I’ve been infertile since 2012, so I’ve pretty much heard every shocking, offensive, insensitive thing hurled at women who are struggling to have a baby. Most of the time, people were not being malicious, they just didn’t understand. Because I’ve heard it all, I want to offer you a few tips so that you don’t sound like a clueless jerk.
Here are a few of the things you should never say to someone struggling with infertility:
- “Just relax!” Let’s start with this one. Advice to “just relax” is thrown around so often—as if that’s all it takes to get knocked-up—it’s officially become a cliché. Hey, guess what: Relaxing is not going to fix ovarian dysfunctions or make sperm magically appear where there were none before.
- “Have you tried this supplement/diet/essential oil?” I know you want to be helpful, but trust me, we’ve tried it all—or at least have researched all of our options extensively. I understand if you have found success (or merely heard about it from your second cousin’s wife’s friend), you want to share that knowledge. What you don’t realise, is that when you do this, you’re insinuating that my infertility is my fault. We’ll leave the troubleshooting to our doctors, thanks.
- “You can have my kids!” Just, no. Besides, I’ve seen your kids. You can keep them.
- “Are you sure you want kids?” No, we’re actually going through multiple daily injections and pushing ourselves to our emotional and financial limits because it keeps life exciting. (And no, I still don’t want your kids.)
- “You’re so young. You have time.” I was 23 when we started realising things were wrong. And six years later, after three IUIs, five embryo transfers, and $50,000 in debt—that’s with limited insurance coverage, by the way—I finally had my daughter. Being young has nothing to do with struggling for a baby. It’s a myth that only older women experience infertility, but there are a tonne of reasons young women can struggle. Therefore, your statement is inaccurate.
- “It could be worse. You could have cancer.” Many people don’t understand that infertility is a disease. Could you imagine telling someone with cancer, “Well, it could be a worse cancer!” We don’t say that to people because we aren’t assholes. So why is it okay to downplay the physical and emotional pain of infertility?
- “It will happen. Don’t give up!” I know this is meant to be encouraging. Talking to someone struggling to get pregnant is an uncomfortable situation for a lot of people, but the reality is that not everyone who sets out to do fertility treatments will end up with a baby. Not everyone who sets out to adopt will take home a child.
- “Everything happens for a reason.” No, there will never be a good reason why the one thing I want most in the world isn’t happening to me. There will never be a reason why I had to lose three children.
- “There are so many kids out there who need good homes.” Really? Then why aren’t you adopting them? Adoption is an incredible thing. Some of the best people in my life chose the adoption route, but there are several reasons why this a terrible thing to say. First, it sets the tone that people going through infertility have a moral obligation to rescue orphans. Second, adoption/fostering is not a cure for infertility. In fact, resolving our infertility and adopting or fostering are two completely different paths. One is not a cure for the other.
- “At least you have one!” For someone embarking on infertility treatments again after having their first, or second or more, this comment is a punch to the gut. Infertility is infertility, no matter how many children you have. It doesn’t get resolved once you have a child. If someone has three kids and is struggling for another, who’s to say it’s not just as emotionally painful as someone struggling for their first?
- “It took me five months to get pregnant. I know how you feel.” No, you don’t. But thanks anyway.
- “Are you pregnant yet?” No pressure or anything. Really, you’re not helping anything with this comment except to make that person feel like one giant failure. Also, if I were pregnant, I’d tell you when I was ready.
Instead, try one of these responses:
- “This must be so stressful for you.”
- “I’m here if you want to talk about it.”
- “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. This sucks.”
- This is a crappy thing you have to go through. How can I help?”
- I’m hoping so much this works for you.”
- “I hate this for you.”
- “This must be so hard.”
- “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’d love to hear more about your journey if you want to talk about it.”
- Nothing at all.
Here’s the bottom line: Advice and empty platitudes = bad. Support and love = good. It can be so hard knowing what to say to something struggling with infertility when you don’t know what they’re going through. Luckily, there are a tonne of resources online that can help navigate how you can best support that person in your life. When you can’t find the words, just tell them this sucks and you’re there for them. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.
Photo: Risa Kerslake