Are You Infertile? How to Talk About Infertility

People are nosy when it comes to fertility. When they practically ask, "Are you infertile?," it can be hard to know what to say.
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These tips will help you get through some through uncomfortable situations.

You've probably already experienced a version of the following: A friend posts on Facebook that she's pregnant and you burst into tears (and we're not talking tears of joy, here). Or a coworker asks you when you're planning on having children. Maybe your mother-in-law wonders aloud -- at the family dinner table -- why it's taking so long for her to become a grandparent. She hasn't point-blank asked, "Are you infertile?," but she may as well at this point!

Whether you're open with people about your struggle with infertility or have chosen to keep quiet about it, uncomfortable situations can and will pop up. In many cases, it's simply because people don't understand how difficult infertility is; in other cases, they're simply clueless about the possibility that you might be struggling. Whatever the case, here are some helpful strategies for dealing with sticky situations from Mindy R. Schiffman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City who often works with infertile couples:

Talk with your partner about what you will say to people so you're on the same page. If one of you discusses it openly and the other isn't OK with that, it adds stress to an already stressful situation. Decide whether you'll be open about the cause of the infertility. Perhaps your husband doesn't want everyone to know that his sperm count that's the issue, or you don't want people to know you have an ovulation disorder -- in that case, you can agree to say that you're tackling it as a couple and spin it as "our problem."

Feel entitled to keep silent. No one expects you to share details of your sex life, so why should you have to share details of your struggle to have children (which, frankly, includes your sex life)? You don't owe anyone an explanation. If someone asks, you can deflect the question by saying, "We don't know, and we'd rather not talk about it." Do what feels right to you, not what you think others want to hear.

Keep it vague. There's no need to go into vast amounts of detail. Sometimes all that's needed is a simple statement: "When we have news to report, we'll share it." Most people won't press for details. If they do, then you can let them know it's a private matter.

Consider enlisting the confidence of one or two trusted family members. The benefit of this is that they can help steer conversations away from sensitive topics on your behalf. It also makes you feel supported and like someone's on your side. Again, you don't have to go into detail if you don't want to. You can simply say, "We're experiencing some ups and downs trying to get pregnant, and it's been hard. We'd love to have your support."

Look at it as a teaching moment. If you're comfortable opening up, know that you're doing your part to educate people on a topic that they may not know anything about. Most people are sympathetic when they hear how difficult it is to be in your shoes. They may even have a friend or family member who is childless (and not by choice) and may appreciate hearing from you what infertility is like. Don't feel like you have to be an Infertility ambassador, but the more people who become sensitive to it, the less chance people will presume that everyone can have kids whenever they choose. You may even discover that other friends are going through the same thing.

Protect yourself. If you get invited to a baby shower and you don't think you can handle it, don't go. You're not being rude or selfish -- you're looking out for your own emotional well-being at a time when you really need to be good to yourself. If you feel close enough to the person who is pregnant, you might even say something like, "I'm so happy for you, but we're going through a tough time and I know I won't be able to give you my best self right now."

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