Family-related stressors are commonly discussed in therapy. Whether it is a desire to live nearer distant relatives or a longing to stay away, being around loved ones can stir up an array of feelings. For couples journeying through the infertility process navigating family dynamics can be an especially challenging time. Seemingly innocent questions like “When are you going to have kids anyway?” can be jarring and upsetting. Couples may not have discussed their fertility status with their family and have no plans to do so. However, it can be challenging to handle comments and questions about the issue. Even if family members know a couple is undergoing fertility testing or treatment, they may be uncertain about how to approach the topic. Couples may encounter unrequested opinions about why, when, or how you should have a child. “It will happen as soon as you stop trying.” “My friend’s daughter and son-in-law adopted a baby and then got pregnant.” “If it is meant to be it will happen, just stop worrying.” While these are all valid positions about the infertility struggle, they may not be the plans that you and your partner share at this point in your journey. For this reason, these comments can sometimes be frustrating and seem ignorant. Below I offer ten suggestions for couples and individuals facing infertility in the midst of well-meaning family members who make hurtful comments. While much more can be said on the topic, these are some starting points to consider.
1) You have a right to privacy. Give people a hint that you are not interested in discussing these personal issues by saying something like, “I/we don’t feel comfortable talking about this.” You may have to be more direct than you are used to if people push the issue.
2) You never have to disclose more information that you feel ready to share.
3) While most people do not intend to upset you, some people may not get the message! In these situations, you may need to directly say, “Please stop talking about this” or “Can we talk about something else?”
4) Safe, trusted family members may be an additional source of support.
5) It is okay to feel hurt by people’s comments. Letting yourself feel this hurt (rather than lashing out in anger at the other person) may help you to move on from the negative feelings in the moment.
6) Vent to those who are familiar with your journey to have a child (or who have been there).
7) Use humor. “Since when do you want to know about our sex life?!?”
8) Talk to your partner about how he or she is feeling. Find ways to support one another or “rescue” one another when unsuspecting family members make hurtful comments.
9) If you choose to be open with others about your fertility journey when people ask, try being direct but respectful. “We have had difficulty conceiving, which has been a painful process for us. I appreciate you asking, but I would prefer if you let me share about our journey to have a child when I am ready.”
10) Trust your instincts! If you feel uncomfortable sharing because a person does not feel like a safe person to open up to, perhaps your gut is telling you this for a reason. On the other hand, it might be helpful to open up, sharing with a trusting friend or family member can bring support and care.