I had one of those instances last week that just makes you want to shake your head.
It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable with sharing the fact that we have infertility with others. One of the first questions people ask upon an initial meeting is normally, “do you have any children?” Conversely for men it is typically, “what do you do?” The children question is an easy way for women to establish common ground with each other, I get it. On this particular day, the woman I was chatting listened to me say that we have infertility and then responded to me with sharing how easily she gets pregnant. She just TALKS about getting pregnant and then it happens. She didn’t get pregnant once, she got pregnant four times, really easily. All I needed to do was relax and then I too could be pregnant just like her.
Sometimes we need to think before opening up our mouths. Going into great detail about the ease of your pregnancies to an infertile woman is very inconsiderate. It would be like me talking to someone who is in the midst of a painful divorce and saying, “You are getting a divorce, let me tell you about how great my marriage is.” Would it be a good idea to tell someone how healthy I am when they have just shared the news that they have cancer? No, that is not a good idea at all.
It is conversations like these that spawn the million blog posts detailing what not to say to someone. We see posts titled, “10 things to never say to a stay at home mom” or “What NOT to say to a woman with infertility”. I have seen these on every subject. There are lists for stay at home moms, oilfield wives, military wives, divorced parents, teachers, working moms, single moms, breast-feeding moms, moms who use formula, etc. We have seen these posts, read them, and shared them. They resonate with us and we can agree that we have been there. We have all been in a conversation with someone who either didn’t think before speaking, or was under the impression that the words they were sharing were somehow helpful (when they were not).
Those posts serve a purpose in that they allow us to see how hurtful we can be without realizing it, or they open our eyes to a new perspective we may not have considered. While the “what not to say” lists started out as eye-opening and informative, lately they have become a little annoying and over the top. It can make us wonder what on earth we actually CAN say, because everything is offensive or upsetting to someone on this planet.
There are two things I think about when I encounter someone like Mrs. Fertile Myrtle: how many times have I said something insensitive to someone else unintentionally and what is the right thing to say?
I cringe when I think back over things I have said to others. I have talked without thinking. I have shared my opinions on subjects that I didn’t understand. Sometimes I later found that my opinions were wrong and hurtful. I’m guilty of saying the wrong thing at times just like anyone else. I can’t judge others too harshly without pointing the finger back at myself.
I don’t think the answer to avoiding uncomfortable conversations are more lists detailing what people can and cannot say to an infertile woman, or a stay-at-home mom, or a military wife, or a home-schooled family. We need to talk less and listen more. When I have no relativity to what someone else is experiencing I can choose to ask more questions before I dish out unwanted and unsolicited advice.
When we come across someone who is going through a life experience we have zero knowledge of, we simply say, “This isn’t something I have gone through or understand, why don’t you tell me more about it?”
Why don’t you tell me more about it? Can it be that simple? I would LOVE it if people would ask me that question when I mention our infertility. People don’t even think to ask about any underlying medical conditions contributing to our inability to get pregnant before they start dishing out the old tried and true “just relax” advice. Maybe, if we would stop for a second and ask questions we could learn what our fellow friends, family, and strangers are actually going through. We could be more sensitive to the struggles of others. We may even pick up how to talk to someone going through something similar that we meet later on in life. We have the opportunity to educate ourselves and encourage those living different paths in life or we can make them feel like crap.
It really is quite simple, think then speak. Ask questions before dishing out the advice. No more lists or detailed 1000 word articles on what not to say to others. Think, then speak. That is all.