Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Pain of Silence

I stumbled upon “Bust an Infertility Myth Blog Challenge” (sponsored by RESOLVE) a few weeks ago and decided that I really wanted to participate.  You can learn more about national infertility awareness week here.    

I think in a lot of ways Spencer and I have been really lucky.  For the most part we haven’t gotten a lot of rude remarks regarding our situation.  I have never been told to “just relax.”  So far, we haven’t had anyone tell us we’re “doing it wrong” (knock on wood).  To tell you the truth, I have been more hurt by the things that HAVEN’T been said more than the things that have.

Therefore, the myth that I particularly wanted to challenge is this:
It is better to not say anything to couples struggling with infertility than to risk saying something wrong.   

I don’t want this to come across the wrong way.  I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty.  We have so many supportive friends and family members.  To all of you, I thank you.  Thank you for being there for us.  Thank you for offering your love.  Thank you for the letters, phone calls, comments, and hugs.  Thank you, thank you for letting us know that we are not alone.  

My heart aches for those who don’t have the support system we do.  Perhaps you know someone who struggles with infertility.  Chances are, you know multiple someone's.  I know it can be hard to know the proper way to respond.  I have been there myself!  Many people are afraid of saying the wrong thing.  They don’t want to make the situation worse.  Some individuals, with children, may feel like they don’t know what to say because they can’t relate to what it is like to struggle with infertility.  Because some people don’t know what to say, they don’t say anything. 

Silence can be devastating. 

I will tell you about the first time we shared our struggles with infertility with our family.  I was nervous.  No, I was beyond nervous I was terrified.  We had talked for months about whether or not we should share our burden with others.  Spencer wanted to tell our family our story.  He knew that our dear family would pray for us.  He knew that they would be there for us.  I was hesitant to share the deepest feelings of my heart.  I really don’t like asking for help.  I was of the opinion that we should deal with the situation on our own. 

We eventually decided that before we began aggressive fertility treatments, we would tell our family some of the details.  One Monday evening, we sat down at the computer and composed an e-mail.  It was a difficult e-mail to write, but even more difficult to send.  We actually said a prayer before we sent it off, because I was so scared of their reactions. 

After we hit “send” I thought, “Did I really just do that?  Did I really just share the most vulnerable part of my heart with all those people?”  I felt very exposed, to say the least. 

At first people didn’t know what to say.  It was a learning process for all of us.  Spencer and I had to learn how to humble ourselves and ask for support.  We then had to learn how to receive it.  Was it hard?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  Yes.

Even though it was the most embarrassing thing I have ever done, I am so grateful that we shared our struggles with infertility and our desire for parenthood.  The kindness and that has been shown us has literally carried us through some difficult times.  The kind letters of compassion have been lovingly read and re-read.  The sweet words of encouragement have been written in our journal to reflect upon during difficult times.

So to those of you who don’t know what to say to help your friend struggling with infertility, I offer this advice:  say something.  Even if your words aren’t perfect.  Even if you feel inadequate to offer your support.  Even if you feel like you can’t understand their pain.  Heart speaks to heart.  However imperfect you may feel your offering of comfort is, the sincerity of your feelings will come shining through. 

You don’t have to say a lot.  Sometimes all it takes is a hug.  Sometimes all it takes is a:

“I’m sorry you have to go through this.”

“We’re thinking about you!”

“We love you.”

“We’re praying for you.”

Just don’t leave them wondering whether or not you care.  It took so much courage for them to open up.  The fact that they told you they are struggling, is a huge sign of trust. 

Infertility is difficult enough as it is; no couple should have to struggle through it alone. 
To learn more about infertility, please visit here.


  1. I have been thinking about this myth a lot lately, so I am so glad that you wrote about it. I am so glad to know that I am not the only one who has had a hard time with this. I, too, sent out an email telling friends and family what had happened to us and there weren't many who responded which really hurt me. Those that did respond, I cherish what they had to say. Even now, when I tell people through an email or in person, they don't say anything and move on to a different subject. It makes me feel like infertility is invalid. Anyway, great post Whitney, thanks for writing it and letting more people be aware. :)

  2. Amen. I'm really glad you wrote about this too. Especially since I feel like I always say the wrong thing, feel guilty about already having a child, and go through periods of awkward silence. It's good to know that it's still worth something.

  3. Beautiful post Whitney. You are so good at expressing things. I am proud of you for reaching out for support. I hope you know I am always here for you and love you. You and Spencer are in my prayers:) Thanks for your heartfelt thoughts.

  4. Love it! After being unchosen, the silence is what hurt the most. I was grieving and I needed support, but I didn't get it. I think its because they just didn't say anything. I wish they would have said something because them saying nothing made it hurt all that much more.

  5. We told some family members right away, however we waited a LONG time to tell anybody else! Once we broke the silence, people were a lot more sympathetic and sensitive!

  6. You addressed this so beautifully Whitney. I completely agree with you about just saying something. I always love when someone simply acknowledges that we are going through a hard time and says something comforting, as simple as their words may be. Thank you for helping bust infertility myths! :)

  7. Oh, that was Emily. :) I'm just logged in as Richard. :)

  8. Best thing I ever did was 'break my silence'. I'm in an internet group with a bunch of women who I know will never say anything. I understand their reasons, but their desire to protect themselves from an errant negative/uninformed comment is depriving them of more support than they realize. Great post and well said. Its been such a pleasure to discover new blogs with the NIAW blog challenge!

  9. Whitney, being on the "other side" of this post, I want you to know that I have appreciated it when loved ones have told me of their struggles regarding having children. When they open up and tell me of their struggle, I feel open to actually say something. I feel trusted and appreciate that my dear family/friend would share something so personal. I think it shows a lot on their side. That being said, I'm not very good at words. I know I always say things wrong, and it's hard for me to be open and communicate because I do trip and stumble over my words. I might not be good at saying words, but I am good at praying. Just want you to know that you are included in my prayers, along with other family and friends who are experiencing struggles and challenges. Thank you for loving and trusting me enough to share this with me. I really do believe that this is what we are here for, not to just completely expose ourselves and our secrets, but to open up and allow others to help us- whether it be with words, hugs, or just simple prayers.

  10. Great post! It was difficult for me that my in-laws never really asked about our fertility treatments. It made me feel like they didn't care. I love the suggested comments you gave at the end. Those are the best comments!

  11. love. this is a magnificent post.

  12. Great post!

    Rachel- my in-laws are like that too! It wasn't until After we adopted our daughter they said anything!

  13. Love this. My in-laws never said anything either. I hated them for it. Honestly. Even when I got pregnant and had a horrible pregnancy they didn't even mention it.