Any woman struggling with infertility or who has experienced a miscarriage has probably had to deal with her fair share of stupid comments and reactions from others. Some people just seem to completely lack any tact when it comes to the issue of fertility and think it is their business to comment and judge, while others are well-meaning but simply do not know what to say. Even women who have never faced infertility are often subjected to thoughtless comments about her body. It seems no woman in her 20s, 30s or even 40s -- not even celebrities -- can have a belly bulge the size of a grape without someone speculating she is pregnant. It's enough to give even the most emaciated supermodel a body image complex!
So I thought I would put together a little guide for all of you out there regarding what is and is not appropriate to say to a woman about her body or her fertility.
1. First and foremost, unless you need to know for medical reasons (you are a paramedic, x-ray technician, etc.) or a woman's water has just broken on your shoes, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER ask ANY woman if she is pregnant!
Here are some of the reasons why:
It's none of your damn business;
If she's not, you've just deeply insulted her;
If she is, she may not be making it public yet;
She may simply have eaten a big burrito;
She may have a medical problem that makes her appear pregnant and you've just humiliated her (I saw a woman for counselling who had to use a surrogate because of multiple cysts which made her appear full-term pregnant);
She may be struggling with infertility and taking meds that cause bloating or swelling of the ovaries and you are just rubbing salt in her wounds;
It's none of your damn business.
I firmly believe that we should do away with the custom of hiding pregnancies for the first trimester so that women who miscarry need not feel ashamed nor have to suffer alone. That being said, I don't think anyone should HAVE to disclose whether or not they are pregnant until she is ready. It's up to a woman to decide.
2. Never tell a woman struggling to get pregnant to "relax." Remember, if there is a real medical reason for infertility, that ain't gonna help, and you're urging is not going to make her feel any more relaxed. It's going to make her want to punch you.
3. Never tell a woman that she miscarried because it wasn't meant to be.
4. Never tell a woman who has miscarried not to worry, she'll get pregnant again. Instead, try I'm sorry for your loss, or I'm sorry, please let me know what I can do to help.
5. Never tell a woman who has miscarried that next time she'll just have to: drink less coffee, worry less, exercise less, eat better, etc. etc. Miscarriages are rarely caused by controllable factors, and making her feel like it's her fault is a disgraceful thing to do.
6. Never ask a woman if she plans to have children. Yep, you heard me. Unless it is someone you know extremely well, it's none of your business. If a woman decides to remain childless, that's entirely her business. By the same token, if a woman wants to have 10 kids, that is also her business.
7. Never ask a woman with one child when she plans to have another child. Same as above. None of your business. Just because she has a child does not mean she is not struggling to get pregnant again. Secondary infertility is extremely common and just as devastating. This also means that it is not helpful to tell someone facing secondary infertility that she should be grateful that she already has a child or children. Most people have an idea in their head of what they want their family to look like, and if they are not able to create this family, they experience significant distress, even if they already have a child or children.
8. Never give suggestions to a woman about what can help her get pregnant based on things you've seen on the Internet, read in magazines, etc. If she's been having difficulty getting pregnant, chances are she's already aware of all of that and much of the info out there is horse manure anyways.
9. Never lecture a woman with one child about the importance of having a sibling. It isn't always possible for a couple to conceive a second child and it's also none of your business. Oh, and the research shows that while kids with siblings do better in some areas (socially), only children do better in others (academically). So shut up.
10. Never assume what a woman dealing with miscarriage or infertility wants or needs. Come out and ask her if she wants to talk about it. Avoiding the issue may make some women feel worse while others may not feel like discussing it. Just ask!
11. Never begrudge a woman dealing with miscarriage or infertility for failing to be happy for others' pregnancies and/or needing to avoid baby showers, etc. Feeling angry, resentful and jealous is a NORMAL reaction and women feel bad about having these feelings anyways, you don't need to make them feel worse about it. Allow them the time to do what they need to in order to heal.
12. And if I didn't mention it before, NEVER ASK A WOMAN IF SHE IS PREGNANT, EVER!!!! It is none of your f*&^ing business!!!
For more information check out this new informational website: http://myfertilitychoices.com/ funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR).
Follow Erica Berman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/erica_health