This is a piece written for us by a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter.
I am infertile. I have secondary infertility, which means I cannot have another child. We’ve been trying for 4 years for a second child and only ‘managed’ 3 miscarriages. Early ones. My body rejected the 3 out of 44 attempts that stood a fighting chance. We are doing our first round of IVF, and to be able to do so I donated half of my eggs that were collected as we can’t afford to self fund. That is us, our life, and you don’t know this about me and so unfortunately you’ve asked me innocent questions that have really hurt me.
Let me explain.
I’ve lost track of the number of times well meaning people like you have asked me, ‘when will you have another child?’; ‘don’t you want to have any more children?’ Or when people have given me their opinion on my parental status, ‘isn’t it time you were having another?’; ‘don’t you think your son would love a brother or sister?’; ‘you’re going to end up with a very big age gap if you leave it much longer’. Every single time one of your voices, your thoughts or opinions on the fact I am not pregnant with my second child is aired, they are twisting a knife in my chest.
In answer to those intrusive question and comments, I don’t know when I can have another child, perhaps never. I do want a baby with every fibre of my being. It breaks my heart on a daily basis that my body will not perform the supposedly most natural of things, I feel a failure. I agree, I think I should have had another by now, but your question just reminded me of our 3 miscarriages. Yes, my son would love a brother or sister but it’s hard enough for me to hear him asking about that let alone have you pour salt on that wound. Every single month we fail to get pregnant, I am reminded of the ever-increasing age gap and your comment has reinforced my insecurities over this.
I often smile and nod and laugh away whilst I fight back the tears. I go home and cry and relay the conversation to my husband. I remind myself that you don’t mean to hurt me with your questions and comments. That you’d probably be mortified if you knew how your innocent questions make me feel. You don’t realise what you’re saying and the impact your words are having on my self-confidence. My happiness. My sense of worth as a woman.
Perhaps I should tell you, open the flood gates and spill out all the pain, guilt, hurt and difficulties we’ve gone through, tell you that we are infertile and cannot naturally have a child. That’s a big ask though, it so deeply personal. Sometimes I might open up, if I’m close to you. Some of you though, I don’t want to reveal all of this to you as I might not know you that well or just don’t feel I can talk to you about this yet. That is absolutely my right as it is my life and my fertility in debate. By asking those questions of me, you are choosing to bring my fertility into discussion and I don’t think that is right.
I’m being unfair though, I expect some of you are not just being glib with what you’re saying. Perhaps you might want to talk to me as you’ve begun to wonder if there are some fertility issues? Maybe you’ve put some of the pieces together and worked it out? Perhaps you think if you ask these types of questions, it might open up the discussion? In all honesty, it probably won’t. Most infertile women I know bristle at these intrusions and struggle to keep it together. You’re more likely to make me close up further as I think you might be insensitive to my reality. If you want to open up the discussion, then try being honest by explaining you were concerned and had wondered if everything was ok. Failing that, chat about someone else (they don’t have to be real!) who is in a similar circumstance, and maybe if I feel up to it, I might bite the cherry and tell you about me. If I do though, there are a whole load of other things you should be aware of saying or not saying, but that is another blog post altogether!
10 years ago, I would have made these same well-meaning mistakes, I took fertility for granted the way you do when you’re young or if you have had no issues with it. Now though, having been on our journey, I never ask people without a child when they are planning to have children. If they have one or two children or a whole football team of kids, I still never ask them if they are going to have any more. The simple reason for this is that I worry they might not be able to have a child, and that my innocent question is breaking their fragile heart.
Infertility affects 1 in 6 couples and there are people in your life in that situation. Next time you wonder about a friend who doesn’t have children; the friend who, several years ago, alluded to the fact she wanted more than she currently has; perhaps the couple who’ve been together years but still don’t have kids or the ones who’ve been married a short while and you expected to be pregnant by now—please, don’t ask them anything about their fertility. It’s theirs, not yours, and you might be saving them from a lot of pain by not asking. They’ll tell you what you need to know, if and when they are ready and if they want you to know—infertile or not.