Infertility & Foolish Advice
"Just relax, Honey!" a neighbor trilled as we pushed our carts through the grocery store produce section. "It'll happen!"
After years of infertility, my thoughts swirled with violent scenarios at this woman's flippant advice: a couple squares of Ex-Lax stirred into her coffee, a slashing of minivan tires, a nice, straightforward slap in the face.
Despite my penchant for vengeful fantasies during our infertility struggle, I am not a violent person. And while acting on my daydreams may have brought momentary satisfaction, such a release of anger would've swiftly resulted in waves of regret.
It's so easy to drown yourself in righteous indignation when you're TTC (Trying To Conceive). It seems every woman around you has bulging bellies and glowing skin. And unlike you, many of these women appear ill-prepared for motherhood. Our sense of injustice is piqued. "It's all so unfair!" we cry. And "Why, why, WHY?"
The question of life's fairness is for an entirely different blog post (or epic theological dissertation).
However, how we respond to such insensitive comments is worth exploring. We can't control the outcome of our current struggles, but we can control how we respond to the often foolish advice of people with whom we cross paths.
Proverbs 15:1 states, A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Whereas gentle literally means tender, soft, and refined, harsh its its opposite. Hurtful. Painful. In the midst of our own suffering, do we truly want to inflict hurt on others? As Christ followers, I think not.
Depending on who is offering unwelcome or hurtful advice, we have three "gentle response" options at our disposal. We can choose to educate, redirect, or neutralize such comments. I've included specific examples of advice I received during our ten-year infertility journey, but keep in mind that these responses will work with any advice, however well-meaning or boneheaded.
Gentle Response Options
Option 1: Educate
The education option is reserved for people in your inner circle, such as close family members and friends (think mom, BFFs, sisters and sisters-in-law). The goal is not only to bring a new level of awareness about infertility , but to deepen your relationship by being honest about your pain.
Example Advice: Just relax! Lighten up! Have a glass of wine!
Gentle Response: I love you and I know you're trying to be helpful, but it hurts when you oversimplify my infertility. It makes me feel like the problem is my fault and within my power to fix. After two years of expensive and high-tech treatment, I don't think the solution is as easy as sipping Chardonnay on a tranquil beach.
Option 2: Redirect
Redirection is for people in your outer circle (think cousins, neighbors, co-workers). You need to maintain a level of rapport with such connections, yet have no desire to share your pain or to expend energy on correcting their ignorance. Along with changing the subject, the use of humor is helpful with this approach.
Example Advice: This woman I know tried an all-carrot diet and was pregnant within three months. You should try it!
Gentle Response: All carrot diet? I think I'd end up looking like a bad spray-tan victim. Did you hear that my hubby and I are planning a trip to Italy next summer?
Option 3: Neutralize
When word gets out that you're TTC, a boatload of acquaintances (people who know your plight, but don't truly know you) will be lining up to offer trite and nonsensical counsel. You'll likely never see these people again, so a calm and brief answer (delivered with a smile) will do the trick.
Example Advice: You should take my kids for the weekend. That'll cure you!
I'll remember that. (You certainly will, though not for the good.)
That's a point. (Everything is a point, yes? No comment about whether it is wise or helpful.)
That's a thought. (See above)
Huh. (When you're so dumbfounded, you only have the mental capacity to utter one syllable.)
Interesting perspective. (Synonym of interesting: Curious. You have to admit, it's pretty curious for a stranger to offer light commentary on a life-altering experience like infertility)
In our society, where many take on your business as their business, Learning the art of the "neutral response" will come in handy long after your infertility journey is over.
Even when we receive the worst advice, remember that Christ calls us to draw on his power in the midst of our pain to apply a gentle response.
Your homework this week:
Pick three people in your life with whom you can apply each of the three different responses to foolish advice. Practice the responses then prepare to use them whenever bad advice rears its ugly head.
If you have any doozy infertility advice you've received, feel free to share in the comments section below. And don't forget to return next week for more encouragement for your infertility journey!