Gift-giving can be a challenge, whether you’re buying for Christmas, birthdays or a thank-you for a friend who housesat while you were on vacation. Although the popular saying claims “it’s the thought that counts,” sometimes a gift can send the wrong message. In a worst case scenario, it can be downright thoughtless (even if unintentionally so).
This is especially true when you’re purchasing a gift for a woman who is experiencing infertility, a recent miscarriage or recurrent pregnancy loss. Infertility affects one in eight couples in the United States, and nearly 12 percent of all women will receive fertility treatment in their lifetime. Not everyone talks about it, and sometimes a friend or someone you work with may be hurting from recurrent pregnancy loss or an inability to conceive without you even realizing it.
If you know an infertile woman, or you suspect a female friend, relative or co-worker is struggling with trying to conceive (TTC), it’s best to think critically about a gift before tying on the bow and handing it over.
Before you shop, it’s a good idea to know what to steer clear of. Here are five gifts to avoid when giving a present to an infertile woman or someone grieving the loss of a pregnancy.
It might be tempting to offer the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book or a well-known fertility guide, but it’s best to avoid any types of self-help books, devotionals or inspirational biographies of people who overcame infertility. Nicole Witt, the executive director of The Adoption Consultancy and a woman who went through her own infertility experience, says that books like this can trigger feelings of sadness on top of the grief the woman is already feeling.
Furthermore, everyone processes grief and loss differently. Some people draw strength and solace from reading about others who have experienced similar challenges in their lives. In some cases, however, reading about all the things that could go wrong can create more anxiety and fear. Offering a therapy book or self-help guide could also make the person feel like she can’t handle the experience on her own and needs outside guidance. Leave this sort of analysis to mental health professionals and physicians who can gently guide her toward appropriate resources suited to her situation.
The same goes for pregnancy how-to books. Although you might mean well, giving someone an instruction manual for the female reproductive system or the mechanics of conception can imply that you think she’s ignorant or ill-informed. After months of TTC and constant doctors’ visits, many infertile women know much more about pregnancy and fertility than they ever thought possible.
As Tom Petty once sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.” When you’re stuck in a seemingly endless procession of two-week-waits and monthly cycles, however, a constant reminder of what you haven’t achieved is probably the last thing you need.
Witt says that cutesy pregnancy gifts or anything for the woman’s future baby are a no-no for gift lists. “It’s just another item that they have to hide away from themselves to avoid daily reminders of their grief,” she says. Baby onesies that say “worth the wait” or calendars that track pregnancy can be a constant reminder of a goal that has yet to be reached. A pregnancy-related gift might even send a negative message, as if you’re suggesting she needs a carrot dangled in front of her for inspiration or encouragement.
A better idea is to save these kinds of gifts for when your friend, relative or co-worker delivers her baby. Or, if she chooses to adopt, you could offer an appropriate gift when she brings her child home. There will be plenty of time for celebrating once she reaches her goal. In the meantime, steer wide of gifts involving baby gear or pregnancy.
When someone you care about is going through a rough patch, your first instinct might be to commiserate. Telling someone you feel their pain — à la the “boys suck” mug you got your college roommate after a particularly angst-ridden breakup — can make them feel like they’re not alone and may even produce a chuckle or two.
However, infertility is a uniquely personal and often emotionally painful experience. If you truly have never gone through it yourself, it’s difficult to grasp the feelings it produces. Studies have shown that infertile women experience anxiety levels and depression symptoms similar to those in women with cancer, heart disease and HIV.
Sending someone a gift that focuses on infertility can make them feel like you’re celebrating it, even if you did not mean it that way. Even worse, a humorous gift can imply you’re making light of their infertility struggles or miscarriage. Avoid this by staying away from any gift that specifically mentions infertility.
Of course, you can still lend your support in other ways. We’ve talked about the importance of building an infertility support network. If you have insight into infertility, don’t hesitate to share it with a friend or loved one who is encountering her own struggle. Just make sure you approach the subject cautiously, so you can be certain your input is welcome before you jump into the topic wholeheartedly.
Mother’s Day is big business in the United States. In fact, Americans spent about $21.4 billion on it in 2016. As May approaches, it’s nearly impossible to avoid references to Mother’s Day and celebrating mom. There are flowers, cards, balloons and a host of other gifts focused on all things maternal.
When you’re an infertile woman, these constant reminders can quickly feel like a sucker punch every time you venture near a Hallmark.
On the other hand, women who have lost a pregnancy are often overlooked on Mother’s Day. They don’t have a baby to hold in their arms, but they are mothers nevertheless. In some cases, it may be tempting to give an infertile woman a Mother’s Day card to let her know you’re thinking of her.
This is a lovely gesture, but be careful about mentioning Mother’s Day to an infertile friend or loved one. For some women, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of loss and a day they prefer to avoid altogether. For others, being recognized is touching and appreciated. Before you give a Mother’s Day card or gift, gently ask the woman how she feels about celebrating the day. This can help you avoid raising negative emotions or memories she’d rather not experience.
If it turns out she secretly wishes to be honored and celebrated on Mother’s Day, sending a card or gift can be a wonderful way to let her know she’s equally deserving of recognition on a day reserved for moms.
There are many different kinds of gifts designed to help grieving mothers memorialize lost pregnancies and stillbirths. However, it’s crucial to be careful before giving a gift like this to someone who has experienced a miscarriage or late pregnancy loss. From jewelry and sentimental keepsakes like bronzed baby booties, these gifts can end up being a constant reminder of grief and death instead of a celebration of life. Photography packages that memorialize an infant or lifelike reproduction dolls of infants lost in pregnancy or childbirth can even cause significant trauma.
It’s also best to avoid things like poems, journals and religious gifts meant for grieving mothers. Grief is a personal process, and everyone processes it differently. In most cases, simply letting your friend or loved one know you’re available to listen is the best gift you can give. You could also show your support by sending the couple a meal or buying them a gift card to their favorite restaurant.
In many cases, it’s a good idea to avoid any gift focused on the loss. Chances are, your friend or loved one is already mired in grief. Instead of choosing a gift that reminds her of the loss, opt for something that allows her to focus on her recovery and the next steps in her life. For example, a massage package or even a basket of fancy lotions or hair care products can give her a much-needed emotional boost. If you know the person well, you could also consider paying for something she wouldn’t ordinarily splurge on, such as a lawn maintenance company or a home cleaning service.
Just because someone you care about is struggling with infertility doesn’t mean you have to avoid buying them a present. On the contrary, the support you offer will likely mean a lot to a woman who is TTC or dealing with a miscarriage.
According to licensed psychotherapist and maternal health specialist Brooke Miller, “Pregnancy loss and fertility struggles are in the shadows in our culture.” Instead of shying away from these issues, Miller says we should be open about them and make sure the infertile women in our lives know we are supportive and willing to listen when asked.
You can even write a heartfelt note acknowledging the woman’s TTC struggles, letting her know you care and asking her if there is anything you can do to help. Miller suggests a card or note that includes a message like, “I know you recently experienced (fill in the blank), and I care about you so much and want to get you a gift for the holidays/your birthday. Can you help me with some ideas of what you would like?”
Miller says there are many different kinds of appropriate gifts for her suitable for infertile women. Gift ideas for women struggling with infertility include a gift certificate for a massage, a book for a bookworm or a latte machine for someone who loves coffee.
Alternatively, you can offer to pick up the tab for lunch. Many women who go through infertility become so focused on achieving pregnancy that they forget to care for their emotional well-being. The stress of TTC can even take a physical toll. If someone you care about is having trouble TTC, consider a gift that promotes self-care. Options include a girls’ night out, a gift card to her favorite salon or a couple free sessions at that yoga studio she’s been talking about.
Fertility coach, author and speaker Kristen Darcy says if you’re stumped about what to give, simply ask. “When you have a family member or friend in the middle of trying to conceive, regardless if it is through ART or timing, it is important to ask them what they need at this time and not assume you know!”
Darcy says the best gifts for infertile women are geared toward self-loving, healing and comfort. “Think comfy socks, a warm blanket or a day that allows them to ‘take a vacation from their situation.’”
If you have personally experienced infertility, you might be an exception to the general rule about avoiding certain types of gifts for infertile women. For example, if you found a particular self-help book about infertility or pregnancy useful as you went through your own infertility journey, it might be just what your loved one needs to climb her own infertility mountain. Likewise, if you and the infertile woman have the type of relationship that lends itself to snarky or dark humor, a humorous infertility gift might be appropriate and well-received.
The type of gift you choose can also depend on what time of year you’re giving it and the purpose behind it. For example, if you’re giving an infertile woman a gift specifically because she just experienced a miscarriage, it might be perfectly okay to skew the gift toward her recent loss—as long as you have good reasons to believe the gift will help and not harm. However, if the gift is for a birthday or holiday, it’s probably best to avoid any references to infertility. During birthdays and general holidays, she may long to simply lose herself in the day without thinking about infertility. You don’t want your gift to be a reminder of a subject she’s trying to put aside for a bit.
The important thing to remember is that giving a gift is about showing the recipient you care about them and support them. In most cases, any gift you give with love and support in mind will be appreciated and treasured.
Do you have a gift idea for an infertile woman? Share it with us by tweeting @ASTROGLIDE.
images are for illustrative purposes.