I do counselling for all sorts of issues but probably 80% of my practice is related to infertility/family building using Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). I am passionate about supporting and advocating for individuals dealing with infertility and pregnancy loss because I know how devastating it is.
One of the things that makes it so tough is that others, who have not experienced infertility, don't know how to support someone going through it. There are so many myths and misconceptions out there about fertility and infertility and a lack of awareness about what dealing with infertility is like. In addition, there is still significant stigma, so few people talk about it, which just perpetuates the myths, misconceptions and lack of awareness.
There are many books out there for individuals going through infertility that talk about how to cope, what you can expect with various treatments, etc. But there are few geared towards the loved ones of individuals dealing with infertility. For this reason, I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Don't Tell Her to Relax, by Zahie El Kouri. El Kouri is an American writer who went through infertility herself and now has 3 children. Because loved ones don't know how to support someone with infertility, which can make the experience even more isolating and difficult, this is a much needed resource that is long overdue.
I am actually disappointed that I did not think to write this book myself. I have touched on many of these issues in the articles I have written for Huffington Post, but El Kouri does a better job of empathizing with individuals struggling to support someone through infertility. I tend to take a more "You're a dumb-ass, why would you say such a stupid thing" approach, perhaps because I spend so much of my time comforting people who have been hurt by someone saying something callous or misinformed. She presents the information in a way that conveys recognition of why others may be tempted to say the (dumb-ass) things that they say to someone with infertility. Obviously, this is a better way to try and engage the target population.
The book is short and succinct which is perfect since most people will likely not be motivated to read a tomb. Basically it advises what not to say to people going through infertility and makes suggestions for what to say and do to support someone.
I love that she starts the book by suggesting you never ask someone, "When are you going to have kids?" which is both presumptuous and, if you ask me, none of your business. As you may have guessed from the title, she tells readers not to say, "Just relax and you'll get pregnant" since this is total bullshit. Most of the time infertility is a medical issue and just like cancer, it can't be overcome just by relaxing.
El Kouri warns against telling people that they will for sure have a child one day as this is not always the case for everyone, and not to tell people to "Just adopt". Lots of people try IVF, adoption and/or other means and are not successful. By the way, if you think adoption is like ordering a pizza, you just pick up the phone and a baby is delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less, well you couldn't be more wrong. It is often a very long, expensive process and many people dealing with infertility may not meet the criteria needed to become adoptive parents (age, marital status, etc.). Believe me, if someone is struggling with infertility, they've thought about adoption and perhaps even started to explore it.
Rather than giving useless advice or empty platitudes, El Kouri suggest that you support an individual going through infertility with tangible things like rides to and from medical appointments, magazines to provide distraction when in the waiting room, assisting with administration of injectable medications, childcare for those dealing with secondary infertility, or even just your company.
The author also provides some basic, straightforward facts about fertility treatments (IUI vs IVF, third party reproductive techniques, the side effects of fertility meds, etc.) which may help loved ones understand what the person is really going through.
This is a great book and I think it will accomplish exactly what it sets out to do: empathizes with people who have a loved one dealing with infertility, and providing explanations for why many of the things we think to say are unhelpful, while offering sound alternatives that will make this person feel supported. I will be recommending it to my clients as something to give to their families and friends!
Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book to review, but all opinions on this blog are my own.