“As a parent you are as happy as your most unhappy child. It was so hard sitting on the sidelines watching our children struggle. We saw their pain and anguish. And we wanted to make it go away. We wanted them to have a child so badly, and knowing that there was nothing we could do to make it happen was devastating. It felt like just yesterday that we could fix all their problems with a kiss, and here they were facing the most challenging problem in their lives and all we could do was respect their space.”
Sometimes, Silence Is Golden
It can be painfully difficult being the parents of children facing infertility. There are endless questions you want to ask, suggestions and advice you’ve heard over the years that you want to share. Just as important and possibly even harder is the need to remember to respect their space and privacy. They may be very reluctant to discuss it with you. And as a result your questions, suggestions and ideas can push you further away rather than bring you closer.
As a parent you want to jump in and fix things. They are still your children and it can be easy to forget that they are adults navigating a very sensitive challenge that affects a deeply private part of their relationship. For many couples in general, the issue of fertility can be wrapped in shame. In the Jewish community, where children are a major focal point, these couples remain silent. Even if you had a similar experience, your children will be navigating this as a couple in their own ways. It is important to respect that and let them guide the discussion.
If they have opened up, listen to them and follow their lead. When they want to share, be present. When they want to avoid the topic, find other ways to engage.
Whether you are aware or not of the personal crisis your children are facing, here are some things to avoid saying in their presence:
1. Questions about reproduction such as “When will you give me a grandchild?” or “Your son/daughter needs a sibling” are hurtful and a reminder of their struggle, even when meant in love or in jest.
2. Do not push your children to share information about their fertility challenges and treatments that they are not comfortable sharing.
3. Being told about someone else’s success story can be very triggering, even if reading it on their own is encouraging.
Things to consider:
1. For those navigating primary infertility (to have their first child), ensure that your children feel special in their own right and no less important to you, even though they have not yet given you a grandchild.
2. For some parents/grandparents getting support may enable them to be more present emotionally for their child/grandchild.
3. Learn about infertility, listen to the information they share, do your own research and ask others your questions, so that when your children do share, you understand what they are talking about and do not need to overwhelm them with questions.
4. You can help break the stigma surrounding infertility by speaking about it with friends and sharing with other “grandparents-to-be” who may be entering this experience for the first time.
We try to treat each child fairly and equally. We work hard to give them the attention and unending love they need and crave. But there are times where we have to pull back, let our children live their lives and when they’re ready, they’ll share.
Infertility is not an easy topic for anyone. Your children may feel more comfortable talking to siblings or friends, rather than their parents. Your job as a parent is to continue to shower them with unconditional love. If and when the time is right, they will broach the subject with you.
When they do, be present. Listen, learn and then ask how you can help. And if the only help requested is a hug, you know what to do. You’ve been doing it for as long as you can remember.
Gila Muskin Block is a fertility warrior and executive director of Yesh Tikva (yeshtikva.org). Yesh Tikva, Hebrew for “There is hope,” was established to end the silence and create a Jewish community of support for all Jewish people facing infertility. Yesh Tikva provides free professional psychosocial services, resources and tools to those struggling with infertility and raises awareness and sensitivity on the subject throughout the Jewish community.