When Your Family Just Doesn’t “Get” Infertility

Dawn Davenport


Infertility is often an invisible disease

Does your infertility make you feel invisible to your family and friends. Do you find that they continue to give you advice and suggestion even after you’ve explained your disease?

Some say that infertility is an invisible disease since you are not walking around looking sick. Often the only outward sign of infertility that your family and friends see is your lack of children. While it may be annoying if they make suggestions or comments when they don’t know of your diagnosis, what if they keep making suggestions and dropping hints even once you’ve explained and explained and explained what is happening?

How do y’all handle unsupportive/intrusive family? I can deal with strangers & I have some awesome close supportive friends but my family is what gets me down. Even though they’ve known since I was 25 that the only way we can have kids is adoption or egg donor, my mom says things like “Well Abraham’s wife had kids late in life.” The rest of the family says “What’s wrong with you that you haven’t had kids yet, you’ve been married too long.” (7yrs) It always throws me off, makes a good day bad & a bad day worse.

UGHH! You deserve the support of your family. My first thought is to wonder if you have you explained to your family your diagnosis? Because infertility is an invisible disease, without being very specific our family may not know what we are going through. It’s easy for us to make assumptions that people already know, or have heard from someone else, or that at the least they should know. Assumptions are useless.

I favor a very straightforward approach. Something like: “We have been diagnosed with a condition called premature ovarian failure. We don’t know the cause and there is no cure. We could possibly get pregnant with donor eggs or we could adopt. Both cost a lot of money, so we are saving our money like crazy because we desperately want to be parents. We would appreciate your prayers (or good thoughts) and emotional support. The main thing you can do to help us is understand how incredible hard this is for us.”

I realize this may be more than you are comfortable sharing, so adjust accordingly, but the bottom line message is that:

  1. It is a disease without a cure.
  2. This is where you are at in the process.
  3. And this is what they can do to help.

If you don’t want to mention donor eggs, you could say something a little different. “There is not a real cure, but there are some medical procedures that might allow me to get pregnant or we could adopt.”

You and your husband work out the message and just keep repeating and repeating until they either “get it” or stop asking.

Did you have family or close friends who seemed to refuse to understand your infertility? What worked to finally help them “get it”?


Image credit: hezur

05/03/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 19 Comments

19 Responses to When Your Family Just Doesn’t “Get” Infertility

  1. Avatar Geochick says:

    Our families are in the don’t get it camp especially since we’ve successfully adopted. In particular, I’ve had to come to terms that my mother is insensitive to my feelings about infertility. Like super insensitive to the point of making a big deal out of my cousins barely there baby bump in front if me. Sometimes, people can’t process the difficult emotions and we have to protect ourselves. It’s sad and it sucks, but ultimately they won’t or can’t chang no matter how you attempt to educate them.

    • Geochick, as they say: God grant me the wisdom to understand what I can change and what I can’t. In this case, you’re probably right that they aren’t going to change and there is not benefit from beating your head against the wall.

  2. Avatar AnonT says:

    Thank you Dawn. I am on several online groups so I do “talk” with people anonymously. I agree with you, I couldn’t carry this myself and my partner cannot be the only outlet (although he would be OK if he were). And this is why I appreciate your organization – you provide so much info, and talk about so many issues around building a family. I truly appreciate what you all do for us.

  3. Avatar AnonT says:

    This is exactly why I haven’t told a soul about our going through IVF. I know my family and friends will be supportive of me, but at the moment, I cannot handle any kind of comment. Even the very supportive ones will rub me the wrong way coming from someone who has not gone through this. I know this is a flaw in my personality, but it works better for me not to discuss this part of our journey with anyone.

    • AnonT- whether it is a flaw or not is up for debate, but I’m glad you realize this about yourself. Some people don’t and they are constantly being hurt and hurting others. I think you’re taking the best and safest path for you, but I strongly encourage you to join a support group (online or in person) and maybe see a counselor who understands infertility. The burden of infertility is too heavy to carry by yourself.

  4. Avatar Fertility Impaired Mom of 7 says:

    All of you, please know that you have the support and prayers of the many moms out there who have been where you are in the past 30 plus years…or whenever the dawn of IVF was. It’s been a LONG difficult journey, which, as recently as a year ago has forced us to make major changes in our lives, due to the corruption of the state of IN foster care system. That being said, you learn from your experiences, pleasant and unpleasant, and become a stronger person in your faith and resolve after enduring these challenges. Many years and various procedures, including making the justice system work for us, in defiance of DCS, has brought us our 7 little miracles. We celebrate each day with our children, birth/IVF/frozen embryo; foster/adopt; private adoption; and re-adoption. They are all OURS and no one could love them more than we do. Keep up the hard work, quit when your head and heart tell you to quit. But, in the middle or your life course, do all it takes and muster all the support that you can in order to become parents, if that is truly your calling. If not, there are other ways to parent through church youth mentorships, community programs, school programs, helping friends and family, etc. You are the only ones who can decide what is best for you, your marriage, and your immediate family. Let no one else unduly influence you or make your decisions for you.

  5. A tough thing for others to understand, especially when there is absolutely NOBODY around you experiencing it–including my five sisters who all conceived and gave birth and every single aunt, cousin, niece and friend blessed with bio babies. I found others were quite uncomfortable with discussing it. One friend even forbade me to bring it up. Women at my church kind of shunned me, either because they felt it would hurt me to be part of their pregnancies or around their babies, or because they judged me and my “faith” in becoming pregnant. Or, maybe I was “sinful” and that was why God wasn’t allowing me to conceive. I even felt responsible and guilty because while I had been experiencing horrible pain each month in college before my periods, I put off seeing a gynecologist about it for a long time. The result was losing about half my ovaries. Then, I did not marry and start trying to conceive until late in my thirties. I did however, receive such a wide range of advice it made my head spin. And, after spending several thousand dollars in drugs to prepare my “poor responders” in the way of eggs for IVF, my doctor unexpectedly and swiftly aborted the process because I didn’t have the clinic’s “quota” of eggs. I’ve talked about that before. I really think the best place to find support and talk about it is with fertility groups and others going through it. You can’t expect family/friends to fully comprehend it. And you can’t go into too many details b/c you just leave yourself open to unsolicited advice and potential judgment.

    • Christine, wow–I’d like to say that I can’t believe how unsupportive your church, family, and friends were, but actually I can believe it. I question your calling the women who forbade you to talk about infertility as “a friend”. She certainly isn’t acting like one. But I do agree with you that you’re more likely to find people who understand your struggles in support groups–online or in person.

  6. Avatar Melissa says:

    Just wanted to respond to AnonAp. Your response is so authentic and, I think, appropriate. When family are still saying hurtful things after you have told them again and again, it is not ok. And being nice and opening up more may just get a person hurt more. You can’t make someone understand infertility by somehow coming up with the magical words. But you can tell them how hurtful their comments are and to stop them. I think sometimes all we can do is protect ourselves from being hurt more by people who have had every opportunity to get it and still don’t.

    • Avatar corey says:

      It really hurts when family just don’t get it. My husband and I have been Dx with multi factor infertility he has some issues and I have a case of hypothyroidism and pcos. After loosing about 70 pounds I got unexpectedly pregnant. Unfortunately the pregnancy did not go beyond 5 weeks and my body aborted the process. (heck one thing my body did right and man that was messy). My family says why not give up obviously you are not meant to have children. We looked into adoption but my family was not supportive of the idea at all and they where honest in saying that an adopted baby/child was never going to truly be ours. So we did not adopt because I did not want to put a child/toddler ect. thru that type of abuse.

      Then my sister who is beyond morbidly obese anouses that she is pregnant and she is not even married!. And I’m told I have to accept this bastard child I don’t even think so. I’m hurt and agry that I did all this hard work and my duscusting sister gets knocked up and it’s all ok? why do I have to accept this? Why can’t they just leave it alone? and let my husband and I grieve in pease?

      • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

        Corey, I’m sorry you are hurting so. Have you considered going to a counselor to help you cope with this overwhelming grief? Not being able to achieve what you want most in this world is often debilitating.

  7. Avatar Jody says:

    Silvia, have you screamed at the devil while hopped up on Robitussin and progesterone. I have! Ha! I have secondary infertility – likely caused by a birth defect I had when I was born, which was likely caused by a clotting disorder my mother had and I (yay) inherited called MTHFR. Anyway, I’m glad you are reaching out for support. Dawn’s site is awesome and I know I speak for the infertile/adoption community when I say we women must support and understand each other as much as possible.

  8. Hi,
    I have just recently started blogging about this . My husband and I have been dealing with so much of this. We are on month 55 TTC. I finally got an appointment with a fertility specialist but we have to pay for the actual IVF treatment. I was wondering if you could give me any tips on how to share our page with more people in order to get help from others for some of the costs?
    This journey is so filled with ups and downs for me. I cant help but be hopeful every single month and then burst into tears when that dreaded day arrives like clockwork every month.
    I hate the comments of oh it must be so nice that you dont have kids so moving is easier. (We are a military family) I sometimes want to scream no its not nice! I want children but we cant seem to have any! I suppose others just do not understand unless they have been there.
    I have done lots of crazy things like take mucinex, odd herbs that supposedly help and more.I have had tons of testing done and many that were uncomfortable all to end in undiagnosed infertility. It is a horrid journey and one I do not wish upon anyone!

  9. Avatar AnonAP says:

    At the risk of alienating people, I honestly think I would have lost my shi…um…cool with my mom had she said that to me and then invited her to share the news of my clarifying language with the rest of the family. It might have gone something like:

    “Really? Really, mom? No, we are not going there again. Here’s the deal: I cannot get pregnant without medical intervention. No, wait, let me be absolutely clear: I cannot get pregnant without medical intervention. I am, by all medical definitions, infertile. In order for me to get pregnant, just like Sarah, it would take a miracle, either of the man-made-medical type or the religious type. Since neither you nor I can tell Him what to do, we are deciding whether to follow the medical path or to pursue adoption. ‘Kay? Now then, every time you imply that somehow I will magically get pregnant, you are dismissing my pain and also implying that we are missing something. Can I just tell you how many people have poked and prodded me and hubby with medical devices of various types and purposes? How many times we have cried over numbers on a damn page, stared at web forums until our eyelids burned looking for the path forward, and been sick to our stomachs before going to one more frickin’ meeting with one more frickin’ doctor to hear the same message: ‘It ain’t happening’? Stop. You need to stop and listen to what I am saying to you: I am infertile. You have an infertile daughter. It hurts like hell, and every time you are dismissive or pretend that this isn’t real, you are causing me pain. I worry that you won’t love our child as much because you seem to not acknowledge the reality of the situation. That makes it harder for us to move forward too. Please stop. Please start saying, ‘I’m so sorry you are going through this.’ Say, ‘I wish I could take the pain away.’ Say, ‘I can’t understand how this hurts for you, but I do understand that it does. It hurts for me too because your pain is so great.’ Say, ‘We are a family, and I am here to listen.’ Say, ‘Whatever path forward you choose, we are here for you.’ Say, ‘I say these things because it’s hard for me to hear that you are facing this situation. I’m also upset that our grandchildren may come into the family differently than I imagined, but in the end, we just want you to be happy, and we support you.’ Say, ‘I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m listening, and I support you and love you.’ ”

    Or, you know, something like that…

  10. Avatar Jody says:

    YES, Dawn, I do. I actually got some strange comments. I can still feel the sting from a few. I’m talking to a MOPS group next week and plan to specifically address how women can appropriately support friends and family members going through infertility on adoption.

    • Jody, I’m glad you’re speaking to groups to educate them. We need more education on these issues because most often people say hurtful comments out of ignorance, not meanness.

  11. Thanks Jody. Don’t you feel for this women and want to wring the mother’s neck???

  12. Avatar Jody D. says:

    Just commented and shared this to The Eye of Adoption page.

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