When someone you know is trying to get pregnant but is struggling with infertility, the best response is to listen first and not judge.
According to RESOLVE, the National Infertility Organization, 1 in 8 couples struggles to get pregnant for a year or more. If you consider those odds, it’s likely you know someone who is managing the physical, financial and emotional stresses that often accompany infertility.
Many of our patients say infertility takes a toll not just on their personal well-being, but also on their relationships. This strain is frequently related to the fact that most people simply do not know how to support close friends or family members with infertility. While it can be challenging to know what to say to someone who has not been able to conceive, or how to say it, a little sensitivity can go a long way. In contrast, saying something that makes light of the trials they are facing could do permanent damage to your relationship.
Below we have compiled a list of things to do and not do from our own patients’ responses on our social media. Keep these suggestions in mind when interacting with those in your own life who have infertility. This is often a vulnerable time for these individuals, so your attitude can often have far-reaching effects – positive or negative.
What not to say to someone trying to get pregnant
- Do not tell them to relax. Comments such as “Just relax” and “Stop trying so hard” can create even more stress for an infertile person or couple. They may feel like they are doing something wrong when, in fact, there is a good chance that there are physical problems preventing them from becoming pregnant. Relaxing or trying hard most likely has nothing to do with it.
- Do not minimize the problem. Infertility is a very painful journey. Comments such as “Just enjoy being able to sleep late and travel” or “It will happen when you least expect it” do not offer comfort, though that is the intent. Instead, these comments make those trying to get pregnant feel like you are minimizing their pain.
- Do not ask why they are not trying IVF. While IVF (in vitro fertilization) may have worked for someone else you know, not every person’s financial and diagnostic situations are the same. Because most insurance plans do not cover IVF treatment costs, it is possible that your friend or family member cannot afford IVF’s high price tag. In some cases, IVF does not align with a person’s ethical or spiritual beliefs. In the end choosing which kind of fertility treatment to pursue is a complex medical, ethical and financial decision that does not always leave IVF as a viable option.
- Do not turn their condition into a joke. Crude comments like, “I’ll donate the sperm” or “Make sure the doctor uses your sperm for the insemination” are not funny, and will likely make the person feel like you don’t genuinely care about the challenges he or she is facing.
- Do not complain about your pregnancy or your children. For many facing infertility, it can be hard to be around others who seemingly did not have to try to get pregnant or have children. You may think that joking about the challenges of pregnancy or raising children will help lessen this pain. In reality, comments like “You can borrow my kids – that will change your mind” can result in hurt feelings.
- Do not attribute their infertility to destiny or God. Regardless of a person’s faith, hearing comments such as “This is God’s will.” “He has something different in store for you, so be happy that He has a bigger plan” or “This is the universe’s way of telling you that you shouldn’t have children” can be incredibly discouraging. Offering your prayers is supportive, but commenting on God’s plan is not.
- Do not suggest that they adopt a child instead. If a person or couple has infertility, they may have considered adoption at some point. Their reasons for not electing to try to adopt a child are highly personal and are not something you should comment on.
What you should be doing instead
- Let them know you care. The best thing you can often do for your friends or family members trying to get pregnant is let them know that you want to support them. Sometimes all it takes is a simple sympathetic or encouraging comment such as, “I am sorry to hear that this has been such a struggle for you” or “I am so impressed by your continued resilience. What can I do to help?” These kinds of statements can help others feel they are not alone in their journey.
- Take some time to listen. Some people do not want to talk about their infertility, but some do. Make yourself available if a friend wants to talk. Your engagement can comfort your friend, and you might be surprised at how much perspective you gain by listening to his or her story.
- Provide extra outreach to your male friends. Infertility is not a woman-centric issue; your male friends or family members dealing with infertility are most likely grieving silently. Let them know you recognize that they too must be going through a hard time and offer your support.
- When appropriate, encourage therapy. If you feel your friend or family member could benefit from talking to a professional to handle his or her grief, suggest therapy gently. If you go to therapy regularly, or ever have, share how it has positively affected your life.
- Offer to watch their older kids. Attending appointments may be difficult if the person has older children at home. Helping with childcare is an often much-appreciated way to mitigate some of the stress of infertility treatment.
Most importantly, when it comes to supporting those close to you, remember that infertility is a disease. Just like any other condition, treatment often takes time, and there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution. Showing sympathy for the false starts and setbacks your friends or family members may experience can help them stay hopeful.
While the challenges of infertility can build walls between people, it does not have to. You can help bring those walls down, a few kind words and supporting actions at a time. Genuinely trying to relate to your close friends’ and family members’ experiences can strengthen your relationships with them, and may even help you gain a better understanding of the effects of this too-often misunderstood condition.
Also, if you would like the name of a infertility therapist for yourself or someone you care about, we are happy to recommend someone who has been through her own personal fertility journey and is a certified therapist. Just click here to contact us and ask.