The four horsemen of the infertility apocalypse

Or, the four categories of insensitive remarks that an infertilite has to learn to cope with.

First there are the obvious comments, what I call the casual inquiries by family, friends, and coworkers about “When is it your turn?” or “You wait until you have kids!”  I never have a clever or appropriate answer to these questions a la Dear Abby, although I’ve seen suggested responses range from the hopeful “They’ll get here when it’s their time,” to “Thanks but your crazy kids are actually making me reconsider my options.” I had a coworker who thought I was pregnant because I had to take two sick days in a row for the flu – and was telling everybody she thought so.  That was three years ago.  Still.  Not.  Pregnant.

The next triggers are the social but unspoken inquisitions. When you hang out with your friends – all of whom have children – and they hand over their baby to you almost immediately, thinking maybe the baby magic will rub off and you’ll finally be able to join in the mommy conversations. This usually occurs out of a pity resulting from guessing, but never addressing, the situation. But they also forget that an infertilite’s tolerance for infants and toddlers, however sweet and innocent they might be, is exponentially reduced with every setback, test, treatment, and revelation. So yes, I would love to hold your 9 month old and have a warm, curious, living breathing reminder that I’ll probably never hold one of my own.  Oh joy!

There is a third, more insidious version of this social interaction that instead takes place with strangers: the public shakedown. My friend B., who endured two years of ART before finally achieving a family, was the first to bring this to my attention. The public shakedown occurs when a former infertilite (though are you ever really former?) trots the new additions out in places where other infertilites are likely to gather.  B. said this happened many times in the waiting room in her fertility clinic, when a new mom would bring in her new baby to show off to the staff and the nurses.  “Great for you,” she would say, “but how can you forget what it’s like to be one of the people in that waiting room, who are trying to have babies of their own?  Don’t you realize you’re walking into a room full of women who would kill you for that baby?!”  She wasn’t kidding when she screamed said this (although that might have been the clomid talking).  She’s usually a pretty easygoing person. And I know exactly how she felt.

Finally, the final horseman of infertility insensitivity comes from the health care providers themselves: the bedside error.  The “That’s fun!” comment I wrote about not too long ago is a perfect example of this. Or the “You have a what?” confusion from my OB/GYN’s office about my rare Mullerian anomaly.  Sometimes you expect there to be a little more tact in dealing with such a difficult experience – especially if they are the ones you’re trusting to help you resolve the situation.

There is no escape from the four horsemen. There is only time, patience, and love.



3 thoughts on “The four horsemen of the infertility apocalypse

  1. Pingback: You knew this was coming | Expectant Hope

  2. After just receiving my diagnosis of UU (MRI is scheduled this week), my cringe-worthy support has been “Just keep trying. You haven’t been trying for that long (a year). It’ll happen if you stop stressing over it. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’re fine.” Uhm, no. Incorrect. I’m not fine. It’s not going to happen on my own. Not only do I have UU, I also have hormone deficiencies preventing ovulation and a hospitable environment for an embryo. How in the world does that translate to “it’ll happen naturally”? I understand that it’s difficult for people to understand. They don’t want to accept it, and the certainly don’t want to talk about it in effort to wrap their heads around it. These bits of advice are hurtful, though. Our families are in denial, and while they may think they are being supportive, and affirming that it’ll happen naturally if I just relax, suggests that I’m responsible for this failure when it’s a medical issue, and not within my control.

    • Thank you for reaching out, Christina. It is so difficult to explain the reality of the situation, and though sometimes people are well-meaning in their comments, it can feel like they’re not listening to you at all. That’s where blogs like these come in to help!


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