Infertility :: An Etiquette Guide of “What Not to Say”

When my husband and I were stuck deep in the mire of infertility, I encountered some commentary that surprised me. Surprised me with how much they could hurt, like daggers to my already tender heart. No doubt that the comments came from a good place and well-meaning friends. I honestly don’t believe that anyone set out with a malicious agenda. But I struggled with how to address them because the last thing I wanted is for my friends to feel like they needed to walk on eggshells around me.

Being on the other side of the journey, I thought it would be helpful to put together a handful of things NOT to say to a friend dealing with infertility. If they’ve entrusted you with such an emotional and personal issue, I’m sure you would want to support your friend as best as possible.

And please note :: this is NOT a guilt list. Before going through infertility, I am quite sure I uttered a few of these statements. It’s simply designed to shed a little insight on what stung a bit {or a whole lot}. And what you say may not necessarily be UNTRUE – it just may not be the best thing to say at that point in time. Okay, enough disclaimers? {BIG thanks to my fellow HMB contributors, especially Sarah, Misty, and Lauren, for sharing their insights and personal experiences!}

  • Just relax! :: Ummm, k. Hard to do when you are bouncing between multiple appointments with doctors, undergoing various procedures, and your stress level is up to HERE. Take a vacation? I wish.
  • You need to stop {fill in the blank}. :: It could be running. It could be coffee/soda drinking. It could be a myriad of things. Trust me, we’ve probably thought of them and tried them. And we’ll just listen to the professionals in this case.
  • You need to {fill in the blank}. :: Rest more. Put your legs up after sex. Gain weight. Lose weight. Again, see above. Better left to the medical professionals in this case.
  • Just be happy you can {fill in the blank}. :: Sleep in, go out on dates without worrying about a sitter, go on a vacation. Honestly, this just makes us feel like you are minimizing the situation. Quite frankly, we’d like to have the problem of trying to find a sitter. And maybe I’m tired of sleeping in late.
  • You can always adopt. :: Adoption is a wonderful and blessed decision for many families. But it’s not THE answer to infertility. We aren’t knocking adoption clearly – it just may not be what your friend wants or needs to hear. When I was at the peak of the battle, I knew in my heart that I wanted to try for biological kids first. And I needed people to respect that.
  • If you adopt, you’ll get pregnant! :: Well, this is a true statement — FOR SOME. Not all. We all have heard the beautiful stories of people waiting years for adoption, the adoption goes through, and boom, they are pregnant! They are awesome and amazing stories, but it’s just not true for the vast majority. Women don’t get pregnant just because they adopted, y’all! They get pregnant post-adoption because that was the design for their family.
  • You are so lucky you don’t have kids. :: I.can’t.even. Just don’t go there.
  • But you’re so young! You have plenty of time! :: Time is relative. I may have been “young” at 29, but my heart was telling me that I wanted a child. I was ready to be a mom. Some people are 22 and ready. Some are 40 and ready. I was ready then.
  • It’s God’s Plan. :: I heard this from several of our contributors, and I got it myself. Yes, we are believers, and we believe God DOES have a plan for us. And this is a toughie because it’s also true. Yet, we wanted to see the fruition of God’s Plan. And we wanted to come to terms with that on our time. Please don’t tell me to “Let Go and Let God.” It sounds condescending – like on top of not being able to get pregnant, I don’t even trust God. {Which was the exact opposite for me – I’ve never trusted God more during the darkest moments of infertility.}
  • At least you have one child. Some can’t even have one. :: {For those mommas with Secondary Infertility.} Listen, whether it’s Primary or Secondary Infertility, it’s all a painful, emotional journey. Like one of my friends said, “When you can’t have a child, whether that be the first or the tenth, there’s something incredibly painful about not being able to do that.” Number doesn’t matter. Desires of the heart do. And it is possible to be grateful for your one child and devastated that you can’t have another one.
  • You can always do fertility treatments {IVF, Artificial Insemination, etc.}. :: Well, yes, sometimes we can. Sometimes it’s not an option for us given different medical circumstances. People look at IVF as the miracle-maker — and many times it is. But it’s not the end-all, be-all for many. It’s incredibly expensive, has no guarantees that it will work, and it’s a draining and invasive procedure that not everyone wants to endure. It’s not a cure for infertility — it’s a means to an end.
  • Take one of my kids! I’d like to get one off my hands. :: File this in the “I.can’t.even” category. It’s insensitive to your child first and foremost. And secondly? We would love a child – ANY CHILD – tantrum throwing days and all.
  • So is it your fault? Or your husband’s? :: I said it in my previous post, and I’ll say it again. There is NO fault with infertility. None. The way to survive it is to go through it together and not assign blame. And it’s a little nosy and not really any of your business, if we’re telling the truth.

I conducted all sorts of polls :: Facebook, texts, phone calls, and emails, so we know it’s highly scientific.

The best thing you can possibly say to someone who has shared their struggle with you:

I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I am here however you need me. I don’t want to cross any boundaries, but know that I am thinking of you and praying for you.

“I’m so sorry.” That’s it. You are not the problem solver. You are a shoulder to lean on. Make that shoulder available. And understand that it may not be utilized. Or it may be. If they are going through infertility treatments or suffered a miscarriage, bring dinner. Don’t ask “what can I do?”, just bring it on over. Don’t stay {unless they want you to}. Just simply drop and go. The sentiment is enough.

{One of the BEST expressions of sympathy I received was a simple candle. I wrote a post on our family blog called “In a Funk” during the height of our IVF experience. In it I referenced how I would love to just be able to light a candle and make a baby like so many other couples {I know, maybe TMI}, but instead I had to flip on the brightest lights possible to inject my body with medication. A most thoughtful friend sent me a beautiful candle in the mail a few days later with a note attached, “There’s no reason you can’t have a candle lit while you do your treatments.” True that. It was simple, thoughtful, and showed her support for our situation.}

This clearly isn’t a comprehensive list, so we’re leaving room for you! Let us know in the comments what people said that was particular touchy for you along the way. Or let us know how a friend lifted your spirits! {I realize this is a highly sensitive subject :: I am sure it can go without saying, but keep it kind and thoughtful, please!}

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Meagan is a Dallas native who has lived in the Katy area for over a decade. She kicked a soccer ball all the way to Louisiana to attend college at her family’s alma mater of LSU, where she promptly fell in love with a Texas Aggie in Baton Rouge for an internship. After swimming back to Texas following Hurricane Katrina, Matt and Meagan fell in love with the Houston area and now couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Following several years of infertility, their miracle twins Ryan and Quinn were born in June of 2010. She believes there is nothing better than a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio, a large Sonic Diet Coke, sushi take-out, Girls Nights Out, and a mindless book to curl up with. Besides playing chauffeur and catering to the whims of her children, Meagan also is the Co-Owner of Houston Moms Blog. You can keep up with Meagan at The Clanahan Fam and on Instagram @meaganclanahan!

15 COMMENTS

  1. Loved this list! Here are a few things we have done or been on the receiving end for support:

    ~I got a pair of funky “stirrup warming socks” that a friend sent me. I wore them to every single appointment and felt like they were their holding my hand through it all.

    ~When a treatment failed, I sent a friend a sucker bouquet because IF sucks.

    ~Friends gave us a bottle of nice wine and a million support cards the day before starting injections. The idea being that this would hopefully be the last wine I had for at least 9 months.

    • LOVE all of these, Amanda! The sucker bouquet is genius. And fun fact: I had my “lucky stirrup socks” too. Wore them to each and every procedure, retrieval, and implant. Still have them. 🙂

  2. Loved this, so true! My mom just told me the other night: “Just get a puppy. It will get your mind off it and you’ll just get pregnant!”… As if it’s just that easy. And as if my two year old doesn’t already help “take my mind off it”.

    • Oh my, Diamend. I wouldn’t even know how to respond to that. A puppy as a distraction? File that in the “I.can’t.even” category. Thinking of you!

  3. I love this post!!! Made me laugh on the inside because I have heard and thought ALL those things! 🙂 Thank you for sharing your journey….we are in the beginnings of ours and these posts are so encouraging!! One of the most thoughtful things my friends did for me was text me on Mother’s Day after my first miscarriage. I hadn’t even really thought about how Mother’s Day might be tough, but it meant so much that a handful of my friends remembered me on Mother’s Day. It then made me feel horrible, because prior to miscarrying, I had NEVER even thought how Mother’s Day might be tough for those who had lost babies or couldn’t have them.

    Thanks again!

    • We are so glad that you have been encouraged by this series, Tonya! That was our number 1 priority when we first brainstormed this week of posts. So wonderful that you have such a thoughtful friend to think of you on Mother’s Day – those are the people you want surrounding you during this incredibly difficult time. I remember bawling on 2 Mother’s Days at church when they handed out flowers to all the moms who raised their hands – and I couldn’t raise mine. (side note: I really wish churches would stop doing that!) Anyway, please know my thoughts and prayers are with your family as you go through this process.

  4. “Maybe next time.” Ugh. Seeing as I had another D&C on Monday, next time didn’t work out too well. I’m sure it was said because she didn’t know what else to say but it just killed me.

    • I’m so incredibly sorry, Amber. I think you’re right – most people just don’t know what to say, so they just speak when really it’s better to either stay silent or just say “I’m so sorry”. So with all sincerity, I’m so sorry you were the recipient of that statement and even sorrier for what you are going through. My prayers are with you.

  5. “What did you do wrong? Lift something heavy?” and “I know so and so who went through it and they have kids now” and my least favorite of them all…”I can’t even imagine. I wouldn’t be able to go through that. I don’t know how you do it.” All of them are insensitive. I am on miscarriage number three…in a row, so that last one stings a bit…I know you can’t imagine, I can’t even imagine and I AM going through it. I have such mad respect for women who have made it through the process whether they were successful or not. Talk about some strong and resilient women!

    • Angie. Oh, sweet Angie. Girl, I love you and my heart hurts alongside you. “the ‘I can’t even imagine, I don’t know how you do it..” comments were my least favorite too. We just do. We walk through the grief, we get up again, try again, and keep moving. But take your time to grieve, it’s ok. And we don’t always have to be strong. I certainly wasn’t. I was a hot mess of a puddle of tears most days and THAT IS OKAY. You will continue to be in my daily prayers. xo

  6. Thank you for writing this. I wish more people understood the struggle. I guess as with most things no one understands it until they go through it. The comment I get the most is: “So, when are we going to have grand babies?” Everytime I hear it I feel like a knife has been stabbed in my heart. Both of our parents know we have been struggling with infertility, and yet they ask anyway; like it’s as simple as just picking one out!

  7. Thank you for writing this! We’ve been advised that we’ll have a long & difficult journey ahead of us. We couldn’t conceive on our own if we wanted to and have been seeking medical treatment forever (or so it feels). The hardest thing for me, even though we’re not long into this process, is dealing with comments. When we’ll give our parents grand babies (we’re the only kids that haven’t yet), why haven’t we tried yet?? (Ugh), when will we, why don’t we want kids, etc.

    I’ve run out of responses and struggle to keep my cool. You can laugh off those questions for so long before you want to go off on the (hopefully) good intentioned person.

    Anyone have any suggestions for graceful replies?

  8. I still think the best, most awkward, most ridiculous, and most infuriating fertility advice came days after my first exploratory lap that resulted in removal of my left tube and so much scar tissue that my RE couldn’t be sure there wasn’t endo in there. I was told to stop seeing my RE and start getting routine colonics.

  9. I have four children and had 2 miscarriages. My first miscarriage was my first pregnancy. We had seen the heartbeat and around week 8 I started bleeding and by week 9 the heartbeat was gone. It ended up being a trisomy 22. He was a boy and we named him Benjamin (and had our own private farewell to him at a lake). The comments from others were much the same for miscarriage as for infertility and Ivf. “Well, God was sparing you grief by ending it early since there was a problem with the baby,” or the worst was a male co-worker (going through his own infertility struggle with his wife and somewhat caustic) said: “that’s why you don’t tell people till the first trimester is over.” I was glad people were with me in my grief and you have to have grace for those who mean well but say the wrong things. At the time you’re going through it though it can be hard to hear those things.

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