Five stages of knowing an infertile person

You know the Kübler-Ross model of grief, don’t you? How a person who has lost someone or even something Hugely Important, could (or, if your psychologist (for psycholgist, substitute random acquaintance who reads Pop-Psych for fun, as appropriate) is a twatweasel, should) go through five stages on the way back to functioning in a new reality? Even Elizabeth Kübler-Ross agreed you needn’t go through all of them, or all of them in that order, or any of them only once (not that this stops said occasional twatweasel from mistaking a model for a road-map and getting all ‘you haven’t been in denial yet! You’re not allowed to be angry until next month!’ on you), but they tend to go Denial (this can’t be happening to me!), Anger (How dare this happen to me!), Bargaining (How can I make this not have happened to me?), Depression (I can’t bear that this has happened to me) and finally Acceptance (OK, that happened to me. And I’m still here).

I thought, though, it made an equally fine ‘model’ for how your (well, my, OK our (Christ on a cracker, what is it with me and parentheses today?)) friends and relations deal with The Presence of The Barren Among Them. Because we’ve all been startled, annoyed, hurt, and occasionally giggle-rama’d by said friends and relations and how they deal with us. Yes? Interested? Got your cocoa? Let me ramble forth in an expository manner forthwith.

Denial – Some of our friends and family (oh, let’s say FaF. Sooo much less typing) get stuck in Denial forever. ‘First stage’ my bottom. And denial is the one where the nicer ones say ‘it’ll be your turn next!’ and ‘I’m sure everything’s fine!’ and ‘It was just bad luck!’ and the infamous ‘Just relax! The nastier ones say ‘You’d better hurry up with that kid-making, you know. You’re not getting any younger,’ and ‘Worse things happen to people, you know. It’s not the end of the world’ and ‘Well, if you weren’t so bloody neurotic about it…’ and ‘Are you sure you and [spouse] are doing it right? Har har har.’ And everyone thinks you really do want to see eight million pictures of the family babies and hear blow-by-blow accounts of your cousin’s pregnancy and knit booties and are completely baffled when you try to tell them all this relentless baby-talk is, well, upsetting, especially after [insert personal horror here]. Denial, usually, fades after a year or two (or three, or if you’re my mother, six (and she still has outbreaks)), as it becomes totally fucking obvious to all except the most clueless hen-witted whistledick that THERE AIN’T NO BABY. Which leads to:-

Anger – Aaaaaaand we’ve all been victims of this, haven’t we? Anger and its best friend Blame. ‘Why won’t you go to Cousin SillySlut’s baby shower? You’re so selfish!’, and ‘Why won’t you give us grandchildren, you selfish person?’ and ‘Why can’t you just be happy for me? So what if my third child is due on the same day as the one you miscarried? So what if I announce twins at Thanksgiving just when you found out your second IVF also failed?’ And ‘It’s because you were such a slapper at college. It’s your comeuppance,’ and ‘Well, you must have done something to cause the miscarriage,’ and ‘I knew you shouldn’t try to have kids,’ and ‘You’d be a crap parent anyway,’ and ‘Well, we don’t really want you to come to Baby Flymo’s Christening because it’s only for parents…’ Of course, not all your FaFs will be such massive turds – at least, I pray not all your FaFs are such massive turds. But alas even the kindest of souls can suffer a sociopathic episode and say something monumentally crass and hurtful out of sheer flap-burble-nervous-mouth. My own mother once asked me if there was anything I could have done to stop a miscarriage. As if it wasn’t perfectly bloody obvious that had there been, I would have done it. And some FaFs genuinely mean to hurt. The situation, your grief, makes them acutely uncomfortable. Sadly, humans do lash out at whatever or whoever is making them acutely uncomfortable. And humans also hate the thought that Crap Happens To Good People. If they entertain said thought seriously, it means, OMG, that Crap could happen to them. And this is too scary to deal with, so they prefer to blame people for their misfortunes. And also lash out, because you and your misfortunes made them think, damn it, and it was really scary and they are so not doing it again so it must be your fault. Eheu.

Bargaining – Bargaining is the ‘why don’t you just adopt’ phase of FaF involvement. The ‘Why don’t you just do that in-vino-test-tube thing?’ stage. Come on, surely if you Do This Thing, the Bad Sad won’t happen, and then it’ll all be OK? Yes? OK? Please? No more sad? So why don’t you eat pineapple/go on vacation/try this doctor/do what [totally unrelated person with different health issues] did? Why won’t doing this simple thing help? Why won’t throwing money at the problem help? Please make this dreadful sad thing stop happening to you, to us, to the family? Here’s a fertility amulet and a cheque and a photocopied article from a magazine and eighteen amateur cod-diagnoses and a bottle of cough-syrup and a cruise brochure and your Granny’s nightie and a website on fostering and Jane-you-went-to-school-with has adopted Chinese twins and please please make this bad thing stop happening. It’s fucking infuriating for infertile peeps, this phase, mostly because your bargaining FaFs are so almighty fucking clueless and clearly don’t listen to a word you say, but, eh, they can’t listen right now. If they did, they’d have to deal with the fact there is eff-all they can do except listen. And nobody wants to feel that powerless. Certainly not us, and, yes, not them, either. Which leads to :-

Depression – This is considerably worse for the infertile person than for his or her FaFs. This is the stage when they give up. They stop asking you to family things. Friends stop calling, and tend not to answer your emails. They don’t want to talk about it, and pushing them can lead to outbreaks of Anger or Denial or Bargaining or, sometimes, in a magnificent display of missing the fucking point of who here is actually the one who needs thoughtfulness the most, all three in one short email. They don’t want to talk to you full-stop, because you might bring ‘it’ up, and they can’t talk about ‘it’, because they feel guilty and powerless and awkward and can’t deal with the fact Crap Happens To Good People and there’s nothing anyone can do. They’re pregnant again, and have no idea how to tell you, especially as they know you’d give your eye-teeth to be in their shoes and all they can think about is haemorrhoids, mortgages, and bloody buggering teething for the third time in four years, and they feel ashamed. Or they’ve never been pregnant in their lives but are happy as Larry that way and simply do not understand why you aren’t. And there it is, the widening pool of silence, loneliness, failure.

Acceptance – Ideally, a FaF would ‘get’ that it’s not about them. That you can be happy for them while being sad for you, and they too can be sad for you while being happy for them. That you won’t talk about ‘it’ incessantly. That you do need to talk about it sometimes and a good friend will listen, pass the kleenex, and pour more tea/whisky/cocoa/merlot. A good friend will know they’re not supposed to fix it, just to cheerlead. That they should respect your decisions and choices. That they should keep asking you to showers/Bris/birthdays, even if you say no half the time, because their love for you is about more than mere apposite social cohesion. A good FaF not in the trenches themselves would be aware that silence from you is a sign you are lonely and overwhelmed and not coping, and not comfort themselves with the lie that ‘oh, s/he’ll get in touch when they’re ready!’. Because they would realise that reaching out to people is hard, and reaching out to those whose lives are already full of babies and toddlers and school runs and milk-teeth is even harder, not least because you – we – have been socialised to Put Parents First. A FaF in acceptance would be able to say, simply, ‘I’m so sorry this has happened to you. I am listening. Have an eclair.’


25 responses to “Five stages of knowing an infertile person

  • Hat

    I am going to print this out and give to my HUSBAND. Because most 90% of my faf either get it or do the silence thing (fine by me thankyou very much) except him. according to him, I cry every weekend about not having kids. Um No I cry most because he is acting like a turd or Im in physical pain and mad at my phisical limitations that HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH INFERTILLITY becauyse my infertility is caused by loving you…. but I dont ever tell him that. anyways Thanks again May! I love it.

  • Jo.

    This is fucking awesome. I am going to have to find a way to work “twatweasel” into my next conversation. Except that I am Infertile and therefore Antisocial. Still…best post I’ve read in a long time.

  • a

    Here’s my anger story for you…clearly imprinted on my mind. I only wish I could remember exactly when it happened. It was either shortly before or shortly after my daughter was born, though. I was 37 when she was born, for the sake of reference.

    One of my SILs is married to someone who could, some days, be called…slow. We were all at a gathering at another SIL’s house, and we were standing around the kitchen, as we do. He started expounding on the idea he had that people should have their kids before they turned 28. Any older than that, he opined, and you’d be too old to play with them. At that point, I caught his eye, smiled sarcastically, and said “Thanks.”


  • SRB

    Magnificent. Simply, magnificent.

    Denial and anger are spot-fucking-on in my experience. Fortunately, I have one friend who was always in “acceptance” but she has the gall to live in another country. Twatweasel.

  • Esperanza

    Oh my fucking god. This is genius. You are genius. “Twatweasle” is genius. Also, how did you know that I have a Cousin Sillyslut? Well, make that multiple Cousin Sillysluts.

    Thank you for this. Just thank you.

  • Valery Valentina

    Thanks for typing this all out, I love it
    Sorry for sliding back to bargaining for you so often. I keep wanting to help you, keep wanting to find things to console you even though I know better, should know better. yes, I hurt for you, for your lost babies, I hurt for my lost twin and I’m scared sh*tless trying to feel happy for my survivor.
    So, making tea now, drying tears. ad maybe look for some glutenfree lemon poppyseed muffin recipe. or something.

  • Solnushka

    I am so sorry this has happened to you. I am listening. Have an eclair.

    And a hug.

    ‘Cousin SillySlut’. Hehehehe. Although I do believe Flymo is my absolute favourite.

  • alloallo

    this is the bestest thing ever. and so ridiculously fucking true, even from the most well-meaning FaF.

  • Amanda (

    This is a fantastic post. I’m going to pass this along to some friends and family members.

  • Jenny

    This. Is. Brilliant.

    Thank you.

  • Jenny F. Scientist, PhD

    I think that under many deeply unfair circumstances Anger quite frequently comes first. WHY ME seems a very natural response to infertility, rather than “This isn’t happening to me”. In any event, though I’ve not been through this process myself, this neatly describes exactly what happened to a friend of mine, amongst her clueless friends and family. “Happy for you but sad for me” is exactly what she said when I told her we were expecting our first.

  • Amy

    This is so perfect. I AM listening, and I AM so sorry this has happened to you. Please have my share of eclairs, too! Hugs, May – thank you for continuing to let us share in your journey, and for writing such wonderful things as this. I truly hope that everything you’re working on will bring you your take-home baby! (Also, yes, Cousin SillySlut is GOLD.)

  • EmHart

    Brilliant. That is all.

  • Mina

    What can I say, you’re on fire, lady. FIRE! brilliant fire, that is.
    I’ll put the eclairs here, next to the choux á la crème and mousse au chocolat, and between the cuppas. I am all ears.

    PS – Cousin SillySlut says ‘use less parantheses and more paragraphs’. Actually, this is my translation, she said less ‘explanations, more smaller texts’. She can’t read that many words in a row, after row after row. it gives her a headache.

  • Conceptionally Challenged

    Interesting. Most of my FaF just never say anything. The tell they’re pregnant or just had a baby, I congratulate them and tell a bit about our story — and that’s that. Not heard of again. I thought it was mainly the inability to deal with “bad things happen to good people” and the scariness of that thought.
    Hugs to you, May. I’m sorry you had to get to know all those wonderful shades of FaF behavior, in addition to all the infertility crap.

  • Twangy

    Well said! And many accepting hugs and eclairs. It takes forever to get there, gawd knows, I’ve taken my time. Sigh. Hard-won maturity, at last.

  • Katie

    My FaF seem to be either in stage 1 or stage 3 (well, except they are all a bit flabberghasted with Baby Spouse, but that’s where they were). Even some people parenting after infertility have mad ideas about what may and may not work – and I hope I haven’t done this myself too often – if I know about my own insides, fine, but I probably don’t know about someone else’s.

  • minichessemouse

    Oh may! Have a hug and ALL my eclairs (as they are full of cream and covered in chocolate and not mouse friendly)

    You are such a wonderful, witty and charming person and I feel so privileged to be able to call you a friend.

  • Betty M

    Oh I have seen all of these. An excellent primer for all the clueless family and friends out there. We chose to keep it secret from all family and nearly all friends which saved me from most of this. If FaFs thought we were having issues they kept it very quiet for which I am eternally grateful.

  • Valery Valentina

    A bit of topic, sorry, but still nice reading for anyone dealing with FaF and loss… found it on Mel’s creme de la creme list.

  • lifeintheshwa

    In just one phone conversation my mother last week went through EVERY one of these! Spot on! It started with “well you’re just so busy and stressed you need to relax (hah the R word makes my blood pressure rise),” and moved on rapidly to anger about a 3rd Dr diagnosing RPL and IF as “there has to be a cause,” followed by “I’ll volunteer at the teen pregnancy clinic and get you a baby” to “this is just awful dear” and finally “allow me to give you all the money you would need for eleventy billion cycles at the FancyPants Clinic.”

  • Elizabeth

    Absolutely brilliant!!!

  • loribeth

    Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. : ) Sending you as many eclairs as it’s possible to send through cyberspace. ; )

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