The days that I started telling people about our infertility was the day I first understood, really understood, how insensitive people can be to grief. We, in the Jewish community talk a good game about being kind and generous, but everyone who’s ever been through anything will tell you the horror stories. The man sitting shiva who was interrogated about the cause of his wife’s death. The friend who tried to change the subject to “lighter things” after a parent died.
Seared into my mind as the symbol of clueless was the day I found out a friend was murdered, and as I looked out into the somber faces at the table in front of me, I glanced a man, unfamiliar with the deceased, playing games on his phone. Seared into my mind was the insensitivity, the callousness of not feigning pain for the few hours or even minutes it would have taken before he left the room. I don’t know if people are just that self-involved, that stupid, or that sociopathic….. I prefer to believe they simply don’t know better. But as I deal with our impending journey to IVF and all the fears it entails, here’s what I wish I could say to the people I’ve entrusted with my struggle.
1. Please look like you care. If your tone sounds exactly the same as if I told you I went on vacation, it’s obvious you don’t. I told you because I thought my feelings mattered to you….. If I was wrong, at least fake it so I don’t feel like an idiot for sharing something so vulnerable. I know it’s not your pain, your experience, but try to understand this is a big thing.
2. Don’t talk about the most fertile women/families of the community right in front of me. I don’t see you all day…… save it for when I’m not around for Hashem’s sake. Don’t you get how that hurts?
Don’t tell me what to do if you know nothing about it. Do you give running advice to a marathon runner? Do you give money advice to a millionaire? Maybe you do. Do you give cancer advice to a cancer survivor, medical advice to someone with AIDs? Maybe you do that, too. But you shouldn’t. You know nothing, you are nothing in this world if you haven’t experienced it. Don’t try to advise your way through a system you don’t know or understand.
3. Don’t change the subject. If I’m sharing it with you, it’s because I want to talk about it or at least get the words and thoughts out. If I wanted to not talk about it, I’d keep my mouth shut. I need to tell you what’s going on at least sometimes because this is my life now.
4. Don’t just stare at me. The staring is unbearable, you act like I have third-degree burns on my face (which by the way if I did, you still shouldn’t be fucking staring). I know you don’t know what to say. I can forgive you for your thoughtless comments if they happen, but I can’t forgive the silence. I need to know you are listening by telling me you are listening. If you can’t be an active listener and respond to what I’m saying, just be a reflective one. Tell me what I just said. Tell me what I’m telling you I feel. Maybe you think that’s not enough. But it *is* enough. Because I hide this part of my life all day every day. I go to work and I hide it, I go to shul and I hide it, I go home and hide it from my husband because I know my grief will just compound his grief. So I’m telling you, one of a select few I can tell it to, and I need you to acknowledge that this is happening. That you hear and remember this conversation and that when I leave you will carry a little bit of this secret burden with me.
I need that. Please.