What Not to Say to Your Friend Struggling With Fertility

quiet

If you're thinking of saying any of these things, do yourself a favor and nicely hush yourself up. Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer

We’re dedicating this entire week of posts to National Infertility Awareness Week, a nationwide campaign intended to educate the public about infertility and the concerns of the infertility community. So, let’s get to it—education on what not to say to anyone struggling with infertility.

When I hear the word “etiquette,” I kind of cringe. To me that means always sitting up straight, using the correct fork for salad, sending thank you cards promptly and daintily blotting your mouth with a napkin after each careful sip of tea. That kind of etiquette just isn’t very me. But, when it comes to reproductive matters? Well, color me prim and proper—in that there are some things you should and shouldn’t say. Based on my personal experience, Tweets we’ve received and fabulous resources like this, we’ve put together a list of eight things that are best left unsaid when talking to someone who is dealing with infertility.

As someone who is dealing with infertility first hand, I’ve heard just about every single one of these—and I know they come from a good place (hell, I’ve even said some of them before)—but they’re really not very helpful. While hearing them once or twice is okay, hearing them from multiple people over multiple months becomes really frustrating. I know you’re just trying to be there for someone, so I’ve included a few better ideas to do just that after my rant. Because, despite the below, your infertile friend does appreciate your support!

8 Things Not to Say to Your Infertile Friend (or Co-Worker, or Sister…)

1. Don’t worry. It’ll happen. Actually, no one knows if it’ll happen. While it’s great for you to assume that it will, unless you’re psychic, you don’t know. And not worrying? It’s not like this a Bobby McFerrin song, people.

2. When are you going to have babies? Well-meaning people say this all the time, but without knowing a couple’s reproductive status, it’s a serious minefield. And even if you ask someone who can have kids, believe me, if they want to tell you about their reproductive plans, they will. Otherwise, it’s not your business.

3. Did you hear about (some long story about a woman miraculously conceiving)? Yes, it’s great about your neighbor who adopted a baby and automatically got pregnant after the doctors said she couldn’t or the cashier at the bank who stopped “trying” and got knocked up, but it’s really not making me feel better.

4. You can always adopt! Oh, really? I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks. (And side note: it’s not like adopting a kid is all kittens and rainbows. That process is long, difficult and expensive, as well.)

5. You should try _______. From eating sweet potatoes to special smoothies, teas and herbs, there’s no limit to what inexperienced and unqualified people will suggest. I know you want to help, but giving “advice” that’s better suited to growing a really good tomato in my garden is insulting to say the least.

6. Here, you can have my kids. Oh, really? Well, then problem solved! A variation on this is “You sure you want to have kids?” when pointing to kids doing something super annoying. To which the sarcastic answer is, “No. I’m just going through these infertility tests and treatments for fun.”

7. There are worse things that could happen. Not many. Each month you grieve a part of your life you want but can’t materialize. While I’m not saying there aren’t worse things, it’s an intensely challenging situation that has moments of big hopes and crushing disappointments. Unless you’ve been there, don’t try to put it in a hierarchy of All Terrible Things of Mankind. (And even if it’s not the most terrible thing ever, that still doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck.)

8. Just relax. Oh, the mother of all sayings! Believe me, I’ve tried. And you saying that? Doesn’t make me want to chill out at all. It makes me want to punch you in the face.


Comments

  1. J says

    Oh man, I’ve heard some of these. They burn. The worst I ever heard was from a friend who was pregnant at the time, telling me that she had told another friend who was also struggling to conceive that “maybe it’s just not God’s will for you to get pregnant.” and she honestly didn’t understand why that was insensitive. I tried to gently explain it but it was like talking to a brick wall.

    I tried to let most comments go because I knew the speakers were not trying to hurt me. I got the “where are my grandchildren?” question from my mom a lot but she didn’t know we were trying so I didn’t hold it against her. And a friend who had never tried told me that if i would just relax it would definitely happen ummmmmm, it doesnt worl that way! But even though I eventually got pregnant, I will never forget how much those comments burned.

  2. Emine says

    I could not be happier that there are so many support groups that help to try and spread awareness.
    It’s comforting to know I am not the only one suffering and that I am not abnormal. I shared this with so many of my friends and family. Knowing that many people do not have I’ll intentions when acquiring simply does not ease the tension at times. Many of the things mentioned were a little humorous and helped when addressing a very serious condition. Thank you for sharing. I wish all who are in the same boat lots of luck. Coping is never easy. It simply does not just “go away” but knowing there are resources to educate myself is helpful. Coming from a background where it is taboo to even discuss this topic has not been easy. In the process of not wanting to offend anyone for just inquiring I would end up being hurt myself. Throw all my emotions deep within and try and bury them and move on thinking that I had somehow done something wrong. I no longer feel guilty for something I know is not my fault. I don’t know if I will ever rid the pain but I know that I can have hope that will allow me to continue a somewhat content and fulfilling life.

  3. Dee says

    Wow these are dead on. The worst I’ve heard is “Parenthood is overrated” Really? This coming from someone who has 3 and got pregnant by sneezing. Thanks

  4. Tessa says

    You forgot “I’m pregnant! Please don’t be mad” How dare you think I can’t be happy for my friends, or that I think you should put your life on hold until my life is perfect.

  5. Janice @ Fitness Cheerleader says

    Great list! I’ve always struggled with what to say and I’m sure I’ve said some of these just to try and fill in an uncomfortable silenc – I totally did not mean to be insensitive. What would fit well in the silence?

    • Jenn says

      Good question, Janice! At the end of the day, there’s no right thing to say. Listen, say that you’re there for them if they want to talk about it, but understand if they don’t. Give it time, and don’t be afraid to move along to another subject if they’re not ready to talk quite yet. :)

    • Jess says

      Janice,
      One thing that people have said to me is there are no words that can make this better or easier but just know I’m here for whatever you may need. It was comforting that they knew that it was hard and that they were there for me.
      Jess

  6. Naomi says

    When leaving my in-laws house one afternoon, my mother-in-law yelled “CALL US WHEN YOU’RE PREGNANT” as I got into my car. I was… speechless.

  7. Sarah says

    After me talking about how it bugs me that EVERYONE is pregnant before we are and how frustrating it is, my friend with 1 child and another on the way says, “I’m always happy for everyone else. When something good happens to someone else, it doesn’t diminish what I have.” EASY to say when you have EVERYTHING you ever wanted! Seesh. Can’t I be a little jealous and ticked off that other people’s good news just becomes a measuring stick to beat us over the head with? Yes, I think I have reason to be upset.

  8. Sarah says

    I really appreciate this. I married into a family that’s booming with grandchildren right and left—all except from one couple who has tried for 10 heartbreaking years. As one of the family who didn’t have any trouble conceiving, I’ve struggled with feeling guilty and not knowing what to say. This post was helpful, but though it’s different for every woman, I wish you could blog more about what it GOOD to say. I find myself on eggshells around my sweet SIL who is dealing with this but I know that’s probably just as hurtful as the idiotic things I could be saying. Maybe just letting her know I care really is the #1 answer.

    Anyway. Infertility is just rough. God bless all of you ladies out there who are dealing with it. I guess I have no advice or comfort that helps, but I know He does. :(

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