Please excuse my interference, but Solutions are the Problem

Since I’ve entered the infertility blogosphere I’ve read a lot of posts written by many bloggers. One trend I’ve noticed is how hurtful the thoughtless comments are to someone struggling with infertility. Before I inflict my opinion on you all, I think it’s important that I point out that I have had limited first-hand experience with most of these situations – I think largely because very few of my close friends are at the stage where children are relevant to their lives, so it rarely comes up in conversation. I know myself well enough to appreciate that when I’m the one with hurt feelings, my thoughts may be qualitatively different.

With that caveat in place, here is my two cents.

I’m sure we have all been asked that most awkward of questions: “When are you planning to have children?”. This is one question I have myself faced many times. Based on my readings in the blog’erature (ahem, excuse my neologism) I have divided IFers into two main categories based on their response to this question. (I am not a fan of stereotyping but for the sake of creative licence I’m doing it here, so please forgive me in advance.)

Category One: She of Indignant Outrage.

This class of IFer gets angry. She believes this question is intrusive and thoughtless at best and purposefully hurtful at worst. She may not show it at the time but she feels that this is a question that should never be asked. 

I will address these issues in reverse by starting with those who are purposefully hurtful. There are thankfully not many people who ask such a loaded question with the intention to cause pain, but they do exist. They are dickheads and do not deserve our time or thoughts. May their shoes always cause blisters and their underwear never be comfortable. Moving on…

Responding to the preposition that “when are you planning to have children?” is intrusive and thoughtless and should never be asked, I have to argue the negative. Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying that anger may be an appropriate emotional response – because it may be. But put yourself in the hapless question-asker’s shoes. You’re (a) in the fortunate position not to have dealt with infertility yourself, and it’s the furthest thing from your mind; (b) of the viewpoint that kids and pregnancy are safe and happy topics of conversation (c) either genuinely interested, or trying to make small talk; and (d) aware that most of the time, people like to talk about themselves. When you look at it that way, “when are you planning to have children?” is as innocuous a question as “do you rent or own your home?” or “what do you do for a living?” (On a side note, an amusing answer to both those questions is: I’m a professional squatter.) Depending on the situation and the person involved these questions may all be intrusive. But sometimes nice, well-meaning people say dumb stuff, and they probably just don’t know enough about us to realise it’s dumb.

Category Two: She who Cries

I can relate to this class of IFer. All sorts of stuff makes me cry; sometimes it’s a logical response to something and sometimes not. Perversely, this particular question doesn’t make me teary at all. I usually feel a strange sense of hope when I say “maybe next year” or “hopefully soon”. I almost enjoy it. Twisted, I know. But I understand the sadness behind the tears. The sadness is expected and natural, but I think that tears are probably more difficult to deal with for the IFer than anger. It’s harder to hide sadness, and more confronting to explain.

 The other scenario that crops up frequently is even more upsetting because the culprits are those people we are closest to and who know about our struggle. You know the ones… the mother who questions the amount of time, money, and sanity that fertility treatments are costing, or the sister-in-law who asks why you don’t adopt – she knows someone who adopted and is ecstatically happy.

It is perfectly understandable to be upset when some one offers unwanted advice or makes a thoughtless comment. I’m not excusing these folks, but for the sake of our own psychological health I think it’s important to realise that most of these people truly think they are being supportive. What your mother thinks she is saying is “I see what this process is costing to you and it breaks my heart”, and your know-it-all sister-in-law really means “You seems so unhappy, and I want you to be happy again”.

But someone who has never gone through infertility just cannot understand how painful it is. They could not understand how confronting it would be for an IFer to be faced with discussing a situation which implies they will not be able to have biological children. I think that it’s human nature to want to offer solutions to people when we know they are going through a tough time. The problem is, what we actually need is a good set of ears and a shoulder to cry on. For me, when people offer solutions it almost feels like they are minimising the issue. It feels like they are saying “look, it’s not such a big deal, just do A, B and C and everything will be fine”. I now know that this is usually NOT what they are implying. When people close to us offer solutions or alternatives it is because they don’t like seeing people they care about in pain and offering a solution makes them feel less helpless. But solutions aren’t helpful. Any IFer already knows what their options are. If blogging has taught me anything it that IFers can research with the best of them!  My recommendation is that if you’ve been in this situation it’s still an issue, talk to the person involved. Tell her that you appreciate her advice but that you are already aware of all your options and that what you really need is for her to listen to you and offer emotional support without trying to ’solve’ things for you.

It would be great if I’ve written something that helps the next time you’re confronted with a difficult situation. But I recognise that is unlikely! So failing that, I just hope I didn’t offend anyone. And if you are offended, I’m sorry, I’m suffering blogging diarrhoea and this has all just been a ploy to distract myself from my 2WW.

Oh and don’t worry. I haven’t missed the irony that I’m offering a solution in which I postulate that ‘solutions are not helpful’. But that’s okay, because I do not always have to be rational. I’m a woman after all.



Filed under Blogging, Family, Infertility

4 responses to “Please excuse my interference, but Solutions are the Problem

  1. Secret Sloper

    This is a great post. I tend to agree with you– I’ve heard ALOT of “It was God’s will”/”There was something wrong with the baby”/”At least you can get pregnant” in the aftermath of my miscarriage. A lot of miscarriage survivors find these hurtful and insensitive and maddening statements, but I don’t because I know all the people who said them to me love me and want me to be as happy and optimistic as possible. And in better moods, I agree with them.

    The only statement that really did hurt was a friend’s who compared her disappointment over needing a C-section to my miscarriage. That made me feel so alone in what I was experiencing. But still, I know this person loves me and was just trying to relate, however possible.

  2. JC

    This was a good post. I’ve heard all of those questions and comments and I usually come up with lame answers and put on a fake smile b/c the people asking me when I’m gonna have a baby aren’t that close to me. Otherwise they would know why. But it was good to read what they might be thinking and why they might be saying that. I do agree in talking to someone who is offering “advise” because that’s not needed and those people you are usually close to so you could feel comfortable talking to them.

  3. I have a somewhat different perspective. I kind of wish more people would ask me when I plan on having children. I’ve only been asked once, by a woman who is in a long term relationship but not married yet. I got the sense that she was only asking because she was thinking about it herself. I gave a fairly vague “oh, who knows, maybe someday” kind of answer. But it made me feel like, even though I don’t know this person very well, someone out there besides myself and my husband cares about me reproducing. Is that weird? But maybe it’s because NO ONE asks me… maybe I just don’t look like mother material, I don’t know.

  4. Al

    This was a very interesting post. I usually answer the when are you having kids question with “whenever it happens” or something like that if it’s a friend, or something more vague if it’s an acquaintance. If ppl want to know more, I usually tell them. I try to be open about our IF with people so they understand what we’re going through and that there are people out there who have problems with reproducing.

    I try not to get angry when people ask, but obviously I have bad days and can’t help it sometimes.