“Hope” and “Not Giving Up” in the Infertility Community

I’ve been stewing on this topic for a while. It’s been bothering me for a while and has been coming up a lot lately within the infertility community. Please know that this is not an attack on any one individual. Please also know that the intention of this piece is to help everyone reflect not to upset. It’s intention is to enlighten.

First let me say that I realize that almost everyone has the best of intentions. We all want to see each other succeed and have our happy endings. But sometimes our own personal situation clouds our judgment when we tell others that they need to “be hopeful” or that they “shouldn’t give up”. Most of the time these words come from people who are either pregnant after infertility or are parents after infertility, though not always it can also come from outsiders.

The misunderstanding is that these people believe if you have “hope” and you “don’t give up” you and your spouse will conceive a child. The reality is that “hope” and “not giving up” is as likely to get you pregnant as “relaxing” will get you pregnant. None of those things has anything to do with a couple going through infertility getting pregnant.

If a couple going through infertility is able to get pregnant it has everything to do with their bodies and the medical intervention that may or may not be utilized. A treatment delivered the pregnancy not hope or not giving up. Any medical professional will agree. All of our bodies and diagnosis are different. A treatment that works for one couple won’t work for other couples because their bodies are different even if the diagnosis is similar. I once heard a Reproductive Endocrinologist say he has seen couples with similar diagnosis have no trouble conceiving after Clomid cycles and others who had to move to IVF. This is all out of the couple’s control or anyone’s control for that matter. Conception isn’t an exact science otherwise infertility wouldn’t exist.

By telling a couple that they need to be “hopeful” and “not give up” you are telling them that if they do those things that they are guaranteed to get the same outcome they did. You are giving them a false sense of hope. You are telling them that if it doesn’t work out for them that it’s their fault they gave up and didn’t try hard enough. People going through infertility have self confidence issues and feelings of inadequacy to begin with. Telling them these things just amplifies these feelings. I don’t think that it’s the intention of the person saying this to make the couple feel this way but this is the reality of what is being said.

I’ve watched a number of people recently told to be hopeful and to not give up who went through IVF cycles and other treatments whose cycles/treatments ended up not working. What was already a painful experience became even more painful because it was expected that the result would be different because they were told to be hopeful. Again the intentions were good but the support was misguided and unrealistic.

For me personally the reason K isn’t able to get pregnant isn’t because we weren’t not hopeful, it’s because I was born with a genetic condition that’s left me unable to produce sperm. Believe me for the 18 months we tried naturally I was hopeful each month. Hope is not going to change that any more so than relaxing. If we stay the course and remain childless it won’t be because we gave up not pursuing third party reproduction or adoption, it will be because we moved on. I already feel like K & I haven’t even tried to have kids since we passed on treatments and third party reproduction. If someone told me to not give up hope it would make me feel like even more a quitter if we moved on childless.

My request to the Infertility community is that we stop telling people to “be hopeful” and to “not give up”. People don’t end up childless because they weren’t hopeful or they gave up. They ended up childless because their bodies wouldn’t allow it and because medicine wasn’t able to induce conception. It lead them to move on from trying to have children not give up on it.

Instead we should be wishing each other the best and root for them no matter what the result. Sending them strength and telling them that they are strong no matter what the result delivers powerful support. We should be mindful that all of our journeys are different and will end different. We need to realize that as much as we blame ourselves the reality is all of this is out of our control. It’s unfair for us to have hope and to give up on things out of our control that we already blame ourselves to begin with.

I hope (no pun intended) that those who are reading this don’t take offense but instead are able to learn from it so we can better support each other. I understand that this might be seen as me being bitter towards those who were able to have kids and I need to get over the fact that I’m unable to have kids with K. But this goes beyond me. I’m not the only one who ended up childless after infertility and I won’t be the last unfortunately.

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35 thoughts on ““Hope” and “Not Giving Up” in the Infertility Community

  1. My Perfect Breakdown

    I absolutely adore this post from a medical perspective – i.e. that hope is not going to give result in a magical cure to whatever if causing the infertility (in our case, RPL). I cannot hope our RPL away – I tried, it didn’t work and the science is now telling us that the magical cure is beyond our ability to achieve it. Hope will not make a difference in this reality. That said, I firmly believe for me, hope is a necessity. Not hoping for a magical cure (I spent enough time doing that and am so past that now), but hoping that tomorrow will be a better day; hoping that once we were pregnant that our child may live; hoping that we can learn to live (and thrive) under our circumstance; hoping that we will be okay with whatever happens in our future. I know that if I did not have this type of hope, my husband and I would not have survived losing 5 babies.
    And, on the topic of not giving up, thankfully most people have not said this to us (with the exception of a really bad fertility clinic who takes the perspective of just keep trying and it will eventually work). Most people, when they hear our RPL experiences (which is slightly different then a typical infertility journey), are always amazed that we have not given up already. So, thankfully for the most part, we have not faced the standard response of don’t give up. And, I am a firm believer that at the right point in time, people may have to give up, just as we have with our decision to stop trying and pursue adoption. When that times happens will be unique to every couple, but it is okay to get there and giving up may just be the best thing a couple can decide to do.
    Anyways, all of this is to say, I absolutely appreciate your words as they pertain to the impracticalities of hoping for a magical medical cure and not giving up. But, in the greater scheme of life, hope is absolutely a critical part of my personal life and while i know hope wont change my reality, I do know that it helps me have a positive outlook on life.

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      You know what you’re absolutely right. I had not thought of it that way. From a medical perspective Hope doesn’t exist but in the bigger scheme of life it has so much value. Thank you so much for your feedback.

      Reply
  2. sarahchamb

    Love every sentence of this post. Although I believe most people mean well, I feel a blame the victim mentality is what underlies “don’t give up” and “have hope” ideals. As you so clearly point out, the results of our journeys are not under our control.

    After four years of trying, 5 failed IUI’s, one surgery, and five failed rounds of IVF, my husband and I have decided to stop pursuing parenthood altogether. Only two people have commented positively as to us being responsible and aware of our limits. I know that what others perceive as us giving up is actually us choosing to not hop on a collision course with self destruction. One needs deep wells, both financially and emotionally, to embark on the adoption route. We are broke, I have a minimal level of PTSD resulting from our infertility experience, and I turn 43 in a couple of months. No amount of hope and persistence is going to change or override that.

    But that is just our story. Irregardless of one’s journey, whatever it has or hasn’t included, the relentless pursuit of parenthood, often entailing many unreasonable costs, is not the best path for everyone. Self preservation is just as noble a choice as any.

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      You and your husband are incredibly brave and strong. It takes so much courage and strength to go through what you have and still be standing. I am so sorry you haven’t received positive feedback because from my POV you deserve all the positive support and love out there. Thank you so much for your feedback. Best wishes to you and your husband on your journey.

      Reply
  3. Kitten

    I completely agree. Not saying “don’t give up” seems like a no-brainer to me, but I still struggle with hope. I would never tell someone they should have hope, but I have hoped FOR another. Thinking about it, though, that may be just as bad. I will certainly check myself the next time I’m tempted to use that word, no matter the context.

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      This piece generated a similar discussion on Twitter and the conclusion was that it’s ok to have hope for someone else as it is an encouraging. But it’s wrong to tell someone to don’t give up or don’t give up hope because you’re telling them they are wrong for how they feel.

      I am so glad you got a chance to read this. I was hoping you would give feedback as I knew you’d provide great feedback. Thank you so much. I hope all is well with you and your family (especially C). 🙂

      Reply
  4. Fertility Doll

    When someone emailed me their success story about natural identical twins after my first failed IVF (in order to give me a story of hope and to tell me to stay hopeful).. I wanted to punch them into orbit across cyberspace.

    Reply
    1. sarahchamb

      That’s friggen hilarious. Although I’m sorry because I’m sure it felt enraging. I just did send them a cyber punch, if only in spirit, for whatever that is (or isn’t!) worth.

      On a medical level I don’t understand why when someone has success (which I don’t begrudge them) they often make a connection to others. I spent years watching others with lower antral follicle counts, higher FSH levels, and lower estrogen become pregnant, as our issues are immunological and genetic. Since it apparently didn’t matter how great my numbers were, I never got excited for myself at someone else’s pregnancy. What on earth does her situation have to do with yours???? Groan.

      Reply
  5. Bruised.Banana

    I don’t know. With 5 miscarriages I have been told to “have hope” and “don’t give up” more times than I can count but I never took it as if I do these things I’ll definitely have a baby. I think there is room for optimism in infertility/RPL and it is also very easy to be wieghed down by negative thoughts. When someone tells me to have hope I take it as a reminder to not focus on the chance it might not work out, but to remember there is a chance that it could.

    At the same time I am guilty of saying things like this – but when I say them I don’t mean it as “you will definitely have a baby if you hope hard enough!” I mean it in the same way i take it – there is a chance that things could work out, don’t forget to give that chance some acknowledgement too.

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      I guess I’m of the mindset that hoping for the best and expecting the worst prepares better if things don’t work. But I get the need to do something to prevent a person from falling off the deep end.

      Thanks for the feedback. Best wishes on your journey.

      Reply
      1. Bruised.Banana

        I get that. I mean, I’ve been pregnant 5 times and after the first miscarriage I don’t think I went into any of them thinking “This will totally work out!!” I am the queen of expecting the worst. I think I started all of my doctor’s appointments with “I’m sure I already miscarried so let’s get on with this,” But when people said “have hope” I didn’t get offended either. I knew my chances and the little bit of hope I did have was for the small chance that things will work out. There are ways to be hopeful and not give up while remaining realistically optimistic.

        I just don’t think it’s the same thing as being told to relax. There are people out there that legit think relaxing makes a baby and will sit there and tell you about everyone they know that relaxed and out came a baby. I don’t think anyone legit thinks someone is infertile because they’re not hoping hard enough.

        It’s easy to get caught up in the negative here and roll past the small bits of positive. This is one of those things that personally, I chose to take as a positive.

      2. gsmwc02 Post author

        It’s not so much getting caught up in the negativity as it is it can lead to people blaming themselves for not hoping enough or feel guilty when they move on because it’s seen as giving up. It’s protecting a person from amplifying the negative feelings for things out of their control.

  6. Lauren

    I don’t think you sound bitter at all. I think this was a post that needed writing and a post that is helpful to read.

    Too often we rely on platitudes. Sometimes some people may find them helpful. I can see how someone about to do their 5th round of IVF might be encouraged to hear “don’t give up” from someone who has walked a similar path, but I think it is more likely that someone else would find it upsetting in some way.

    Thank you for being one of the few men in the community who speaks up about what they are going through!

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      Thank you so much for the feedback. I’m so glad you got a chance to read and provide your perspective. I hope all is well with you and your family (especially the little one).

      Reply
  7. kiftsgate

    You don’t sound bitter. I think this is a fair and constructive post. It’s good to talk and exchange instead of carrying on with the risk to hurt people without realising.
    My first IVF was a total failure. I could feel it and I was very pessimistic about the results. It was also fear of course. Anyways, when I got the confirmation of negative results lots of people, including my husband and my mum, told me that of course it hadn’t worked since I was being too negative. Since then I heard a million times that I needed to hope and be positive. It was horrible to feel this increase guilt and pressure. I did one IVF cycle trying to be positive and all, to respond to this advice. It was a total failure. It took me months of therapy to accept that it was ok not to feel hope, that it wasn’t necessary for IVF to work, nor was it lack of hope that made IVF unsuccessful.
    As for giving up, to be honest I think it’s a line that works in few circumstances. You are a runner and you’ll know that even in sports there’s a fine line between a situation in which you give up, maybe because psychologically you doubt of yourself, and one in which you know it’s better to give up for your health as you risk injury or feeling sick. It’s for no one to judge whether you gave up or not.. Even more so in the case of infertility, people don’t “give up”, they just decide that another way is better for them all considered (money, treatments, etc). And that is fine…
    Again, great post!
    xx

    Reply
    1. gsmwc02 Post author

      I love your story. Well I take that back I hate the shit that you’re going through and continuing to go through. You didn’t and still don’t deserve it. But it’s a great example of thinking being hopeful and not giving up will get you pregnant. That your current situation had nothing to do with being hopeful or not giving up.

      You are so right about not giving up as a runner. There were times where during my training and my race where I thought about it and didn’t. But that was something within my control where if I didn’t give up I would succeed. Very different than a less than exact science like conception.

      I am so grateful that you read this piece and provided your feedback that everyone can learn from. I wrote this piece with the “hope” that it would generate this type of feedback.

      Reply
  8. pregnant in my forties - hopefully

    Great post, and very true. Babies are conceived in all sorts of terrible situations around the world and it’s nothing to do with whether or not the two parents are feeling positive or hopeful – it is a biological miracle that either does or does not happen! Positive thinking is a luxury we in the west can afford to take on but it can add massive pressure to an already stressful situation – like Kiftsgate above, you can easily blame yourself for not staying positive.
    I have very mixed feelings about hope. People say “at least we have hope”. But hope can keep you going and trying, way beyond what you can afford and cope with. And then when it all goes wrong, hope sods off out of a window and is nowhere to be seen.

    Reply
  9. Heather

    Absolutely. I agree. I read a post somewhere (I think it was on infertility book club site, forget) about a study being done and when people accepted that something wasn’t going to happen they coped better than ones who were told to hope. Hope can be such a destructive thing as well. I managed to have a child but now so many people are asking about #2 without really understanding our history and chances and still telling me to be hopeful. Yes I guess a part of me is still hopeful, but I can’t bank on it, it’s too painful.

    Reply
  10. Isabelle

    I am loving the whole discussion. I do sometimes feel annoyed when someone tells me to not to give up or to have hope. I have this one friend who is the most clueless person in the world. After experiencing infertility for four years, she finally has her daughter. Every time she talks to me, she tells me to remain hopeful and not to give up. I really want to punch her every time she says it. To me, when she says it, it does imply that if I don’t continue pursuing treatment, I am giving up and losing hope. I know that she really means well, but it just bugs me. But at other times when some other people tell me to have hope or they remain hopeful for me, I see it as a form of encouragement from friends (mostly blog friends) who deeply care about me. I agree with My Perfect Breakdown that hope is needed to move on with life. One last thought. I always think that when a couple decides to stop treatment/not to pursue treatment, it takes immense courage to walk away from it and pursue a life without children. Knowing your own limit/what you want to go through is more courageous than keeping on pursuing treatment hoping that one day it will happen. So to me, that’s not giving up. That’s strength and resolve. Thanks for this post.

    Reply
  11. Mali

    I agree with your perspective. Being told to “have hope” and/or “don’t give up” is often a way for the other person to make themselves feel better about a situation thwt makes them feel sad or awkward when they’re around us, a situation they don’t always know how to handle. They think they’re helping but they’re not. And then it can become judgemental – “giving up” shows that we didn’t want it enough, or have some moral failing because we don’t continue trying (even in the face of all medical and scientific evidence).

    Reply
  12. torthúil

    Here from the Round up. Thanks for a great post; I think a lot of us who have lived with IF for a while have reached similar conclusions, but you put it so well. As someone who had a “miracle” conception that resulted in a baby, I really try to be sensitive in how I interact with my fellow IF-fers. One thing I really try to avoid saying is “don’t give up hope!” or some variant. After all I do not really know what worked in our case so it’s not like the same result can be replicated for another couple (wouldn’t that be nice!). Sometimes it is necessary for people to “give up hope” or to put it differently, seek out another path. As you say so well, the most important thing is to support people whatever path they decide is meant for them, and not impose one’s own ideas of what a successful outcome should be.

    Reply
  13. unattainablemotherhood

    I think being hopeful and never giving up are two separate things…I am an infertile and I always feel hopeful, the reason being is you can get sucked into the abyss of negativity during numerous unsuccessful treatments. My hubby and I have endured 8 years and 8 failed IUIs and we’re heading into an IVF in the next few months and I am HOPEFUL! Because that’s what I need to do in order to endure and come out of the process with whatever outcome we get. I believe HOPE is a powerful thing, not in that if you hope the most, your dreams will come true, but that it can give you some kind of strength during the process, much like believing in God, Mohammed, Krishna etc
    I do agree that the comment to never give up, can be unhelpful in certain fertility situations or other health concerns, since I believe, there are times when you need to decide to make a choice to give up (although I hate that negative conitation!) so I believe WE make that choice to choose a different path, stop treatment, live life child free, adoption, surrogacy etc etc.

    Reply
  14. Pingback: The Need for Hope and Believing | A Few Pieces Missing From Normalcy – An Infertile Man's Perspective

  15. The EcoFeminist

    This is the post that brought me to your blog and I’m SO glad you wrote it as I’m so tired of people defending the right to say “don’t give up!” and “never give up hope!” when it basically is not allowing the man or woman permission to do anything else besides “keep trying!” So many try for years and years because they think there is no other option and that babymaking must happen or you’ve failed at life and as a person, and it sucks to be stuck with only that option in one’s mind! It’s okay to give up! It’s okay to give up hope on the possibility of making a baby the old fashioned (or doctor-assisted) way! And just because it happened for that one person who tried for years, doesn’t mean it will happen for you – that’s why it’s so annoying to hear. Everyone’s story is different and everyone deserves the encouragement to do WHATEVER is best for their own health and happiness! For us, there’s no way in hell I’m going to subject my body to hormones for years and years just so I can be pregnant. I want to be a mom, but not at any price to my body and soul. Life is too big to narrow it down like that, for us at least 🙂 We volunteer with the kids in our elementary school helping them to read, we hang out with our neighbor kids, and we give to organizations that support the welfare of children, and while that’s different than standard parenting, it’s impacting the lives of kids, which is what we want more than anything. If our adoption and/or donor egg IVF works, even better, but if either chapter comes to an end because of our choice or the universe’s, that’s fine too. Like you said, “Instead we should be wishing each other the best and root for them no matter what the result. Sending them strength and telling them that they are strong no matter what the result delivers powerful support. We should be mindful that all of our journeys are different and will end different.”

    Reply

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