Infertility: What to Say and What Not to Say

Pink Daisies: Photo by Emily Kubley

Infertility: What to Say and What Not to Say

This week is Infertility Awareness Week. I’ve decided to do my part by including two lists. The first is “What Not to Say to Someone Dealing with Infertility”, and the second, “What to Say to Someone Dealing with Infertility”Let’s begin.

What NOT to Say to Someone Dealing with Infertility

1. Ugh, kids are the worst, I don’t know why anyone would want them.

Hey, man, you don’t have to want kids of your own. We all choose different paths in life and kids aren’t on yours, I respect that. Could you please respect the fact that I DO want kids? My trouble having them is not an opening for you to imply that my choice is invalid.

2.     You have plenty of time

    • Oh, good! And here I thought that my medical team might know more about my condition than you, random person! Thank goodness you came along to tell me that this complicated medical condition I have, that is likely the cause of my infertility and which medical professionals have warned me could very possibly make it impossible for me to have kids if I wait much longer, is no biggie! Imagine the stress relief you’ve provided me!

3.     Time’s a’wasting

    • Look, everybody, it’s a human clock! I’ve heard about these. They tell you that time passes and, eventually, we all turn to dust – and women do it uterus first! What would we do without people reminding us of the passage of time? Read a clock? Look at a calendar? Seriously, though, thanks buddy, for that timely statement of fact that changes absolutely nothing.

4.     Bet you wish you didn’t wait so long

    • More helpful statements. Look, friend, unless you have a TARDIS, I don’t give a ___ what you thinkyou know about how long I waited.

5.     I bet your career doesn’t seem as important now, huh?

    • You’re absolutely right. Clearly I am being punished because I had more than one goal in life. If only I had devoted all of my time and energy to getting knocked up! That would guarantee that I would have a child by now, because infertility only happens to dried up crones, right?

6.     Must be nice not to have to worry about birth control

    • Yup, because that is so much harder than having to know what day on my cycle I’m on so I know when I have to go in for more uncomfortable tests and/or take pills and/or injections.

7.     Who’s fault is it?

    • Mine. Thanks for the compassion. I’m sure that makes my husband feel tons better even though assigning blame does absolutely nothing to fix anything… and I know that I feel a lot better having basked in your kindness.

8.     Just relax!

    • Thanks buddy! What are you going to do to help that happen? Are you going to pay my bills? Clean my house? Make dinner? Send my husband and I to a beachside pool? Take me to one of ANY of my numerous appointments? Are you even going to check in on me and tell me a joke? Are you going to do ANYTHING other than tell me that the way I am is wrong? If so, great! If not, shut it.

9.     Why don’t you just adopt? Or You should adopt! Then you’ll have no problem having a baby!

    • Right! Good plan! It’s not like I might have a reason for wanting to have a biological child, or that adoption is also a very difficult and complicated thing to do, or that all children aren’t interchangeable dolls for me to play dress up with. And what a great plan to use a sentient creature like a good luck charm to reach the ultimate goal of having a biological child.
    • Seriously, man, we might decide to adopt one day, but it will be because we want that child for their own unique wonderfulness, not as a consolation prize or a talisman to get a different child.

10.  You’re so lucky you don’t have kids!

    • And your kids are so UNLUCKY to have you! Seriously, who says this? At all? WTF! You wish you had my [perceived] ability to nap in the middle of the day and you’re actually suggesting that your children are such a burden to you that you would rather not have them at all? Are you trying to cheer me up? Don’t. Just don’t. Not like that. All you have effectively done is make me feel fearful that your kids will hear you say something like that.

11. Maybe you’re just not meant to have children.

    • Maybe you’re not meant to have friends. Dick.

12.  Have you considered/heard about fertility treatments?

    • What! What is this new fangled idea? Seriously, dude, that’s like asking someone looking for a job in the USG if they’ve heard of USAJobs. It’s not a mean question, per se, but it is definitely one of the most unhelpful.

13. Fertility treatments are just trying to play God.

    • No, that’s what The Sims is for. (Any further statement about this just plays in to ignorance.)

14. You should pray more.

    • I’ve heard this one a lot for various reasons throughout my life. I like to believe that it is meant kindly. In reality, though, it comes off as telling me that there is some sort of set number of prayers before I will be considered. It comes off as telling me that I only have the problem I have because my faith isn’t strong enough. You don’t know about my faith, so please don’t tell me that it is lacking. If YOU want to pray for me, great! Please don’t imply, however, that the only reason I’m struggling with something is because I just don’t pray enough.

15. Maybe it’s just not part of God’s plan. Trust in His timing!

    • Again, this is a statement that I think is meant to be comforting but, in reality, is not at all to me (or many people like me). Are you saying that God doesn’t want me to have kids? Because that isn’t going to make me feel very good. In fact, it is going to make me feel pretty terrible. As for trusting God’s timing… That’s all well and good, but does that mean that I am just supposed to sit by and do nothing to help bring about a goal?
    • It reminds me of the story of the man who prayed every week for God to let him win the lottery… after many years of this, he still hadn’t won the lottery. Fed up, he prayed to God asking, “Why, oh Lord, will you not answer my prayer and make me a lottery winner?” What he didn’t expect was that God, too, was a bit fed up, so he was shocked when God spoke to him and said, “For My sake, buy a ticket!” — I’m buying the ticket, so be supportive of that or shove off.

16. You shouldn’t eat/drink/be near/think that!

    • Thank you for your concern. You should know, however, that I already know what I can and can’t have and when I can and can’t have it. If you see me with a small glass of wine, a soda, a candy bar, etc – then I know that it is a point in time that I can have it without any ill consequences. These times can be rather rare, so I really don’t need you coming in and spoiling the very rare experience for me.

17. You should try…

    • I probably already have, or I have reason not to. I appreciate your interest, but if I say something to the effect of no, thank you, don’t press the issue.

18.  I’ll donate the… (ha ha ha!)

    • Some people think that it is okay to say something crude. It is not. They think that they are being funny. They are wrong. I assure you that if anyone suggests any sort of “assistance” to myself or my partner, I will offer them the card of a good dentist and/or plastic surgeon… because I am either going to punch them in the jaw or cut them.

19. It could be worse, you could…

    • Don’t negate people’s pain. No one made you Balancer of Pain. You don’t get to decide whose pain is or is not valid. When you do that, to anyone for any reason, then I think that there is only one truly worse fate for any of us – to have to listen to you be a dick.

20. You can’t understand, you’re not a parent./You’ll understand when you have your own children.

    • You know what – don’t say this to anyone, ever. Not someone who is infertile, not someone who hasn’t had kids yet, not someone who has chosen not to have kids. It might make you feel better to think that there is some sort parent club with secret knowledge that you pass to one another that none of the rest of us can fathom, but you should know that you’re really just coming off as a jerk. If you do have some sort of Skull and Crossbones thing going, if someone does induct you into a secret society the moment you or your partner give birth or the adoption paperwork is signed, then you should be reminded that secret societies do best when you don’t talk about them. The first rule of “I know better about everything in life because I had a kid Club” is don’t talk about “I know better about everything in life because I had a kid Club”.

21.  It’s not/can’t be that bad!

    • This is here for the people who are going through, or have gone through, some sort of fertility treatment. It’s just a reminder that everyone’s body responds to medical things differently. We respond to procedures differently, medication differently, etc. We also all have different doctors, different circumstances, different experiences. What may have been a breeze for you may have been a nightmare for me for any number of reasons. Same deal the other way. Honestly, this is here for everyone everywhere. No one’s medical situation or response is exactly like anyone else’s, so don’t be a dink and tell someone that they can’t really be in that much pain because it didn’t hurt you.

22. There are too many people in the world already, having kids is selfish!

    • I tell you what, Doctor Demography, things are a touch more complicated than that. I could get into it with you, but I don’t want to. So I won’t. Go away.

23. Well, at least you know you can get pregnant (to someone who has had a miscarriage)

    • I am glad that this is one on which I do not speak from experience. I have heard about it happening enough, though, that I think that it is worth mentioning. Don’t say something like this. Don’t. Just do not. Figure out how to be supportive of someone who has undergone a loss, don’t minimize the loss. Recognize that they may be dealing with other issues that make it more difficult to carry a child to term as well. That is both incredibly hard and terribly scary. They need your support, not invalidation disguised as cheer.

24. You already have a kid!

    • Again, this isn’t something I have first hand knowledge of, but I can tell you that you don’t get to make judgment calls on how many kids someone has a right to want. That is a family decision, and secondary infertility is a very difficult thing.

25. “I’m Pregnant” (On Facebook or in a crowd)

    • This is kind of a big deal. Anyone announcing their pregnancy is in a touchy situation. There are a lot of people like me out there, and it can be hard when it seems like everyone you have ever known is having one, two, or three kids while you’re struggling to even admit you have an issue. It really sucks when people are insensitive about how and when they announce they are pregnant or are thinking about becoming pregnant (as though it’s just something you can decide and immediately have happen.. which, for some people, it is). Don’t joke about it. If you know someone around you is having trouble, maybe shoot them a private message to let them know. If you don’t know that anyone has that issue, just understand that it is possible for someone to be happy for you without wanting to talk about it. Accept a “like” and let people give you some space if they need to.
    • That said, it is also important to note that it can sometimes hurt worse when people who are dealing with infertility feel like they are being kept out of the loop on a friend’s pregnancy. What starts as an attempt to give space can easily turn into a situation where a friend gets cut out of the life of the pregnant person. It doesn’t feel good to be treated like you’re a dark force, either.
    • If you’re not sure how to act, I suggest just being open. Say something like, “I’m really sorry that you’re going through a hard time. You are important to me, and I want you to be around as much as you are comfortable as I experience my pregnancy – but please let me know if you ever need a break. If you need space, I’ll understand. Otherwise, if you don’t mind, I am going to treat you like everyone else, keep you in the loop, and just generally keep being good friends.
    • The coolest thing to do if you have a friend you know is dealing with infertility is to talk to them privately before you tell the whole world. That way they can be very happy for you and still have some time to themselves to process through any complex emotions they may have before anyone else asks them about it.

Not on the list, but worth mentioning – once someone who has struggled with infertility does become pregnant, they still get to complain about all of the discomforts of pregnancy. They still get to be nervous, even frightened, by giving birth. They still get to be worried about being a parent. Getting through one difficult set of challenges probably will make them more resilient, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have every right to a normal pregnancy, including complaints.I know my list was a touch snarky. I hope that didn’t offend you. I just think that people who are going through a rough time, be it with infertility or anything else, need a laugh.Now, for the second list.

What to Say to Someone Who is Struggling with Infertility

1.     Hi! How are you doing today?

2.     Do you want to talk about it?

3.     Is there anything I can do to help?

Honestly, those three things pretty much encompass what to say. Say them frequently, and let the other person know that you mean them – you really do care, you really are willing to listen, and you really are willing to help.  It may seem a little simplistic but, honestly, it’s not complicated.Actually, this list is pretty much the perfect list when someone you care about is suffering in any way, whether it be an illness or just a bad day. If you care about someone, ask these things, and try to do so frequently. We all, regardless of what we’re going through, want to know that we have people who care about us, are willing to listen, and that we’re not all alone.

Awareness raised!

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