So, it is much easier to give advice on what NOT to say to people who are struggling to conceive (see previous blog, “What Not To Say”). The truth is, there isn’t really a lot you can say to someone who is struggling with this difficult journey. Like with many hard things in life, there are no words to capture the sorrow, the pain, the loss and the heartache that this path brings. At any given moment, a caring supporter’s words can seem trite or meaningless, even with the best intentions. I have had many words of comfort said to me over the years and there is one grouping of words that stands out above the rest. I received the following note back in 2007 from a close family member. I saved it and have continued to read it during the more difficult times in my husband’s and my journey. I share it now because it continues to bring me comfort and strength.
The body of the note read:
I just wanted to email you and let you know that I am thinking about you. You don’t have to email me back. I know that when I am frustrated, angry, upset I don’t want to be asked a thousand times how I am. I wish there was something I could say to make you feel better or at least make you smile, but I know there isn’t. I just want you to know that I think you’re so amazingly strong, a wonderful person and a wonderful woman and wife. I know that you must be confused, hurt, angry, etc but I just hope you are not internalizing it. It is so easy to blame oneself or think you’re somehow a bad woman because you are having trouble doing what seems so natural. You are so wonderful and I have no doubt that you will be an excellent mother. Make sure you lean on your husband, your greatest strength is that you have each other.
Why is this note so great?
-I like the phrase “I am thinking about you.” It is nice to be thought of, yet the phrase is casual enough that you don’t feel like someone is obsessing or stressing over your situation.
-When I am in the thick of fertility treatment hell, I love emails and texts. I like not having to talk to people if I do not want to, yet I like knowing they are there if I need them. I liked that she said I didn’t have to write back.
-I like that she admitted she couldn’t make it better. So many people want to make it better, make you smile so they feel like they helped you (they make it about them and their need to help). They try so hard to be positive and hopeful. When you try to explain the reality of the situation and how you have to prepare yourself for a good or bad outcome, they try even harder to make it all better. Admitting that she couldn’t in fact help me actually helped me (Does that make any sense?!). She acknowledged my pain, anguish and uncertainty and was willing to be in that place with me instead of dragging me out kicking and screaming.
-She didn’t say I was strong enough to do this. She didn’t say how I was too wonderful to be going through this. She simply said I was strong and wonderful. When you are tired, when you are a temporary human pin cushion (from all of the injections), wondering if this will even matter in the end, hearing that you are amazingly strong and wonderful feels good.
-Throughout this process when I get in more self-pitying moods, I have often said to my loving husband through tears, “I feel like I am broken.” I have also said, “I am so sorry my body sucks and now we have to deal with all of this;” and if it is a particularly rough night, “You should trade me in for a younger gal with genetically sound, endometriosis free reproductive parts.” Inevitably he always reassures me that he loves me, he under no circumstance will trade me in and most importantly he reminds me that this is OUR journey together. The above note recognizes and allows for these insecurities in a non-intrusive way, all the while encouraging me to let them go.
-I like how she says I will be an excellent mother. She doesn’t say that I will be pregnant soon or one day in the future. She doesn’t say that I could always adopt if this doesn’t work. She doesn’t say when or how it will all work out. Her assurance and faith come through without making unrealistic predictions about my situation that inevitably will make me angry if they don’t work out. Also when the universe seems like it is campaigning against your desired role as mother, it is nice to get a vote of confidence.
-Finally, after acknowledging my sadness, frustration and stress, the note ends with an affirmation of my greatest strength. Again, this note is great in large part because of what she could have said but had the wisdom not to. She didn’t say, well at least you and your husband will always have each other. She instead reminded me that I am not in this alone, and even if the world around us crumbles, my husband and I can pick up the pieces if we rely on each other.
This note really was a comfort to me. The unfortunate truth is, it may not serve as a comfort to other women going through a similar situation. I cannot speak for everyone. We are all individuals on this path, and what is good for some may not work for others. Also, depending on where we are in the journey, our needs change from day to day. All of us share common desires, though. We want to feel loved and thought of. We need people to listen and to talk to us, but only on our own terms. We want to be included in everyday activities, but also want our space when needed. Some days we will need laughs and distractions with no mention of fertility, and other days we need chocolate ice cream and tear fests. So for all of those with friends or family members who are going through this, ask us what we need through email or text, tell us you are thinking about us, and we will certainly come calling when we are ready.