Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Handling comments from new friends

I know this is similar to my post from Mother's Day, but I think this topic is so important. It is one of the most difficult parts of the journey with infertility, it is the issue that makes infertility an unavoidable topic for those in the midst of the journey, and unforgettable for those who have reached the end of the road.

I love meeting new people, but there is a part of every new friendship that is still awkward for me, and sometimes for my new friends. It is the moment the subject of children comes up.

"We have 4 kids, how many do you have."

"We don't have any children."

Eyebrows raise, "Oh, why not."

"Well, we couldn't have children, but we're good with it now."

"Oh, you don't have to be strong for me."

"No really, God has healed our hearts and we are good with His plan for us."

"Oh, now you know, I'm just going to pray that you get pregnant when you least expect it."

At that point I am holding back the laughter that used to be tears. Part of the reason we don't have children is because I had uterine cancer seven years ago, and no longer have a uterus or ovaries. So, while I'm not putting God in a box, I am also not looking for a surprise pregnancy. (There is a story in Beside the Empty Cradle about a similar discussion.)

People want to help, I understand that. Every person in whatever stage of their walk with infertility understands that the parenting world just wants to help. Unfortunately that help usually just leaves people feeling uncomfortable. The helpful phrases from new acquaintances include...

  • Well, you can always adopt.
  • Maybe it's just not God's plan for you. (even those who are okay with childlessness, feel queasy when they hear this early on.)
  • Oh, you're so lucky not to be tied down with kids.
  • Really? You can't be happy without kids.
  • You should just relax, then you'll get pregnant.
  • My aunt's, friend's, daughter tried..........

The list could go on and on and on, but these are some of the big ones. A few of these pieces of wisdom might even be welcome from someone you've known for years, or who is on the same journey as you...but upon an initial meeting it can be a painful reminder that most of the world believes there is something wrong with childless families, and that there is something you absolutely are doing wrong if you don't have children and want them. (I think the parenting world needs to read my book as much or more than those on the infertility roller coaster.)

Of course, we are not the only ones who face advice that is unwarranted and sometimes just plain rude. I have friends who are in their 30s, 40s and even their 50s or older, who have never married, and don't have children. They hear advice and comments all the time. We need to STOP. As a society we must stop thinking we have the right or the need to fix everyone's life. My single friends are often happy with their life. And if they have a tinge of wonder about spouses or children, that is very personal, shared with family or close friends...not usually upon an initial introduction.

So how can we handle those conversations with grace, leaving both parties feeling positive about the new friendship? Honestly, it's on us. We need to realize the comments and advice are not a personal assault. Smile, be gracious, and if you have a great sense of humor and can make a joke to turn the conversation around, go ahead, but be careful not to do so at the expense of making your new friend feel stupid about their comment. I have actually been known to give a small uncomfortable laugh, and say you know, I have thought about those same things, and sometime maybe we will have time for me to tell you my story. You will really be surprised. Then, I have an opportunity for a second meeting with my new friend. And, when I share our story, my testimony and my heart in the issue of infertility and childlessness, my friend is more educated and knows better the next time she meets someone who is walking the infertility journey.

We must all remain teachable, and we must all be willing to lovingly teach others.

God Bless Everyone!


  1. Thanks for raising this topic! Even though I feel I am at the acceptance stage of grieving my loss, I still feel a twinge of discomfort when people ask me if I have children. It is usually women who ask, not men, upon first meeting me, so I figure the women are just following a cultural custom of trying to find common ground in small talk. It is too bad we do not first speak of Christ in our conversations...

    I just finished reading your book! It was so fascinating, I had to finish it in one day. I admire the way you stood with your husband's decisions even though it was quite painful to do so, and you used this awful time in your life to draw closer to God. You could have abandoned them both, you know, but what kind of life would that have been? Your story reminds us all that Jesus is with us in our hours of sadness and grief, and that God still has a plan for our lives when we exit these dark valleys.

  2. Thank you so much Dorothy. I really appreciate your comment. It means so much to me.