It seems like everyone has a story that they want to share if you tell them you are dealing with infertility. If I say that we have been trying for 3+ years, they tell me about their friend's sister's co-worker who had her first baby after 10 years of trying – or that they finally conceived after giving up on TTC. If I say I have had 3 miscarriages, they tell me about their cousin's uncle's brother's wife who had 7 miscarriages and was later able to carry to term. I know that all of these stories are meant to be an encouragement and inspiration to me to not give up, but sometimes I wish people would just appreciate what I am going through without telling me about someone they know who had it even worse!
At times it feels like they are minimizing my struggles. Instead of sympathizing with where I am right now, they start talking about some other couple. It makes me feel like I am in some sort of a sick contest to see who ends up with the most difficult journey to a family and still triumphs. Like I need to compete to have the absolute worst story so that I will go down in all of my friend's history books and our story will be the one they tell some other unsuspecting infertile woman who is just looking for some support and affirmation.
But it makes me wonder how often I have done the same to someone else. Do I ever respond to someone who has just told me about a struggle by comparing what they are going through to someone else's struggle, or even to my own experiences? Instead of trying to support them, let them talk it out, offer my prayers, do I just divert my attention to something or someone else? Do I truly listen to what they are telling me, or do I just start thinking about how I am going to respond to them? Wow, this is starting to sound like one of those seminars on active listening!
Living with IF, we develop certain sensitivities to common things that people say – like "just relax," or pointing to their cute little child and saying "this one right here is birth control" (yes, that really happened to me recently in the grocery store). I know my friends who have children have their own pet peeves about what people say to them. I remember making a comment to a friend after she had her third boy, that maybe next time she would get a girl. I later found out that people say that to her all the time and it really gets on her nerves – like she isn't happy with the children God gave her – whoops! I guess there are a lot of things you don't learn until you walk a mile in someone else's shoes.
Last summer during a particularly rough period, I ordered the book Hannah's Hope by Jennifer Saake. It is beautifully written. As I was looking for bible verses tonight, I grabbed her book and found a chapter entitled, "Put Yourself in My Shoes (Before You Put Your Foot in Your Mouth). A few sentences that I highlighted seemed particularly appropriate:
"In trying to explain fertility challenges to those who have never lived through such experiences, I have to remind myself that the outside perspective is one of innocence."
"When my life is over, do I want to be remembered as that self-absorbed woman who could only focus on her own hurt…"
"As you find yourself in uncomfortable places or conversations, ask God to give you grace to survive the moment, along with an understanding heart to hear the intended meaning behind your friend's words."
"Then Job answered and said: I have heard this sort of thing many times. Wearisome comforters are you all! Is there no end to windy words? Or what sickness have you that you speak on? I also could talk as you do, were you in my place." Job 16:1-4
"The prating of some men is like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise is healing." Proverbs 12:18
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection." Colossians 3:12-14
- How do I wish people would respond when I tell them about my struggles?
- Do I respond to others in the way I would like to be treated, or do I end up saying and doing the very things I dislike?
- Am I too focused on myself to appreciate other people's struggles?
Lord, help me to be a good friend to others. To truly listen to them, affirm them, and offer support when it is needed. Give me the wisdom and sensitivity I need to respond to other's needs. Help me to appreciate other people's comments for what they are intended to be, instead of what I twist them to mean. In all things, let me respond charitably to others.