How many times when you’ve expressed sadness or frustration over your infertility struggles, have you heard “don’t worry, it will happen for you someday” or “I just know this is the month you’ll get pregnant”. Our friends and family are trying to be supportive, but does this infertility cheerleading help or hurt?
Positive Thinking Can Be So Darn Annoying
There is a fine line between being supportive and being dismissive. I know that most people who say they feel certain that you will eventually get pregnant mean to be supportive, but too much cheerleading can leave you feeling as if there is no room for grief or fear. All this positivity can leave you feeling very alone.
I suppose this is true for many diseases, but cheerleading seems to happen a lot in infertility. Maybe it’s because infertility, and especially the grief associated with infertility, is so little understood by those who have not experienced it. Or maybe I’m just exposed to this forced positive thinking in infertility more than in other diseases, like diabetes or cancer, since this is the world in which I live and work.
Uniqueness of Coping
Every human copes with grief and uncertainty differently. Some surround themselves with the positive, while others guard their heart from too much hope. Still others approach their diagnosis analytically gauging their level of hope or grief based on their statistical odds of success. All of these coping techniques are real, all are valid.
I loved what one of our Creating a Family Facebook Support Group had to say.
I have been through IVF [in vitro fertilization], DE IVF [donor egg IVF], and am now in the early stages of the adoption process. Once on a fertility board, in response to a post, a moderator asked others not to respond to me and others in similar situations by saying “it will happen for you someday” because the reality was that for some of us it would never happen. I found that comment to be surprisingly freeing. It acknowledged that all of the cheerleading in the world could not guarantee that my dreams would come though and, thereby, helped validate my grief.
We need to stress that infertility is a disease. I think the general public does not truly understand that. And, like other diseases, some people will beat it and some will need to learn to live with it. Staying positive may help people to keep striving towards a positive outcome, but it in no way guarantees success.
Those of us who have been dealing with treatments for awhile learn to be more realistic about the chances of it working and when we express our realistic expectations, we are often met with comments of, “You need to be more positive!’, and “I just KNOW it will work next time.” No one knows if it will work next time, and while we understand that our family members and friends have the best intentions, it’s hard to hear that when we are struggling with so many conflicting emotions ourselves.
We are hopeful it will work but also need to guard our hearts and be realistic about the statistical probability we are faced with given our specific circumstances. It’s all a balancing act and the bottom line is that each person dealing with this has a right to feel the emotions they are feeling at the time they are feeling them.
Do you find infertility cheerleading and expressions of hope for your eventual success with infertility treatment helpful or do they drive you crazy. What’s your coping technique for fertility treatments: stay positive, guard your heart, analytical, or other?Image credit: raleighdurham.about.com (You have no idea how hard it is to find a picture of a cheerleader that doesn’t look like it came out of Playboy Magazine! Boy, did I feel like a prude!)
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Its the job of a friend to try to lift you up when you are down, encourage you, and try to make you feel better. The difficulty is knowing when someone just needs someone to listen to their venting, fears, frustrations, sorrows and when someone needs you to say something to try to make them feel better or try to find a solution with them. Difficult even when the friend may have been there and definately difficult when the friend is in unfamiliar territory. Its maddening when people cheerlead when you know what you are facing is a lot more serious, when they inadvertantly share inappropriate or offensive statements, etc. But at same time there is comfort in knowing others care. We adopted and shared early in our decision which made it very hard at times like when in paperwork phase, approval phase, waiting for match phase, then government reorg after reorg, and especially difficult once matched, visited, told would come home soon, then they didn’t, had to give some shower gifts away as our kids aged out of them and we would get the “any news on when they are coming home?” but I am glad we did because our family and friends went through it with us and none of them would ever look at another family and think its easy. I’m sorry you are going through tough times and that you run into the occasional foot and mouth disease but am grateful also there are some cheerleaders for you even if they don’t always know what to say at times. I think the answer is sometimes there is nothing right to say. It just is. Collecting quotes that spoke to me helped me through the adoptive process. I realize this is fertility discussion but throwing it out there if it helps someone else with rough days. Forums for venting also helped. Sometimes it helps to find a corner with a friend just like you where you can say “I hate everyone” and they can say “I hate everyone too” and then you can make some bad jokes and laugh your frustrations of that day off without permanently upsetting someone else.
I really think one of the reasons that the worst cheerleading is done with others dealing with infertility is that they truly don’t want to deal with their own feelings about their own infertility. Or they truly believe the platitudes will work for them.
Then again I have heard to just keep trying from others who don’t quite get why when we have a child the need to expand our family is still so great.
“I remember people going on about how we’d get pregnant once we adopted as ‘it always happens’ and other dumb stuff that movies do but doesn’t really happen that often in real life. The statements often would cause frustration for my wife as often it would imply we just weren’t trying hard enough or something. So the ‘cheerleading’ is something I’d put under ‘crazy making’ for sure.”
Even as an adoptee, I hate that “how we’d get pregnant once we adopted as it always happens” statement – it is actually quite a hurtful comment for one’s adopted child to hear as well. It comes across a bit as if we adoptees were meant to help our APs overcome their infertility – something upsetting for both us and our APs who love us.
Sadly, in the past, they used to promote adoption as a means of curing one’s infertility. My issues are twofold 1) Occasionally, it did work but fairly obviously, many IF people have medical reasons for their infertility so it is insulting to them.
2) Even if it does work, how insulting is that to adoptees? It could make them feel that they are second best.
I do feel fortunate that my APs never made us feel that we were second best.
This is such a huge pet peeve of mine. And actually, I get it just as much or more from people with infertility as others. I can’t tell you how many people have told me I just have to be more positive, I just have to beleive it’ll happen. I think the quote above states it perfectly, it isn’t accurate to say that it will happen eventually, because for some of us it won’t. I think I need to be realistic about my chances, rather than chasing pointless optimism. I do think that the longer you’ve been going through infertility, or the more losses you have had, the more realistic you need to be. It’s frustrating to me when people who have had only one or two miscarriages (I’ve had 6) try to tell me that I’m being too negative. Let’s see how you feel when you get here (of course I hope they don’t get here, but you know what I mean).
Recurrently Lost, someone else said they heard the oppressive cheerleading more from fellow infertility sufferers than the blessedly fertile. This so surprises me. I guess I was hoping fellow strugglers would be more sensitive. I’m sorry you’ve had such an hard road to follow and have had so many losses. I can only imagine your pain!
Some of the worst cheerleading I received was by friends who had gone through infertility themselves. Eventually I reminded them that it isn’t a matter of “relaxing” because if that was the case I would’ve been pregnant in the first couple months.
Jill, I can’t believe someone who had gone through infertility would suggest “relaxing”?!? Had they forgotten their own struggles. Surely they tried relaxing and it didn’t work.
Oh, another variation that bugs me: “I’m sure it will happen if it’s meant to be.” Bleah.
Anon AP–Oh, that’s the worst!! If it doesn’t happen it simply wasn’t meant to be?!? Ughh. Not even sure why that one bothers me so much.
-Here is the author’s name:Letty Cottin Pogrebin . And the title is How to be A Friend to A Friend Who Is Sick
Mary, thanks so much for suggesting this!! Can’t wait to read it.
A good book to recommend to folks who have a tendency to be “cheerleaders” that are not helpful is a book called How to be A Friend to Someone Who is Sick. I cannot remember the author’s name but she is from NYC. It mostly talks about how to properly respond to people who suffer from sicknesses like cancer etc, but there are a lot of things in the book that can be applied to those of us who suffer from IF
It’s too bad that people seem to be awkward and not know what to say about us being sad. So they try to cheer you up. Then you feel obligated to act cheered up. It is all well intended, but I remember I started to only call my friends who would allow me to be sad. They didn’t need to say much, just be supportive and listen and be okay with the fact I was sad.
Jen, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head–excessive cheerleading has to do with our family and friend’s discomfort with our sadness. Or their desire to fix our sadness.
John it’s funny you say that. Today I was in a maternity store and the lady asked if this was my first and I mentioned that I had a son but this was first pregnancy. She went on and on about how that always happens when you adopt…I chose to remain quiet rather than explain that we didn’t just “get pregnant”, I was pregnant after four IVFs and three miscarriages…
I remember people going on about how we’d get pregnant once we adopted as ‘it always happens’ and other dumb stuff that movies do but doesn’t really happen that often in real life. The statements often would cause frustration for my wife as often it would imply we just weren’t trying hard enough or something. So the ‘cheerleading’ is something I’d put under ‘crazy making’ for sure.
Kelley, well intentions do make it hard to get angry. Or a better way to say it would be it makes it hard to express your frustration publicly. 🙂
I’m in the more annoying than helpful camp as well. Tried to take it in the spirit in which it was intended, but some days it just bugged me. I don’t think people have a good set of responses for possibly sad situations, and the figure encouragement (however blandly offered) is an ok option. FWIW, it is absolutely an issue for cancer sufferers. People can’t fathom that someone might die and treatment may not be effective. Puts the burden of being super hopeful right on the person facing a very hard, possibly terminal situation.
Anon AP, I suspect you’re right about cancer patient also facing oppressive cheerleading.
Crazy making, definitely. And, you can’t get angry at it publicly because it’s done genuinely out of love. This just enhances the crazy.
I find “cheerleading” to be more of an annoyance than helpful. I would hear from my friends who had no trouble getting pregnant at all. While I know they were in their minds-being supportive, I just wanted someone to vent too if and when I needed. Sadly my own immediate family was the worse. Unless you went through it yourself, you really cannot understand what a person is going through.
I think the cheerleaders have good intentions but because they haven’t gone through infertility it becomes annoying. Just last night I had a conversation with my mom who told me that a close family friend had a niece who was in her early 40’s who is single and recently adopted an infant. Her point was to tell me that my concerns about us waiting and not being able to adopt were things I needed not to be concerned about. While her intentions were good it was still annoying to have to hear. I guess the only good part of her bringing that up is that I asked my mom to find out what agency or method she used to adopt as a reference if and when my wife make a decision on that front.
Thank you for writing about this topic Dawn. I believe if we can continue to communicate and talk about these types of topics that eventually we can help outsiders change the conversation and interact with those suffering from infertility.
I find the “cheerleading” to be completely pointless. I have friends who were so supportive and let me cry and rage about the process and who genuinely understood that I couldn’t be around pregnant folks for a bit when we decided to stop treatments and processing that. I had many friends who said “it’ll happen” and “just relax”, etc. The pithy comments were so unhelpful it made me feel alone and crazy