven things to NOT say to couples enduring infertility:
1. “Sarah was 90 when she had children.”
Really? Does this need to be explained?
2. “Oh yeah, that happened to my sister.”
You might be trying to identify with your friend, but it minimizes the problem, and leaves her wondering why she is so hurt by it if everyone gets through it.
3. “Do you think maybe you’re not doing it right?”
Come on. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.
4. “Well at least you know you can get pregnant.”
This was actually spoken to Amanda after one of her miscarriages and is not something a grieving woman wants or needs to hear after losing a child.
5. “Just give it time, you’re young and it will be fine.”
That was the comment at age 25. Everyone at the clinic said “it’s fine…” But at 30, everything changed and Amanda became “old.” The tone changed to “you waited too long.” She struggled with the guilt of deciding to get her education because she was young and had time, but then Amanda felt like she had done something wrong and it was somehow her fault for pursuing her degrees.
6. “You can always adopt.”
Her husband told her once that she was thinking about adoption like it was a consolation prize. But the fact was that she wasn’t wanting to adopt because she had a heart for it, she would have been adopting so that she could get to the goal of having a child. That’s not the heart for adoption; adoption is a calling. As a result of Amanda not feeling the call to adopt, people would act like it’s the most horrible thing in the world to not want to adopt but to desire biological children. Amanda knows God is blessing children through them in other ways they couldn’t if they had their own kids, and she is thankful for those opportunities. But they feel judged when people are astonished that they don’t choose to adopt one of the million kids in the world.
7. “Just pray harder.” “You’re such a good person.” “God will give you the desires of your heart.” “Just have faith and believe.”
A lot of people throw faith out as the solution. But she felt like she had a broken body when she couldn’t even do the one thing God had created women to do. With a broken spirit, too, she questioned God: “Why am I not good enough?” It wasn’t helpful to just tell her to have more faith, when it was God she was struggling with. There are unintended consequences to slapping a Bible verse on a problem and calling it done.
Instead of thinking that you have to have the answer, maybe just admit that you have no answers. Amanda Hope Haley suggests you ask people how they’re doing. It’s that simple. Don’t feel like you have to be so quick to defend God or cheer them up. Simply spend time with them, allowing them to be sad, and walking with them. There’s no pat answer to infertility on Mother’s Day. You just have to be on the journey with them.
The presence of Amanda’s friends who loved her and opened up to her allowed her to see God more clearly. Amanda shared with me the hope she finally sees in her infertility:
“God used that time to teach me a whole lot and the main thing is that it is not all about me. He taught me that it is about Him and His will. The biggest revelation I had during that period about His will (is that) God has one will and that is reconciliation of humanity to Himself. He has paths and plans for us, but everything He has planned for us in our lives is about His one will. I had to change my prayers from please give me a baby to please just let me be in your will. I know that I will only be happy when I am in your will.”
Before church on Sunday, post this on your social media. Maybe you’ll avoid some awkward conversations by letting Rachael and me do the complaining for you. 😉
So how do you respond to the comments that are meant to be helpful but hurt you instead? Comment below with your stories or tips, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace! I’ll contact the winner tomorrow. Good luck!