It’s like clockwork. When a woman is in her 20s, she gets the question: "Do you have a boyfriend?" Once she has a boyfriend, it's: "When are you getting engaged?,” followed by, "When are you getting married?" and the much dreaded and infamous, “When will you have a baby?”
But one in eight couples in the United States have been shoved into a lonely, dark, desperate road of infertility. And if, like me, you are navigating that road, you probably would do anything to take the next exit and get what others seem to get so naturally: a happy, healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. To make matter even worse, people who are perplexed at your childless status will constantly remind you of your painful journey by asking you questions. But whether you are just now getting onto the infertility road or finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with a hopeful “plus sign,” don't let all these questions add to your struggle.
Here are 5 common questions people who deal with infertility get and how to answer.
1. When are you going to have kids? Know how comfortable you are sharing about your situation. I, for example, immediately got sick of this question and just put our infertility issues out there to stop the incessant questioning. If you don’t want to do that, which is absolutely ok, you can cut the conversation short by giving quick, noncommittal answers like “not yet.” You can also use humor and answer something like, "We'll see, but until it happens, we are having fun trying" or go the spiritual route and wink at fate: “It will happen when it happens; We know God has a plan.” Finally, you can claim that you don't want children -- although this is a difficult answer to commit to since, deep down, you know that you do want children. No matter what you say, practice and make sure you stand by your answer. Also, know that people asking about kids don't want to hurt you but probably just want to engage in a conversation.
2. Have you tried...(fill in the blank with whatever remedy they think will help)? You’ll hear about your friend’s hairdresser’s sister and her tilted uterus and how she had to have sex with her legs twisted in the air. I know, I know. You definitely don’t want to hear unsolicited advice, but that’s ok. Let it fly. Listen, breathe and know that the person talking to you is genuinely trying to connect with you and support you. He or she just has no idea how debilitatingly heartbreaking infertility is because they were blessed enough not to go through it. That is, until they experience it through you. So if you have the patience and are open to it, educate them and share your story with them.
3. Why don't you just adopt? There are so many unwanted kids out there. Yes, there are. Which is why my husband and I fostered and tried to adopt. Neither of us felt our children needed to be our own blood, so we gave adoption a try. But we had no idea how difficult the process was, even just at the state level. It took 5 months of training, inspections, filling out forms and home studies to get certified. Once we got placed, we learned there was no such thing as a "pre-adoptive resource" and eventually lost the two girls we had loved and cared for for five months -- a heart-wrenching news that left us hopeless for a while. Though there are happy adoption stories with happy endings, the foster care system is also full of disappointments and cost more than you can even imagine. So if someone ask you if you considered adoption, let them know it isn’t an easier route and how taxing it can be on the adoptive parents-- both financially and emotionally.
4. Is there something wrong with you or your partner? This is a bold, intrusive question that weirdly enough random acquaintances are not afraid to ask you. You can feel a lot of shame when your body doesn't work the way you want it to or the way you think it’s supposed to. And if and when you know that something is wrong, that shame can lead to guilt and depression. Sometimes it's easier to talk about your partner's issues than your own in these conversations. So if that's something you can do, go for it. Just make sure you and your partner are not the same page, never share more than what you’re comfortable with, and don’t hesitate to set boundaries.
5. How does your family feel about you not having children? Once you get to a certain age, your parents may start to wonder when you'll give them a grandchild. With our family, it started subtly, with lullabies on in the background at family dinners, and progressed to "I want a grandchild." We quickly decided to be upfront about our infertility obstacles so everyone understood that the delay was not for lack of trying. It also helped our entourage understand and even empathize with our mixed emotions when people were proudly parading their new additions to their families. Finally, being straightforward and the support we got in return made it even easier to share with people who wondered how our family took the fact that we didn't have children yet. If you are comfortable with the idea, share how your infertility affect you and your partner emotionally so that family and friends can become active part of your support system. But remind them that all you need at times is someone to listen -- not to give advice.
As someone who’s been on this road for four years, through surgery for a uterine fibroid tumor, failing to adopt two amazing little girls, three rounds of IVF and two miscarriages, I can tell you this: allow yourself to feel the spectrum of emotions you need to feel in order to keep going, and know that you are not alone in dealing with infertility or the prying questions that keep on coming as you don’t become pregnant. We infertility warriors are like a strong, too-often secret club, and maybe if we all opened up about our experiences, the road wouldn't feel so dark.
Chrissie Kahan is an assistant middle school principle and co-author of Navigating the Road of Infertility along with her husband Aaron Kahan. They both reside in Towson, Maryland. You can find the book on Amazon and more information here.