Excerpt: Don’t Tell Her to Relax

Excerpt: Don’t Tell Her to Relax

BMP- Don;t tell her to relax

By Zahie El Kouri

Chapter 3: Empathize with Your Infertile Loved One’s Sense of Urgency

While many women won’t want to discuss their infertility, some will eventually confide in close friends or relatives, and others will be open about their difficulties with getting pregnant from the first sign of trouble.

If you know your ILO is having trouble getting pregnant, whether she has told you or you just suspect, it may be very tempting to tell her to relax. You are not alone. As a society we seem to have decided that, “Just relax and you’ll get pregnant,” should be the automatic response to a confession of infertility.

Variations on the theme include, “If you go on a vacation, I just know you will get pregnant.”

Or, “If you start the adoption process, you will get pregnant.”

Or, “The minute you stop trying to get pregnant, you will get pregnant for sure.” All of these statements sound fine in the abstract.

It’s true that many women get pregnant while waiting to be placed with a child through adoption. It’s true that relaxation is key to good health, and good health is important for the reproductive system. It’s true that vacations are generally excellent, and your ILO probably deserves one.

But the reality is that true infertility is a medical condition, and relaxation will not cure any of the underlying physiological problems that cause it. Adoption is a long process, and some women will get pregnant while waiting to be placed with a child just because of how long it takes. But if your ILO has primary ovarian insufficiency (formerly known as premature ovarian failure), no amount of relaxation or adoption paperwork will help her conceive a child.

Even if your ILO knows you mean well, try to hold off from offering this kind of advice. It can sound flippant and smug, even if you don’t mean it that way. And even if relaxation would help, your directive will not help your ILO relax at all, and will probably make her feel as though you don’t understand her sense of urgency and panic about having a child, in turn making her feel less supported rather than more supported in her situation.

Takeaway Tip: Never say, “Just relax, and you’ll get pregnant.” Concentrate on other aspects of your relationship, or gently ask, “Do you want to talk about your fertility treatments?” You can always remind your ILO of the following: “I want you to know that I am not bringing up babies because I don’t want to be nosy, but if you ever want to talk about them, I’m here for you.”

Headshot Zahie El KouriRead our Q&A with the author.

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Author Q&A: Zahie El Kouri

Headshot Zahie El KouriWhat was your inspiration for writing Don’t Tell Her to Relax?

During my many years of struggling to get pregnant, I experienced a great deal of frustration with friends and relatives who really wanted to be helpful and compassionate, but who kept saying the wrong things. I was painfully aware that these people cared about me and would have said something less hurtful and more helpful if they knew what that might be. I imagined a sign I could carry around listing my top 5 requests for human communication during this time, and that imaginary sign turned into this book.

What was the hardest part to write?

It took a few drafts to sort out my feelings about interacting with people while wanting a child and not being able to get or stay pregnant. I really had to use my novelist’s brain to put myself in the shoes of all the nice people who meant well but who said things that I found hurtful and frustrating.

What was the greatest challenge in bringing the book to market?

The greatest challenge was my own attachment to the traditional publishing model. It was difficult for me to let go of the idea that someone else had to say the book was good enough to merit publication.

What do you hope the reader will take away from your book?

I hope readers will learn some simple, concrete actions they can take and meaningful, compassionate things they can say to be supportive of those who are experiencing infertility.

What book(s) had the greatest influence on you?

If I had to narrow the list down to three,

  1. Gish Jen, Typical American, for its portrayal of the immigrant family experience.
  2. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey, because Peter Carey is amazing.
  3. Mei Ling Hopgood , How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, for its reminder that almost all parenting truths and methods are culturally constructed.

How do you balance writing and motherhood?

Now that I am a mother of infant twins in addition to a toddler, I am able to balance writing and motherhood with a lot of child-care help from my husband, my mother, and assorted babysitters. I also am really working on defining success both as a parent and as a writer on my own terms. Having worked so hard to have a child and being an older parent has made me both more comfortable with my current work-parenting balance (which currently involves more parenting than work), and more eager to get back the time I invested in fertility treatments and logistics.

What is your advice to mother writers?

Ask for the help that you need. Ask for the time that you need to do the things that will make you a balanced person and better parent.

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