What Not To Say to Infertile Couples (and What You Can Say and Do Instead)

I have always been very careful NOT to ask friends and family when they were going to have a child (or another one). After personally experiencing this line of questioning for the last eleven years, answering this question can sting when you have dealt with, or currently dealing with, infertility and infant loss. You never know if that couple has decided not to have children, or if they can’t due to medical reasons. The stress and trauma of infertility and infant loss is physical, emotional and financial. And, frankly, it is none of your business why another couple does not or will not have children.

It’s not always easy.

Couples struggling with infertility endure never-ending advice (some cringe worthy) from friends, family, co-workers, and strangers alike. Even after my husband and I went through IVF in order to have our son, few people seemed to listen or understand when I explained why we couldn’t get pregnant naturally and successfully carry to term. The advice giving and lack of understanding made me want to [sarcastically] ask people if they had completed sex education – and then teach them the basics of reproductive health. I imagined myself carrying around a model of a lady’s reproductive system in my purse, whipping it out, and educating anyone who thought they needed to impart their baby-making wisdom to us. 

Don’t. Just don’t. 

Here is a list of what not to say to couples and people in general about having children.

“Just relax.”

Oh gee thanks. So if I don’t take all of this so seriously, I’ll just magically get pregnant? Why didn’t I think of that?

“Have you tried (insert any and all alternative medicine modalities)?”

I got lots of suggestions over the years from family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances about trying everything from Chinese herbs/medicine to acupuncture to reiki. While that may help some women, everyone’s infertility journey is different and what works for one couple may not work for another. I even switched us to an all organic diet, did yoga and had a weight and cardio routine I followed. It helped me feel better but it didn’t help me get pregnant.

“Listen to whale sounds … all the time.”

There was some study published a few years ago online that stated women who listened to whale sounds, especially while ovulating and “romantic time,” got pregnant quicker than women who didn’t. A friend sent this to me one day, obviously being facetious. I didn’t listen to the whale sounds.

“Switch doctors. You just have to see this doctor in New Orleans/Houston/Dallas. He gets everyone pregnant!”

I love my reproductive endocrinologist, and I was not about to begin traveling hours to see a new doctor and shell out the money required to start over with all of the testing and treatment modalities. I have faith in my doctor, and most couples don’t have the money to see multiple infertility specialists (AKA Reproductive Endocrinologists) as a majority of insurance plans in this country do not cover infertility testing and treatments.

“Adopt a baby and you’ll get pregnant after you start the adoption process.”

I know this happens to some couples, and I am happy for them. These are the couples that everyone says “see, they just needed to relax and take the pressure off of themselves.” I can’t tell you how many times I was told this by family members. Again, did you take sex ed?!

“This is because you are meant to adopt.”

So my body or my husband’s body isn’t allowing us to conceive naturally because you think the universe at large wants us to adopt? This makes no sense and shouldn’t be said to anyone. The decision to foster/adopt is solely that of the couple. It has to be in their heart to do so.

“This is God’s plan.”

You aren’t helping. Many infertile couples already feel slighted. Saying something like this doesn’t make us feel any better. Also, infertility issues are a matter of chemistry and science, not God.

“You should pray / attend church more. And don’t forget to rub holy water on your abdomen where your ovaries are located.”

I am Catholic, and while I prayed for clarity and guidance on what to do about my infertility issues, suggesting a couple is infertile because they don’t attend organized religious services or bathe in holy oil or holy water is ridiculous.

“What’s meant to be will be.”

This is not comforting at all. It is as bad as “This is God’s plan.” There are so many causes of infertility. With scientific advances over the last forty to fifty years, modern medicine can assist most infertile couples in achieving their goal of having their own biological child(ren).

“Well now that you’ve had a baby, you should be able to get pregnant easily and quickly.”

This was said to me in my hospital room two hours after I delivered my son. I again had to remind certain people that it wasn’t possible, and we would have to go through IVF again if we wanted to have another baby.

It is absurd and senseless, and these comments can become hurtful – especially when they were repeated over and over again.

There are things you can do or say.

If you have a family member, friend or co-worker who has confided in you about their infertility struggles, you can:

“I am here for you if you ever need to talk or vent.”

Allow a safe place for discussing their feelings, frustrations or talking through what they can do next while avoiding advice giving. They most likely have heard it all before and don’t need more platitudes thrown at them.

Educate yourself on infertility.

With all of the published research and studies surrounding infertility, there are plenty of trusted resources online if you want to learn more about infertility. Educating yourself on the different types of infertility causes and treatments will help you to better understand what your family member, friend or co-worker is facing.

Ask them what they need.

Sometimes, it’s as simple letting them know you care, that you are there for them. Other times, they may need a shoulder to cry on or support at a doctor’s appointment. Be available for wine & Netflix nights or coffee dates on Saturday mornings.

Prayer

Should you feel compelled, ask them if you can pray for them. Then ask if there is anything specific you can pray for – positive news regarding testing, peace for the couple as they make decisions regarding future treatments or comfort after a loss.

Counseling or Therapy

If appropriate, suggest counseling or therapy if your family member or friend has admitted that they are not handling their infertility journey well. There are therapists and psychologists who specialize in counseling infertile patients.

For those of you struggling with infertility, I hope this gave you a laugh and reminded you that you are not alone in being bombarded with unnecessary advice from the fertile, well-meaning populace. While you look for the light at the end of this never-ending infertility tunnel, maybe you can tell an old lady or two about how the reproductive system actually works. Or just tell them to mind their own business.

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One Response to What Not To Say to Infertile Couples (and What You Can Say and Do Instead)

  1. Ali November 21, 2017 at 7:07 am #

    Thank you for bringing light to this topic. We never conceived. Despite surgeries and procedures it just never happened and in those 10 years I heard much of what was suggested. Infertility was a journey and now it’s just part of my story. I always knew I would be an adoptive mom and in God’s good timing He sent me my angel. No list, no application, no agency just a divine connection of 2 families who love a child. Praise Jesus!