Infertility: People Say the Dumbest Things

Sandra Glahn's picture

Yesterday I received an email from a former seminary student of mine who told me his 29-year-old wife considers the past twelve months her hardest yet. Why?

 Because they’re going through the martial, emotional, spiritual, medical, ethical crisis of infertility. Complicating the pain for many couples, this one included, is the dumb things people say. For some reason the subject of infertility, more than many other medical conditions, is surrounded by myths. So let’s lay a few to rest.

 Myth: Infertility and sterility are the same thing.  Infertility is not sterility. Infertility is the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected relations and/or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term (600,000 women miscarry in the U.S. each year). Secondary infertility is the diagnosis when couples who have had one child (or more) are unable to conceive or carry to term again.

Myth: Infertility is caused primarily by stress. The most common causes of infertility in the female are ovulation or hormonal problems, endometriosis, anti-sperm or anti-embryo antibodies, blockage that prevents eggs and sperm from meeting, and structural or functional problems with the uterus or cervix. In men infertility is caused by poor sperm penetration or maturation, hormonal problems, and blockages of the male reproductive tract.

Myth: Infertility is becoming more rare. The number of couples diagnosed with fertility problems is actually on the rise. Delayed childbearing and sexually transmitted disease are partially responsible. Environmental factors probably also play a role. 

Myth: Infertility is “a woman’s problem.” The diagnosis of infertility is shared equally between men and women. About 30 percent of infertility problems are due to female factors, 30 are due to male factors, and 35 percent are a combination of both. The other five percent are unexplained.

Myth: Infertile couples just need to relax and they’ll conceive. Infertility is not caused by stress—but it causes a lot of stress for many couples. Ninety-five percent of the time infertility is due to diagnosable medical factors. More than sixty percent of couples who seek medical treatment will eventually have a biological child. The percentage is much lower for couples who do not pursue assistance.

Myth: If you adopt, you’ll get pregnant. Adoption is not a placebo cure for infertility. The chances of an infertile couple conceiving are unaffected by adoption.

Myth: Couples going through infertility are at least “having fun” trying. Hardly. Fifty-six percent of couples experiencing infertility report a decrease in the frequency of their intimate relationship. Both women (59%) and men (42%) report a decrease in their level of satisfaction, and infertile couples overall report having five times the sexual difficulties of fertile couples. 

 Often the worst day of the year for an involuntarily childless woman is Mother’s Day, when going to a house of worship is going to the house of mourning. Seeing all the corsages is difficult enough, but then the mothers, young and old, are asked to stand. About the only females left sitting are children and those who wish they could have them. Surely we can find better ways to acknowledge the mothers among us and their important contributions. We have four months to plan ahead, so let’s get it right this year. By including in the bulletin, pastoral prayer and/or the sermon those for whom such days are painful, we have opportunity to minister grace to the one in six couples of childbearing age in our midst for whom the dreaded “M-day” is a time not of joy but of grief. 

Following my first miscarriage, a message in the church bulletin said, “The altar flowers today are given with love and acknowledgement of all the babies of this church who were conceived on earth but born in heaven and for all who have experienced this loss.” The couple who dedicated them had six children, and theirs was the only large family I could be around for any length of time. Through their validation of our pain we caught a glimpse of the One who’s acquainted with grief. And as they crossed the aisle and stood by us during the music, with tears streaming down our faces we found new strength to bring our sacrifice of praise. 

Comments

Gwynne Johnson's picture

Only one who has suffered this pain could affirm such a solution to a common insensitivity! I'm forwarding this to every pastor friend or worship leader that I know!

Sandra Glahn's picture

Appreciate your kind words and for forwarding links. I know most people mean well...

Having struggled with infertility and pregnancy loss for more than a decade, I've heard every single of those phrases and more. (The worst being, "Well, at least you lost it before it became a real baby." Are you serious? Who says stuff like this!? Trust me, they're out there!)

I was and continue to be thankful for those that simply acknowledged the losses. Sometimes the notes said nothing more than, "I have no idea what to say. But know I love you and am praying over your child and your healing." Truly, those words did so much to help start a healing process.

one of my favorite spoof cartoons if of that scene in Sixth Sense when the little kid says to Bruce, "I see dead people...they're everywhere...they don't even know they're dead." the cartoon has a still shot of that scene and it says, "I see dumb people...they're everywhere. They walk around like everyone else. They don't even know they're dumb."

so true.

the best m.o., I hope (?), is simply to acknowledge the grief and exude love. I say this not as one who is experiencing the heart-wrenching difficulty of infertility, but as one who has willingly chosen to remain childless (is there a better term for this choice?) with the agreement of my spouse. I can't count the number of times someone has said something to the effect of, "Just keep trying" or "Oh, you'll have kids soon." as if we ARE trying, or broken, or altogether unacceptably abnormal for our choice. evangelicals can be so odd. rarely do they even ask if our childlessness is a conscious choice.

Sandi,

I appreciate your candor, solutions, and care for folks who are suffering in silence.

Keep sheherding.

Keep shedding light.

I know this issue effects more people than are willing to talk about it; probably because the issue is so intimate, so private, and so painful.

agreed on all points.

maybe Sandi should get a segment on Myth Busters.

Although our struggles with the issue of infertility are decades behind us, I can still remember a couple of the ridiculous things that were said to me, at the time. My MIL insisted, "Nowadays, anyone who wants a baby can get pregnant. It's true, I've read it." And, the response of a "counselor" of the group Resolve, who in our initial phone conversation said, "Well just adopt. That's what our members end up doing."

The level of insensitivity has, I'm sure, grown in the intervening years. My heart goes out to couples dealing with this most personal of issues.

1. Well, you're not a very healthy person. - A very good friend said this to me.

2. At least you're not dying. I wouldn't be able to handle that. - My father said this to me.

3. Maybe you weren't meant to have children. - Lots of dumb people said this to me.

4. My kids are driving me crazy. You can have THEM! - My best friend said this to me.

5. Must be nice to be a DINK (Dual income, no kids). - My very close coworker said this to me.

I can relate because I have had these same comments made to me.  One additional one is "You can always adopt".  Always?  Really?  Is it completely free?  I don't think so!  My problem is that my husband and I have become accustomed to our freedom but I still have a subconscious thought that I would like to be a mother.  For completely personal reasons, we are unable to conceive so adoption would be our only option but finances prevent us from even considering this. We are both under 50 so if we are going to consider adoption, we will have to make up our minds soon.  Although I am sorry you have had rude and insensitive comments made to you, it is a relief to hear that I am not the only person who is on the receiving end of these.

My husband and I have been struggling also w. infertility. An OBGYN told us the same thing about adopting. Just adopt and then you will get pregnant. The best is hearing someone tell you " if my husband just looks at me I get pregnant", not something you want to hear when you are dealing w. infertility. Going thru this I have realized people don't have a clue what you are dealing w/ emotionally and physically until they have personally walked in the shoes of infertility.. It's heart wrenching and emotionally draining. Kinda like you have your hands tied behind your back. Thanks for the great article.

It’s sad how people you love can hurt you with their well intentioned words. Love your point of view, it helped me a lot! Thank you.

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