Thursday, July 24, 2014

Well Meaning People and the Cruel Things They Say About Infertility, Loss and Adoption

I had planned to write about something else today, but then yesterday I got a message from one of my oldest friends. This friend, half of a couple that has struggled for years in the pursuit of having children. This friend, one who has been riding the emotional roller coaster for so long that they don't even remember what it is really like to be standing off to the side anymore.

This friend has, in that time, rejoiced with positive pregnancy test after test, only to have the pregnancies meet the same fate a few weeks down the road. They've lost six babies.


Yesterday, a Facebook post prompted by heartache, asking for others to be considerate with their words. Asking, more specifically, for those who console themselves with the situations of others in that place by saying the following words not to do it anymore:

At least you can always adopt.

This request for consideration of those in that place quickly spiraled out of control. Some comments screamed that the writer clearly was concerned only with their own feelings or experiences. They not only missed the point, but they threw it back in my friend's face. But they mean well. But I mean well. But it worked for someone else. But but but but but but....

Basically I'm sorry but I'm not sorry.

As though "I tried" to do the right thing is ever sufficient to soothe the suffering of the person you've hurt with your words. 

You have to wonder at what point in our society people decided that their emotional response to the tragedies of another became more important than the suffering of the one actually living it.

This friend of mine, having been in this place for a while now, understands the realities of adoption more than most people ever could. Though there is this huge faction of people that labors under the assumption that it could ever be a possible alternative to every couple who chose it, reality tells us otherwise.

Adoption is expensive. Very expensive. For many people, prohibitively so. It just isn't an option for everyone.  

Adoption is complicated. There are an abundance of issues that people who've never had to consider it don't even realize exist. Issues that are different in every single situation. Issues that those on the outside aren't privy to.

Adoption is fickle. For as many couples that I know who have successfully maneuvered the process, there are more who have had something break down along the way. Last minute changes of plans. Heartbreak that no one could see coming. 

It isn't this simple solution that so many people think it is. To pretend that it ever could be, rubbing salt on a raw, open wound.

That wasn't enough, though.

There were the God's plan comments. Because there are always the God's plan comments. Because there are, apparently, really people in this world that believe that God has a hand in every single tragedy that befalls us, that he puts us through loss after loss after loss because we deserve to be tested in this way or that. That he has something special in mind for us all, and that some people are chosen to suffer more.

I don't buy it. 

I don't think God points around and says eenie meanie minie mo then selects which couples will be forced to endure infertility.

I don't think God decides that some babies should to die in the womb because their parents need to learn some lesson that can't be taught otherwise.

I don't think God gives kids cancer intentionally.

I don't.

If ideas like this comfort people, if they find solace in the notion that every single thing that ever happens is at the behest of the great puppetmaster, fine. Honestly. Whatever brings people peace is totally fine with me. If the concept of "God's plan" works for you, great.

What isn't okay is to take your beliefs and put them on someone else in a situation that you could never possibly understand.

Your words might bring you some comfort, but you're essentially telling them that God chose them to suffer. God chose them to endure. God chose their children to die. Whatever. Think about that before you say those words, and ask yourself if you truly believe you are saying these things to help the person being spoken to or if you are just trying to soothe your own soul.

I won't even go into some of the other comments that were left on that status because they are so abhorrent. My jaw hit the floor. They don't need to be revisited.

Suffice to say that if there is a time when a friend entrusts you in any way with the raw emotion of suffering and loss, with pain and grief, do not use it as an occasion to crack an inappropriate joke. You'll just look like an asshole, and you'll look like one even if you are ordinarily a kind and generous person, because in that moment, you were an asshole. 

Instead, if you have a friend who is in this place, a friend experiencing infertility, a friend who has endured pregnancy losses...try these approaches instead.

- Say I'm so sorry. Then stop talking. Let them talk.

- Comfort them in whatever way they need. This isn't about you. Offer to listen, to be the shoulder to cry on, to be the soft place to land, to be the place that they unload all their anger and frustration at their situation...because they keep it bottled up inside far more than you know.

- Understand that chances are pretty high that they've been struggling with their situation a while before they even told you. 

- Don't placate them with lofty ideas. 

- Don't tell them to relax.

- Don't tell them that everything works out for the best. They know it doesn't.

- Don't tell them about that one person you know that had a miracle baby. Lots of people don't get that chance. Ever.

- Don't try to equate their situation with something completely different.

- Don't minimize their losses. Don't believe for one second that "at least you lost the baby early" is a consolation. It isn't.

- Don't assume they'll get pregnant or be able to adopt later on. They may not be able. Adoption may not even be on the table.

- Don't start sending them articles online or tagging them on Facebook with fads or trends or posts about how eating this or taking that supplement will increase fertility. They will pursue the information they need with their doctors and don't need someone telling them that eating kale will make them more fertile.

- Ask them how you can help, if you can help in any way. There may be nothing tangible that you can do, but let them know that you are there to support them.

- If you can't do these things, just be quiet. Seriously. Don't comment, don't make light of their situation, don't try to make them feel better. Just don't.

And for the love, if someone asks for consideration, give it or keep your opinions to yourself. 

My dear friend, I am so sorry that you are surrounded by people so patently incapable of being the support you need. Wishing for peace and strength as you weather these challenges and deal with the well meaning but cruel people of this world. xo


  1. Yes. And thank you. I'm so very sorry for all that your friend has gone through, both with their personal struggles and for the lack of compassion they've received.

  2. Once again you have nailed it. Thank your for another amazing read. I am sorry for your friend & what she has been/is going through.

  3. Six babies. I can't even begin to imagine that kind of loss, nor the kind of courage it takes to keep trying. I'm glad she has good friends like you to support and love her through it.

  4. Just this morning a dear friend of mine lost her baby who was born yesterday just shy of 24 weeks. She and her husband have been trying for more than seven years. There is nothing I can do or say that makes this any better.

  5. RSA Shorts - The Power of Empathy:

  6. This was beautiful and absolutely true. Thank you for this. I think sometimes most people don't know what to say and often say the absolute wrong thing, intentions aside. Whenever possible, I say nothing and just hug them and let them take the lead. As you said perfectly, I try to be their "soft place to land".
    My heart is with you, your friend, and everyone affected by this tragic loss. Much love and light.....xoxo


Some of My Most Popular Posts