National Infertility Awareness Week kicks off Sunday, April 24 and runs through Saturday, April 30. The week is all about raising awareness for infertility, and this year’s theme is to #StartAsking. As an adoption consultant, many of the people who come to me ready to adopt have gone through a strenuous infertility process and are ready to explore new ways to grow their families. These people are all too familiar with the difficulty of trying to get friends and family to support them and understand what exactly they are going through.
For this year’s NIAW, I want to encourage you, both men and women, to #StartAsking yourselves how you want friends and family to support you during this nontraditional transition into parenthood. Here are some of my tips on how to foster an open communication with those closest to you to avoid painful or awkward questions during your infertility or transition into the adoption process.
1. Be open and upfront
From personal experience, I have found that those who try not to keep their friends and family involved in order to avoid any discussion about the issue actually end up getting more questions that are uncomfortable or painful. However, that doesn’t mean that every person you meet has a right to know your personal business. Carefully choose the family and friends whose support you most value. At the start of your process, be open and upfront with that group. Explain your situation, how long you have been trying and why you are deciding on your path, whether it is IUI, IVF, surrogacy or adoption to grow your family.
2. Divert those trying to change your mind
Everyone is going to have his or her own opinion! Regardless of how much you have thought about and planned your journey into parenthood and regardless of how you have managed all the obstacles that lay before you, someone is going to try to come up with a different solution or convince you to take a different path. You will hear a lot of people say “Are you sure?” or “Why don’t you just try this first?” or “Why are you giving up?” These are meant to be helpful comments, but can often be stressful and guilt-ridden.
Here are some talking points that will help divert those that want to change your mind:
- “Trust me, I’ve thought through this.” This sentence showcases that you have indeed considered every option for your family, situation and lifestyle, and the one you have chosen is the best for you, whether that be emotionally, financially or logically.
- “I have explored all of my options and agonized over it.” Another way to emphasize that this is the path you are choosing and you are not diverting from it because you have considered every possibility. Let them know that this is not a decision made on a whim but that you have far more information than they do and that you’ve reviewed it in-depth.
- “This is the decision that’s best for us.” Tying your partner into the equation over your final parenting journey decision will help people who know you better understand that this decision is not made on your own. Both you and your partner have a say in the best method to becoming a parent. It also communicates a decisive, united front that won’t be easily swayed by another’s opinion.
3. Educate about infertility etiquette
When you educate friends and family at the start about what is and is not OK to say or do, they will know exactly how to best support you. Be clear and specific with them regarding what you do and don’t need from them. Don’t expect them to figure that out on their own if they’ve never been in your shoes. This can be a difficult conversation to have initially, but it is one that they will ultimately appreciate and one that will save you stress, anger and pain down the road to help keep your relationships with your family and friends healthy. Here are some things you can say:
- “Please be considerate of what I am going through.” You can elaborate by asking them to respect your decision if you don’t show up for family gatherings with kids, skip out on kid-centric or parent-centric holidays (like Mother’s Day), don’t want to talk about a friend’s or family member’s pregnancy or whatever else might come up in your life that could cause you distress during your journey.
- “Don’t try to offer solutions.” Everyone wants to help, but sometimes their solutions are the opposite of helpful. Outline that you don’t want to hear stories of people who quit trying or who adopted and then got pregnant or be told that one treatment is better than another or even be told to relax and not worry so much. Only you know what you are going through. Kindly explain that they should be there for support and comfort, not solutions to a topic they are not involved in. Then let them know specific ways in which they can offer that comfort and support.
- “Don’t try to sweep it under the rug.” The fact that you are reaching out to them for support means you want them to be involved. Explain that it would be hurtful if they completely ignored your infertility or infertility-to-adoption journey or purposefully excluded you from family events.
When you #StartAsking yourself how you want to handle your journey, you will be able to plan and avoid unnecessary pain and anger. For National Infertility Awareness Week, start practicing how you want to handle friends and family during your parenting journey. Learn more about NIAW and ways you can raise awareness and help!
Nicole Witt is the owner of The Adoption Consultancy, an unbiased resource serving pre-adoptive families by providing them with the education, information and guidance they need to safely adopt a newborn, usually within three to 12 months. She is also the creator of Beyond Infertility, a community support site and online magazine geared toward families who have gone through infertility.