I am the oldest of four kids. My childhood was rough: my parents split up when I was 4, my dad remarried a woman who physically abused my sister and I, I wasn’t able to live with my brothers most of the time they were growing up because their mother was my abuser. When I was 12 my mom was diagnosed with a rare tumor on her spine and we moved from Alaska to Arizona so she could get treatment.
I’ve spent a lot of my life being responsible and trying to be helpful. Or at least staying out of other people’s way. As an adult this led me to work in victim advocacy, responding to calls and helping victims of sexual assault navigate the medical, criminal and legal process of reporting a crime.
I cared for the younger children in my family and I volunteered at youth organizations, teaching crafts and talking about consent with young people living on the street or in transitional housing.
I was always good at giving help. I’ve never been good at asking for it.
Last January my husband and I were just wrapping up two years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive. I hadn’t been ready to talk to a doctor about why we were struggling. I was convinced that if we just kept at it, if I tracked my cycles better or we tried some herbal supplement, that somehow magically we’d make it happen.
Last year though, after yet another chemical pregnancy, it was time. The start was rough. It’s hard enough to motivate myself into even reaching out for help but over the past year and a half I’ve found myself having to do it again and again. First to doctors and nurses, then to insurance companies and pharmacies. Then more doctors, more insurance claims, more procedures. Asking for time off from work, understanding from coworkers and friends. The asks have been innumerable over the last three years we’ve been trying to become parents.
Each time, a small part of me withers. Every time I have to ask for help, it stings. I hate it.
But I have to do it. I need help.
Help diagnosing the PCOS, blocked tubes and poor egg quality that had prevented me from getting or staying pregnant. Help navigating the complicated emotions that come along with an infertility diagnoses. Help processing the fear and shame and anger that comes along with knowing your body is failing you.
Asking for help hasn’t gotten any easier despite how often I find myself doing it these days. We’re six months into trying to adopt through domestic infant adoption and I’m still asking for help. Help keeping myself distracted while I wait for our homestudy to be approved by the state. Help raising money to cover the cost of the adoption placement fees. (This is the worst. I can’t stand asking for money.) Help finding an expectant mother who wants to place with us. Help staying positive that this will work out for us.
I can’t tell if it doesn’t get any easier because I’m railing against 30 years of being the helper instead of the helped or because every time I ask I find myself a little disappointed in what we’re getting back.
Here’s the brass tacks, here’s what I want you to know: sometimes simply asking “how can I help?” is better than offering up ideas unsolicited. Let the person who needs help decide exactly what they need.
The feelings get complicated and muddy around this topic for me: I feel selfish for needing assistance in the first place, I feel ungrateful for not accepting everything that is offered to me even if it’s not actually, you know, helpful. I feel frustrated that I need something but I can’t get anyone to understand what it is. I’m embarrassed that I have to ask, annoyed that I have to explain why your suggestion doesn’t work for us, then sad that I’m so ungrateful when people are just trying to help in whatever way they can. It’s a vicious cycle.
I don’t need a list of things to try to make this adoption work. I’m a planner, chances are I’ve already tried the thing you’re suggesting and now I feel like a jerk and a Negative Nancy for breaking down why your suggestion isn’t applicable.
Not everyone feels comfortable spelling out exactly what they need but a good place to start, if you really want to offer support, is to ask what they’re looking for. Specifics.
Right now I need compassion more than I need suggestions. I need my loved ones to let me vent without offering up suggestions. I don’t need anyone to fix things for me, I just need support while I figure out how to fix it myself. I need people to make me laugh, to take me to the movies, to remind me that it won’t always be like this. I need to be encouraged to engage in life while we wait to become parents and I need to be allowed to be sad or frustrated when those moments come.
This process, infertility and now adoption, is hard enough. Agonizing really. It’s even harder when I can’t barely bring myself to keep asking for the support I so desperately need. It’s almost unbearable then to be met with assumptions or dismissive comments.
Here’s what I want you to know: we all need help, but we don’t always need it in the same way.