I’ve blogged a lot about the stupid and/or rude things people say to those suffering from infertility or those who have adopted. We’ve all heard them:
- Relax, you’re trying to hard. Take a vacation and you’re sure to get pregnant.
- How much did he cost?
- Just adopt. My cousin’s best friend’s sister adopted and “boom” she was pregnant in a month.
- I wouldn’t adopt, if I were you. I’ve heard that all adopted kids are major messed up when they get older.
Comments like these bring out the worst in most of us, including me. On a good day we might sigh inwardly and say something to educate our clueless “friend”. On a bad day— all bets are off. If they are lucky, we issue a biting response intended to put them in their place and shut them up. If they aren’t so lucky, we might just tell them exactly what we think of them and write them out of our life.
Many friendships have been lost over comments such as these.
Our responses are understandable. We are in pain or we are feeling protective of our beautiful child. I get it. But before we get our knickers too tightly in a knot, I think we should do a little navel-gazing. Might we also be guilty of ignorance and stupid comments in other areas of our lives? Are we being just the tiniest bit hypocritical when we get so upset when people say stupid hurtful things to us?
Midget vs. Dwarf vs. Little Person
A new mom joined my preschool playgroup. Her son had skeletal dysplasia (dwarfism). No one mentioned anything until another mom in the group asked a question about his condition and used the word “midget”. The mom of the son went ballistic. She gave a caustic response that questioned the intelligence of the questioner and told her the correct term was “little person”.
Now, I have to admit that I cringed a little when I heard the word “midget”, but the truth was that I didn’t really know the correct term to use either. I wasn’t sure if “dwarf” was also offensive and “little person” seemed too cutesy and artificial to my ignorant ear. The new mom left the group that day and never returned.
One of My Open Mouth, Insert Foot Moments
I too have been guilty of talking without knowing. A friend of mine has a 14-year-old son with Tourette syndrome. His symptoms including involuntary facial tics, shrugging, grunting, and occasionally barking. They are significantly worse when he is nervous. When he tried out for the school play, the drama teacher suggested that it might be better if he worked behind the scenes. My friend was incensed and immediately scheduled a meeting with the teacher, the principal, and the school counselor!
The truth was that I had thought the same thing. When my friend exploded about the teacher, I wondered out loud if maybe it would be embarrassing for her son if his symptoms appeared during the play. She was furious at my ignorance and at me. And she was right. I was ignorant.
After listening to my friend talk about not wanting her precious son’s life to be defined by his illness, I understood where she was coming from. I was also in awe of his bravery. I hadn’t walked in her shoes so didn’t really understand until she explained.
The key here is that I was ignorant, not intentionally mean. I am fortunate that she was willing to explain and not drop our friendship because of my ignorance.
Maybe, just maybe, we should extend this grace to those in our lives who say ignorant things about our infertility or adoption that hurt us. One of our community said it so well:
I have to wonder sometimes if I hadn’t gone through such heartache and longing for a child would I be guilty of some of the same terminology as those who don’t get it? Would I say stupid things out of curiosity? I very well might.
I think it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt, and use situations like this to educate or enlighten. I wouldn’t toss a friend away because she made a dumb comment because if I did, I would have barely a friend left who hadn’t adopted or suffered through infertility! I try to give people a lot of grace and practice a lot of forgiving.
Time to fess up–when have you been guilty of saying a hurtful thing out of ignorance?
You might enjoy a few of these blogs:
12 Stupid People Actually Say to the Infertile
10 Stupid Things People Actually Say About Adoption
Please Keep Your God Out of My Infertility
Snarky Answers to “When Are you Going to Have Kids?”
Ten ‘Real’ Answers to “When are you Going to Have Kids”
10 Stupid Things You Should Never Say to a Parent Though IVF
Add Your Comment
I love this post so much. You’re spot-on.
Also, now that my infertility saga is generally behind me, I have to say I look back and cringe a little thinking about how (over)sensitive I was about everything during that time. There were some days that I was hurting so much that it almost didn’t matter what someone said, I could still find a way to feel angry. Pain has a way of doing that to people. I think empathy and patience with others — and with yourself! — is key to gracefully navigating all angles of this issue.
Diane, thanks for your honesty. It is so hard to evaluate the distinction between a fair reaction and an over-reaction. And even harder to make this distinction when we are the one reacting.
I think impact matters more so than intention. our intentions do not matter. It’s also not the struggling person’s job to take time out of their busy, over-burdened life to educate any of us. Those of us with less privilege need to learn to do the work on our own and learn what it takes to be a person who is compassionate and can be an ally. Whether that privilege is from being able-bodied, Cis-gender, white, or male. Yes, at times we all might slip up and say something stupid or ignorant (when we weren’t trying to be mean), but at the end of the day, ,or intentions do not matter. The more we can honor that, the better allies we will become to those who are suffering in a way that’s worse off than us. It’s all about humility.
Nora, I’ll have to give that more thought, but my initial reaction is that intention does matter to me. I can understand someone unintentionally saying something that is hurtful. I have a hard time understanding and forgiving intentional meanness.
I’ve certainly been quite the idiot around birthparents in adoption. While I think that I always recognised the pain of giving up a child (first theoretically, much more vivid after the birth of my daughter), I’ve caught myself having other stereotypes (like: “lucky they did not abort” and stuff like that).
Kerstin, I’m so glad you used an example in the world of infertility and adoption. I think we have all been “guilty” of quick judgments and stereotyping others in this area.