Because you can't, sometimes things just can't be fixed
Just cheer up, it will be okay!
Just take a deep breath and calm down.
Just count to 10 or walk away.
We're having trouble getting pregnant.
Just adopt! Just relax! Just stopping trying!
We think these above statements are empathy. But, really they are pity filled sympathetic responses to provide that quick fix; our attempt to try to make it better.
It seems like empathy skills are missing for a lot of us. We aren't taught how to be empathic and, I think, we even sometimes think we would rather have sympathy than empathy.
Sympathy is I feel for you; pity.
Empathy is I feel with you; I get it.
A think a major confusion is that we are mistaken in thinking that we must have gone through the exact same instance in order to have empathy. But that just isn't how it works. In order to be empathetic we simply need to be able to understand and know what it feels like to feel the feeling that someone is experiencing. As Brené Brown states in The Daring Way™ curriculum, if you have ever experienced guilt, sadness, anger, disappointment, etc. then you are equipped for empathy.
So we all (outside of the extreme sociopath, read the Underwood's from House of Cards) are able to show empathy and yet we are so quick to just fix it coming from a place of sympathy.
When we hear someone is in struggle we want to take away the pain, we want to make it better, we want to fix it.
We cannot stand discomfort.
We don't like to feel sad or mad or disappointed ourselves, let alone to be with someone we care about in their sadness or anger or disappointment.
We don't want someone we love, hell even a complete stranger, to feel this discomfort either. But, really it's more about our struggle sit with them through it.
So, we try to fix it with a quick solution, a just stop talking about it.
And when we do this we minimize and invalidate; even if it does come from a place of love.
Practicing empathy means being willing to sit with someone in their discomfort. It means being willing to just be with someone maybe not saying a single word. It means simply saying, that is so hard, that sucks, I can't imagine, ugh.
The world needs a whole lot more compassion in every area. But through my work in Ever Upward, fertility seems to be one of the biggest areas.
Because everyone has an opinion on family planning and it is assumed that everyone wants, needs and is able to make a family.
When in reality, this can't be further from the truth.
My #fertilitycompassion survey had three questions:
- What are some of the most difficult/insensitive statements or questions you have received in regards to your family planning?
- How did you respond? And why?
- What could have been a better way for the question to be asked?
The survey was anonymous and was answered by both men and women and by both people with and without children, fertile and infertile, and some childfree by choice, chance or circumstance.
Question #1 - The minimizing, invalidating, simple fix questions
These fell into 11 categories.
- God's plan.
- Just adopt.
- Getting pregnant is so easy.
- Just relax.
- But you're the lucky one.
- Parenting is the only purpose.
- Empathy versus sympathy.
- Easy solution.
- You'll change your mind.
- Point the finger and blame.
- Family planning.
"You're just not being faithful enough. You aren't praying the right healing prayers. It's just not in His plan for you to be a mom. God doesn't think you're financially ready to be a parent. It's just not meant to be."
2. Just adopt - these still spark some anger in me, mostly at the lack of understanding.
"Just adopt. Why don't you just foster? There are so many minority kids who need good homes. Don't you think you should save a child before having any more of your own?"
3. Getting pregnant is so easy - obviously not: 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage.
"You're so young, you have so much time. You're next! A lot of women miscarry! You were so early!"
4. Just relax - if only it were this simple for all of us.
"Just relax. Go on vacation. Have a margarita. Just don't think about it."
5. But you're the lucky one - the one upper, I have it so much worse.
"You have it so easy without kids. You don't need time off work, you don't have kids waiting for you at home. Oh, I'm a terrible mother, you can have my kids. You can borrow mine any time."
6. Parenting is the only purpose - if this is true I'm screwed.
"You aren't a parent, you wouldn't understand. But kids is the only purpose we have in life. Who will take care of you when you are old? But, having kids is the only way to really feel love."
7. Empathy versus sympathy - your pity does nothing for me and only leaves me feeling even more alone.
"I feel for sorry for you. Oh, I am so glad we never struggled, I can't imagine."
8. Easy solution - there are a millions way to make a family, none of them easy.
"Have you tried this? Or that? $15,000 isn't that much money, just do IVF. My friend had that too, she got pregnant just fine. Just try again. I'll carry for you."
9. You'll change your mind - we each have our own path, allow everyone to own theirs even if it is different than yours.
"But how do you know you won't want kids later in life? You can always just adopt later on."
10. Point the finger and blame - this feels so damning.
"Is he shooting blanks? What's wrong with you? Who's fault is it? There must have been something wrong with it."
11. Family planning - everyone has an opinion they must share or could this just be a bid for connection?
"Everyone assumes we have 3 because we stopped trying."
"You must want a girl or aren't you glad you didn't have a girl?! (We have three boys and our little girl is in heaven)."
"When are you having another?"
"Be thankful for the one healthy child you have."
"You don't want them too far apart! (we've had three miscarriages after our first)"
"You should really try for a girl next time. (we have two boys; we have lost three female babies)."
"Shouldn't you just be happy with the two you have."
"You don't want to be too old."
"Was she an accident? (she is five years younger than her brothers)."
Before I move on to writing about questions 2 and 3, I will let these settle in some.
Are we all just being too sensitive?
But as someone who has struggled to do the very thing that many of us believe we were put on earth to do, be a parent, these questions and statements cut like a knife.
They invalidate the painful journey we have been on.
They minimize the paths before us.
And, even though I sincerely believe they come from love (and curiosity), I also know they come from ignorance and comparison.
So for now, think before you speak and watch your tone, you honestly have no idea what the person on the other side of your words has gone through; the pain they have suffered, the losses they have endured and the struggles of their daily lives.
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."—Rev. John Watson
"Including you."—Glennon Melton
Don't make your words added pain.
And, in part 2 I will share how people respond to these questions and statements. But, mostly I will focus on what we all really want and need to hear instead.
Compassion. Empathy. Hope.
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Ever Upward presale live now.
Ever Upward Launch Party is October 4th.
Fertility Compassion Survey will continue to collect responses.
If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating ;), please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine