It’s that phrase that I think most of us have heard at some point during the infertility journey. ‘At least you…’, often followed with the pointing out of something that you already have, or should consider yourself lucky not to have. With good intention, human nature tries to lessen the pain by pointing out the positives but sometimes this actually ended up making me feel worse, making me doubt whether I was normal for feeling as deeply as I did.
There’s one example that stands out to me, one that would sit well within the ‘Think What Not To Say’ #twnts campaign by @thisisalicerose (check it out on Instagram). At one of my darkest times, when I was really struggling to cope with the prospect of never becoming a Mum, someone responded by telling me that they knew someone that had sadly become ill. They went on to (not so subtly) emphasise how well that person had coped throughout the diagnosis and treatment. This was followed by,
“It puts things into perspective doesn’t it? At least you’re not ill”
Of course, I was incredibly grateful to have good health (aside from my prematurely aged ovaries), I knew that on the whole I was very lucky – I had a lovely husband, a nice house, good job but it didn’t change the fact that what I wanted more than anything was to be a Mum. By talking about my situation in this way it made me feel like I was overreacting for feeling the way that I did, she may as well have said ‘well, it could be worse’. By saying ‘at least you’ it belittled my feelings and made me feel like I wasn’t normal to feel so all-consumed by my infertility.
There were many other instances of the phrase I came across;
‘At least you can have a full night’s sleep – I’ve been up with a teething baby all night.’
‘At least you can go on holiday whenever and wherever you want.’
And a particularly difficult one to hear following my missed miscarriage;
‘At least you know you can get pregnant.’
My lovely Instagram Followers also shared with me some of their ‘at least you…’ moments – it seems I’m not the only one that came across this phrase!
‘At least you have a house, and a job and your health, you’re not dying or anything…’
‘At least you can come and see our house now’ (Following a tricky pregnancy that ended)
‘At least you found out when you were younger’
After saying that they felt particularly awful that day… ‘At least you’re not pregnant’
‘At least it’s not cancer’ (re the grapefruit sized cyst that has eaten my right ovary)
‘At least you got a positive after everything’
I don’t know about you, but these really made me wince! In the most part however, people don’t actually mean to make us feel worse than we already do. I believe it is very easy to fall into the trap of starting a sentence with these three words, I’m sure at some point I will have been guilty of using this myself. Sometimes it’s just too uncomfortable to sit with someone’s pain and not offer any words of wisdom, you just can’t help wanting to make them feel better about the situation. There’s an instinctive urge within us to look for some kind of positive and steer away from the glaring negative. As humans we generally want to make others feel better and to fix things, but some feelings just can’t be fixed with words. Sometimes all you need is for someone to acknowledge the size of your pain say ‘Yes, I know, it really is s**t. I am here for you’.
For those of you who know someone experiencing infertility we know you mean well, but please think before trying to make someone feel better by saying ‘at least you’, it suggests that they shouldn’t be feeling the way that they do and may not be what they need to hear. It’s so important that people feel comfortable enough to have an open conversation about their fertility struggles without the fear of someone actually belittling that struggle as something trivial or unimportant.
Everyone has a different story, it is sharing these stories (without judgment!) that make us feel less alone.
Love, Becky x