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What NOT to Say to Someone With Infertility

When it comes to discussing infertility, the power of words cannot be underestimated

Women shocked to read bad infertility advice on her laptop | Tennessee Reproductive Medicine | Chattanooga, TNAround 13% of couples in the United States have problems becoming pregnant.

For those with friends or family dealing with infertility, there are plenty of things one can say to them that will help them feel supported and cared for. However, many people unintentionally say the wrong thing, not realizing the impact it can have on those struggling to conceive.

As a doctor specializing in reproductive health, I’ve witnessed the profound impact of words on individuals navigating fertility challenges.

My top examples of what not to say to someone with infertility

In this blog, I will delve into crucial tips on what not to say, drawing from my own experience as an infertility specialist and a person who dealt with infertility. These tips aim to cultivate empathy and understanding as we support those in these sensitive situations. Following are kinds of things people often say to those with infertility that they really shouldn’t.

There are more, but these can provide an idea of what to avoid. My advice on coming up with what to say follows these negative examples.

Related reading: A Fertility Doctor’s Personal Battle

“You’re still young; you have plenty of time.”

While age can be a factor in infertility, it’s not the sole determinant. This comment can be invalidating and make people feel that their concerns are being brushed aside. Empathize with their struggle regardless of age.

“At least you can always adopt.”

Adoption is a beautiful and valid option for family-building, but it’s not a “silver lining” to infertility. This comment can also minimize the patient’s emotional pain and chosen path to parenthood. Adoption, fostering, surrogacy and other alternative paths also come with their emotional complexities and hurdles.

“Relax, it’ll happen when you stop trying.”

While this comment may be intended to offer comfort, it often does the opposite. It oversimplifies the complexities of infertility and may leave people having trouble having children feeling that they are to blame for their struggles. It’s essential to remember that infertility is a medical condition and relaxation isn’t a magical cure.

Keep in mind, most pregnancies occur within the first six months of a couple stopping birth control. During that time, most couples are not worried about their fertility. Yet at 12-18 months of trying, they do begin to worry. If worry was the reason they weren’t pregnant, why didn’t it happen in the first place? When you tell a couple to relax, you essentially are telling them it is their fault. They already feel defective. With advice like this, they often feel defeated and like you think they deserve this.

“Have you tried [insert alternative therapy or old wives’ tale]?”

People with infertility often receive unsolicited advice about unproven remedies or unconventional infertility treatments. Bringing up alternative therapies without being asked may inadvertently imply that the individual hasn’t explored all options or hasn’t done enough to address their situation. It may also contradict directions from the person’s physician or science. Instead, encourage discussion about their treatment plan, if they have one, and next steps.

“Just be grateful for what you have.”

Expressing gratitude for the existing blessings in one’s life is essential, but it’s not a solution to infertility. This statement can invalidate a person’s struggles and emotions. This advice is commonly given to a couple who has a child but is struggling to conceive again. It is not selfish to wish for a sibling for your child. And it hurts to not be able to conceive again.

Think about it this way … if a couple lost a child to illness, it would be incentive to say, “Be glad you still have one.” Of course, couples are grateful for their children. But that does not take away from the pain of loss or infertility. Instead, acknowledge the challenges they are facing, their emotions and that you are there to support them through the ups and downs. Creating a space for open and honest conversations can contribute to a more open communication.

“Why did/didn’t you [insert idea]?”

It’s crucial to avoid using language that may be perceived as blaming, as it can intensify these emotions. Using phrases like “Why didn’t you see my doctor?” “Why did you wait so long?” or “Why didn’t you try supplements first?” can be incredibly hurtful. Instead, offer empathy and understanding, acknowledging the complexities of their situation without assigning blame.

“God has a plan for you.”

Bringing religion into the conversation can be comforting for some but alienating for others. So in this case, you better really know your audience. It’s best to avoid making assumptions about the person’s beliefs and instead focus on offering support and understanding.

“You’re so lucky you don’t have kids; they’re a handful!”

It’s vital to remember that infertility patients often long for the experience of parenthood. Such comments can be insensitive, as they unintentionally belittle their desire to become parents. Be mindful of words and consider their feelings.

“If it doesn’t work out this time, just try again.”

This is one of those vague statements that sounds good but has no real substance behind it. What if it doesn’t work out the next time? Are they supposed to just keep trying until they get pregnant? And how long should they wait before trying again? The suggestion to casually “try again” may not fully acknowledge what the person has been through – or the reality that some people or couples will never experience pregnancy no matter how often they try.

What TO SAY for those trying to conceive

Trying to conceive is emotionally draining, and well-intentioned comments that miss the mark can make it even more challenging. Encouraging empathy, steering clear of the blame game and refraining from dispensing unsolicited advice are key ways to support friends or family.

If you think you have helpful advice, or an inspirational story for them, it is best to ask permission if you can share the story. Sometimes, someone else’s story can give a couple hope, sometimes it can deepen their despair.

Remember, it’s often more beneficial to lend a listening ear than to be overly vocal. Support doesn’t always necessitate having the perfect answers; sometimes, it’s about demonstrating presence, understanding and a recognition of the intricate nature of their journey.