When Someone You Know is Infertile

We’ve all had that awkward moment when we’ve shared sensitive information with a friend, and they responded with something that hurts. Most of us have also been on the other side of this – a friend confides in us, and we respond in the wrong way. As we look at our friend’s tense polite smile, we cringe inside, chiding ourselves for putting our foot in our mouth.

Most of the time, insensitive comments aren’t meant to be hurtful. They are made out of ignorance or out of a strong desire to say something that will defuse a tense moment. We want to solve our friend’s problem, heal their pain, or make light of the situation in a joking manner. Instead, we unintentionally make things worse.

You will be able to support your friend or family member better if you avoid these commonly said insensitive things about infertility:

“You need to relax. All that stressing is causing your infertility.”
Everyday stress does not cause infertility. A large study published in BMJ that looked at 3,000 women, from 10 different countries, found that high levels of emotional distress before a treatment cycle did not negatively affect the outcome. In other words, feeling stressed out doesn’t prevent your infertile friend from getting pregnant. You may also want to consider what came first – the stress or the infertility. Your infertile friend probably wasn’t stressed out about getting pregnant until she discovered it wasn’t happening the way it should.

“But you’re so young! You have plenty of time to get pregnant.”
Not always so. Being young doesn’t make you immune to infertility, and time is not always on your side. While being younger usually increases the chances of fertility treatment success, it doesn’t always, and it never guarantees success.

“So, whose fault is it? His or hers?”
Don’t assume that since we’ve confided in you that we’re infertile that now we’re ready or willing to share all the details. Infertility needs to be spoken about more, but it is still a personal topic. Please respect our privacy.

“Whatever you do, don’t give up. It’ll happen.”
I know this seems like a reassuring thing to say, but unfortunately it isn’t. One problem with this is it makes it sound inevitable that things will work out in the end. The truth is they may not. Being told, “Don’t worry, it’ll happen,” tends to be translated internally as, “Stop complaining because it’s not a big deal anyway.” The other problem with this statement is it implies “giving up” isn’t an option. But deciding to stop treatment, or even deciding not to pursue treatments at all, is sometimes exactly what a couple needs to do.

“Just adopt!”
Adoption can be a wonderful option for some couple, but it’s not a decision that should be made lightly. Suggesting adoption in a flippant way ignores the financial and emotional costs of adoption. Also, adoption is not always possible. There’s an application and approval process to adopt a child, and not everyone who wants to adopt will pass the screening process. Also, adoption doesn’t take away the pain of being unable to have a biological child, so offering the option as a comfort doesn’t usually go well. Adoption doesn’t replace having biological children, but is instead another way to build a family.

“Trust me, you’re lucky you don’t have kids!”
Infertile couples aren’t clueless. Who hasn’t been seated at a restaurant next to a loud, messy family? Or endured a long plane ride next to a screaming baby?
We know babies cry and puke. We know children are messy and loud. We know our lives will change drastically when we have kids. Please don’t downplay our loss by making your blessing sound more like a curse.

“Maybe you’re not meant to be parents.”
This one’s my personal favorite – it really hurts, but if this were true, then how can anyone explain why truly bad and even abusive parents manage to have children? Being qualified for the job is clearly not required. No one knows why bad things happen to good people. Please don’t play God by telling us why we haven’t conceived.

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2 thoughts on “When Someone You Know is Infertile

  1. Infertility hurts, every day of the cycle. Those who have been trying and failing for a long time know that there is something profoundly wrong about wishing, but not being able to, become pregnant. Your whole life, you believed it was only a matter of meeting the right partner at the right time, a matter of you deciding to start having children. Unfortunately, for about every sixth couple, the reality of becoming parents looks different. So different that you can find yourself feeling that the universe has just not prepared you for that. The story of infertility for most couples is a story of failure management.

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