Infertility is something that you can’t really understand unless you’ve lived through it… but that doesn’t stop most people from offering up their opinions and advice for your personal circumstances. Dealing with this painful experience is difficult enough, but the constant barrage of insensitive (or sometimes cruel) comments from family, friends, and even near strangers results in the instinct to hide your infertility altogether.
If a loved one chooses to share their struggle with you, it’s more important to avoid saying the wrong thing than to find the exact right thing to say. I’ve included some examples of what not to say along with some lighthearted “someecards” I came across on Pinterest. Chances are, if you’ve been through infertility too, you’ve heard a version of all or most of these.
“But, trying to get pregnant is the fun part!”
Yeah, maybe if you only ever had to try for 3 months. I get the “joke” being made here, but dealing with repeated disappointment, grief, and failure month after month for years on end just isn’t funny. In addition, when “trying” includes endless appointments, invasive treatments, and awful drugs, there is really nothing fun about it. Please remember this: trying is never the fun part for someone with infertility. “Can’t you just get another dog?”
Would you notice if I replaced your children with dogs? “Why can’t you just adopt?”
This is one of the most frustrating questions we get– and we get it all the time. Many people who suggest this seem to believe that adopting a child is as easy as picking up a rescue dog. Sometimes they will even criticize you for choosing to undergo fertility treatments when so many children are in need of loving homes (somehow overlooking the fact that their own children were not adopted). But, unfortunately for us, the adoption process is not easy. It is very expensive (in fact, IVF is generally the cheaper option) and the time commitment is enormous.
The process of adopting has also changed in recent years. There are no longer as many children available to adopt for various reasons and the waiting lists are long. Many agencies and birth parents can afford to be choosy and loving families are turned away for reasons you might not expect. Some international countries have stopped allowing Americans to adopt their children or have limited the number adopted out of the country each year. In addition, birth parents are able to change their minds at the last minute or even take the children back within a certain amount of time. I would love to adopt, and we are still open to it in the future, but I am terrified by the whole process.
Honestly, I would skip out on suggesting adoption to your infertile friend. Trust me, s/he is probably better informed about the issue than you are, and it will not be the first (or second, or third) time it’s been suggested. Often when someone tells us that we should “just adopt,” it feels like a dismissive way to end the conversation about infertility without having to get emotionally involved.
“IVF is a waste of money.”
We can respect that the cost of IVF (financially and otherwise) isn’t worthwhile for some. All we’re asking is for you respect that we feel differently. “You’ll get pregnant right away as soon as you… stop trying/go on vacation/relax.”
Unfortunately, relaxing and going on vacation will not cure my infertility caused by a disease. If only it could be so easy! This advice is just not helpful for someone who could be dealing with a legitimate medical reason for why they cannot conceive. You wouldn’t tell someone fighting a disease that the cure is just to relax, so this should not be offered as advice for someone dealing with infertility. Not to mention, it also belittles the pain your loved one is experiencing. “You’re young, you have plenty of time.”
I’ve known since I was 12 years old that I will have a hysterectomy as soon as possible because of the significant pain I live with on a regular basis. The sooner we have children (or decide to stop trying), the sooner I can have it all taken out. We are working with a much smaller window of opportunity than most, which is why we started trying to get pregnant at 24 in the first place. You don’t always know what someone’s circumstances might be, so please don’t assume that you do!
“It’s God’s will.”
This is one of the most hurtful comments we’ve received. I think it’s important to be really careful as to what we label as “God’s will” in the lives of others. Throwing this phrase around has the potential to be damaging to a person who is struggling, and that’s just not necessary. “Endometriosis doesn’t cause infertility. I know a lot of people who have it and they were still able to get pregnant.”
That’s great for that person, but her body is different from mine and so is her disease. I’m not sure why this is so difficult for people to grasp, but just like there are different stages and severities of cancer, there are different stages and severities of other diseases. Not everyone with a diagnosis is exactly like that one person you happen to know! “Trust me, you don’t want kids. Just take mine.”
Unless you are totally serious, don’t offer this. “I know a couple that couldn’t get pregnant. Then they adopted and guess what… they got pregnant!” Does every person in the world happen to know the same couple? I mean, there can’t be that many people who have had this happen to them, right? We have heard this story (urban legend?) more times than you can imagine.
“You’re so lucky! You still get to sleep in/travel/be selfish/etc. Enjoy it!”
Going through infertility when all you want is the ability to have a child is not lucky. The very people who complain about their children and all the ways they interfere in their lives are generally the same ones who will go on and on about how children are the best part of life just five minutes later. So, none of us are really buying it when you say this kind of stuff.
Then there’s the statements people make along the lines of … “You’re not a mother, so you don’t understand,” or “Your life doesn’t really start until you have children.”
Sometimes people say things they don’t think through beforehand, I get that. But if you’re with a friend who’s suffering from infertility, please use a little good judgement and exercise some caution.
[On confiding to someone that I believed I was having a miscarriage] “At least you know you can get pregnant!”
No. Just no. There are much better ways to comfort someone through this kind of pain.
“Maybe God made you infertile because He knew you wouldn’t be a good mother because of your health issues.”
There was no malice intended in this statement, but these words seared into my brain and I will never be able to forget them. Again, at the very least, please be careful what you attribute to God’s actions. But really, this should never be said to anyone. Ever.
A Few Other Don’ts:
– Don’t assume that they don’t want to talk about it. I’ve learned that very few people are comfortable talking about infertility, so consider being someone your loved one can talk to about their struggle. It’s possible that they just need someone to listen and care; don’t feel like you have to give advice!
–Don’t forget about the spouse. People have often asked how I am doing throughout this process, but they almost never ask Kyle how he’s coping. I think this happens for a few reasons. For one, I have been much more open about our experience and my pain. In addition, the common view of infertility is that it only really affects the woman. Also, some may know that he will almost always say he’s “okay” anyway– whether or not it’s true. While that is likely, he will remember that you asked and it will mean a lot to him.
–Don’t expect your loved one to always be “normal” while going through infertility and/or fertility treatments. These experiences are considered traumatic life crises, and people will cope with that in different ways. Just accept them for who they are and love them through it.
–Don’t ignore his/her pain. One of the most hurtful things I’ve experienced during this process was when people acted as though I wasn’t hurting at all. Maybe it was easier for them that way, but it made me feel extremely isolated and eventually damaged my relationships with those individuals. If someone you love is dealing with infertility, please don’t turn your back on them or diminish their pain. This experience is hard enough without adding strained or lost relationships to the mix.
I know this may seem overwhelming, but I promise to write a “Part 2” about what you can do to support someone through infertility.
And if you’ve been through infertility, feel free to add some of the comments you’ve gotten from people. There were just so many, I couldn’t include them all!