Gen 16: 1 reads “Now Sarah, Abraham’s wife, bore him no children.” The simplicity of this statement fails to communicate the complicated and devastating situation Sarah faced. The woman who became the matriarch of the Judeo-Christian tradition was barren, unable to fulfill the one duty that gave her worth within her community. While women were already devalued by society, the social status of a woman struggling with infertility was even further diminished.
Sarah is a woman I have come to identify with. I share her plight of infertility and feel a hopelessness that can only be fully understood by women in a similar situation. Like Sarah I have been desperate to become a mother and although it is the 21st century, as a woman I have felt pressure to do so. Feelings of inadequacy and lack of worth have been overwhelming at times as family members and friend have felt it necessary to not only acknowledge my struggle but also offer commentary on what exactly they think is wrong with me.
It is difficult to describe the roller coaster of emotions I have experienced in the last ten years that I have hoped to become a mother. I have felt sad, angry, hurt, disgusted, fearful, relieved, cheated, optimistic, disappointed, remorseful, irritated, exasperated, hopeful, punished, envious, despair, confused, indifferent, tormented, guilty, nervous, surprised, stressed, appreciative, resentful, bitter and the list continues. While societal pressure has certainly added salt to my wound, the most difficult part of dealing with infertility has been my unwavering knowledge that I a meant to be a mother; there is a child that I am meant to nurture and love. I intuitively sense it, I feel it in the depths of my soul, I am a mother, it is who I am. So why have I been unable to conceive? Why are so many other women privileged with the ability to choose whether or not to become a parent and why have I not been blessed with that same choice?
I have continually struggled with these questions as well as with the highs and lows of the infertility roller coaster. Recently my husband and I have decided to become parents by way of adoption (which warrants numerous blog posts in itself). While we have felt a multitude of emotions (which of course excitement is one) over our decision; people in our lives have felt it necessary to share their own thoughts on what we have been experiencing. I have been amazed, stunned, and disturbed, by some of the things said to me as a result of my inability to conceive. Thus, I thought it both appropriate and necessary to share here some things that you should avoid verbalizing if you know someone struggling with fertility issues. So for what it is worth, here is my personal top ten list of things you should NOT say to women dealing with infertility (all things that have been stated to me):
10. “Wow, you are so lucky your husband has not divorced you. Most men would not tolerate a woman who could not give him a child.”
9. “Why would you waste so much money on adoption when you could just spend a little more on in-vitro and have a baby of your own?”
8. “Why not just let me carry a baby for you?”
7. “If you are going to adopt you better make sure you don’t get a kid that is a lemon.” (Yes, a lemon as in if you bought a car with a lot of problems you would describe it as a lemon.)
6. “Oh, your adopting…well I hope you stay within your own race.”
5. “Are you sure you are having sex on the right days? Are you using the right positions? Maybe you should do some research on the internet.”
4. “It is hard enough to love your own kids, are you sure you will love one if you adopt it?”
3. If a woman struggling with infertility mentions she may try artificial insemination don’t say “Are you really sure you want your child to be conceived that way? I mean, don’t you want it to be conceived out of love?”
2. “You just need to relax.” (What exactly does this mean? I am not sure myself but it is the one quote I have heard more times than I can count. Apparently, if I just relax and stop worrying about it, a pregnancy will magically occur).
1. “Have you tried standing on your head?”
I hope the list gives rise to thought offering both humor and anger. I am not sure where my continued struggle with infertility will lead me, but for now I am a mother. Although I may not yet have a child, I mother other areas of my life, with my partner, my family, my friends, my research, and this blog.
If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, here are some resources that may be helpful:
Resolve: The National Infertility Association: www.resolve.org
Women’s Health: http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/infertility.cfm
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/infertility/DS00310
National Adoption Center: http://www.adopt.org/assembled/home.html
Adopt us Kids: http://www.adoptuskids.org/