by Jennifer Gordon, PhD, R.D. Psych.
Many people don’t know what to say to help their loved ones who are struggling with infertility. Through our research, we’ve identified a number of unhelpful things that people say without even realising it. In honor of Infertility Awareness Week, here are 5 things NOT to say to someone struggling with infertility:
1. Just relax and it will happen.
By far THE most highly cited zinger that people struggling with infertility hear. It’s problematic for a few reasons. First, there is little research support for the notion that stress causes infertility. Second, coming to the realisation that you can’t get pregnant is stressful – feeling anxious and frustrated is an entirely appropriate response to the situation. Don’t assume that anxiety led to infertility – it’s likely the other way around. In the beginning, the person struggling to conceive likely felt excited and hopeful and it’s only as months (or years) crept by without a positive result that the stress you see now, developed.
2. Have you tried standing on your head during sex? Cutting dairy? Etc, etc, etc.
The main problem with this is that the advice giver often doesn’t know the whole backstory. Imagine you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition that makes it very difficult to conceive; you’ve undergone 3 failed IVF cycles, and have had multiple miscarriages. Now imagine how insulting and frustrating it would be to be told that if only you had cut out dairy, you would have been pregnant years ago. If you don’t know the whole context, abstain from giving advice. And even if you do, let your loved one’s doctor decide what’s going to help them get pregnant.
3. Are you sure you want kids? You can have mine!
Kids can be exhausting – feel free to vent about this to your other parent-friends. But when you’re with a friend struggling with infertility, be sensitive to the fact that they would give anything to have what you have. Though this is meant to be funny, it’s likely to be perceived as insensitive and ungrateful.
4. Maybe you should just adopt. There are lots of kids who need a good home.
There is no “just” adopt. Adoption is incredibly expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. Think at least 5-10 years on a waitlist and fees that can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention having to undergo multiple evaluations of your fitness to be a parent. Needless to say, it’s a very big decision that requires careful consideration.
5. When are you having children?
Totally innocent question but if the person you’re asking is struggling to conceive, it can be a knife to the heart and a painful reminder of what they’re going through. They've also likely been asked this question a million times – don’t increase the count to one million and one.
So what should you say???
It’s hard to know what to say because infertility is rarely talked about. It might be helpful to imagine what would be an appropriate response to the news that your friend’s spouse has died. You would never say “I know you just lost your husband but just try to relax” or “you can have mine!”. You would say “This must be so hard for you” or “Anytime you need to talk, I’m here for you.” You can also ask the person how you can be helpful and what they would like you to say – some people like to talk about their infertility struggles blow-by-blow; others would prefer to be distracted from them. So it can never hurt to ask how you can be most supportive.