We’ve all been there. Out for drinks with friends, or out to dinner with our family; on the phone with our neighbor or scrolling through Instagram… and then we hear (or see) it. A comment that most likely was well intentioned, but pierces us in the heart. Something about trying to conceive, or IVF, or someone else’s family or experiences. Something that makes our eyes burn with tears and us reaching for the nearest conversation out we can find.
It’s really really difficult to live a normal life alongside one with Infertility. What I mean by that is it’s really hard to pretend that everything is okay when it’s not. That it takes increasing amount of energy to move your thoughts of wanting a baby, TTC, doctors appointments, medications, procedures, cycles, waiting, hope and disappointment to the back of your mind to focus on other things and other people’s stories. That it’s continually challenging to hear about anyone who just got pregnant, is pregnant, or is parenting a baby, while not also being acutely aware of the ache in your heart to be further along in your story. To be honest, I’ve even found that it can feel difficult to celebrate with friends after IVF successes while I’m still reeling from my IVF failure.
I’d like to think that instead of these confessions making me a bad person, a person who feels too much, or someone who is too sensitive, it makes me real about the way infertility has impacted/continues to impact me. I hope that by sharing my feelings, I’m able to remind you that you’re not alone, no matter how you’re experiencing, processing, and living with infertility.
Over the last few years, I’ve heard a million comments from friends and strangers alike about my journey to parenthood. Many people never knew that they’d said something hurtful or offensive because I smiled and nodded, but I (and any other aspiring parent) shouldn’t be forced to continue doing so!
To someone struggling with Infertility …
Here’s some of the top comments I’d recommend refraining from when you’re talking with (or listening to) a friend who is or has been trying to conceive. Sidenote: If you’ve already said one of these things, it’s okay. You didn’t know better. But you can still go back to your friend and apologize. It’ll do wonders for them and for your friendship.
“Just relax - thats when it happens!”
Quick reminder: stress doesn’t cause infertility. Infertility causes stress.
See also: “Maybe you’re too stressed out”
“Have you tried…?”
Honestly - yes. Of course. We’ve tried everything. Being reminded of the amount of things we’ve tried and failed is not helpful, and your thinking you know more about my fertility than me is insulting.
See also: “My friend’s sister’s cousin tried _________ and she got pregnant right away”
“When you stop trying, it’ll happen”
Unfortunately, this just isn’t how infertility works. I appreciate the sentiment, but please don’t think I haven’t already thought about that.
See also: “Just be patient” and “Relax! Have some wine and stop thinking about it all the time”
“It’s just not in the plan for you”
Please, don’t assume you know what’s in the plan for me. I don’t even know what’s in the plan for me. I know that I’m not done growing my family, and I know that no matter how hard it feels, I’m going to keep on keeping on. Also, this one and every derivative below is incredibly hurtful. It makes me feel like I’m not worthy of being a parent, or that I’m somehow less than because I can’t conceive naturally.
See also: “Everything happens for a reason” and “If it’s meant to be it’s meant to be” and “Not everyone was meant to be a mother” (OOF) and even “At least you have pets”
“You’re still young. You have time!”
Infertility does not discriminate based on age. Age does not determine fertility. It’s wishful thinking, but incorrect.
See also: “Maybe you shouldn’t have waited so long”
“None of this will matter when you’re holding your baby”
I mean, it still will, to be honest. I have an 18 month old IVF miracle, and I still think about how hard our journey was to her. I think about wanting to give her siblings and being unsure of when or how that will happen. Holding my baby has been the biggest blessing of my life, but it doesn’t erase the pathway or the challenges or the grief or loss we had to endure to get to her.
“I don’t know how you do it”
Well, unfortunately I wasn’t given a choice. So, I do the best I can.
See also: “Are you sure you want to go through all that trouble?” and “Well, at least you already know you’re infertile”
“Can’t you just do IVF?”
There’s absolutely no ‘just’ about doing IVF. It’s expensive and exhausting and physically demanding and it’s not a guarantee. Many people end up trying (once, twice, several times) but hearing that suggestion (even while in the middle of IVF) still feels dismissive and callous.
“So, who’s fault is it? His or hers?”
First off, it doesn’t matter. Second off, stop being nosey. Third, in our case, it’s neither. Welcome to Unexplained Infertility.
“At least you already have a child, you should be grateful”
You’re right. I do have a child. I am grateful for her. AND, I want to give her a sibling. I’m not done building my family, even though it’s still really hard to do so.
“Well, you can just have my kids!”
I know this is well intentioned, but it comes across as really ungrateful and non-understanding of what I’m struggling with.
See also: “Trust me, you’re lucky you don’t have kids.”
“Well, why not just adopt”
Adoption is a wonderful way to build a family, and something that is a perfect fit for many families. However, adoption doesn’t automatically take the place of childbirth. It’s a choice, one not entered into lightly, and one not without challenges as well.
See also: “There are so many kids that need homes, why not adopt” or even “Why not just use a surrogate” - different conversation, same logic.
And to someone struggling after a loss…
With friends who’ve experienced failed fertility procedures, failed embryo transfers, a chemical pregnancy, a miscarriage, a medical termination, or any other type of loss, these are some extra ones to add to the list above:
“You can always try again”
Yes, true, but it doesn’t negate or erase the pain/loss I’ve already experienced.
See also: “At least you know you can get pregnant”
“This one was just not meant to be”
This is honestly often one of the most well-meaning sentiments, but it just aches for the person grieving.
“At least your loss was early. Be thankful it wasn’t later on”
In my experience, a loss is a loss. It’s not any harder or any easier based on timing.
“Well, you still have more frozen embryos, right?”
That doesn’t replace the one I lost, the one that I miscarried, the one that isn’t going to become part of our family.
The thing I’ve learned after all this time is that usually, whomever has said one or more of the things listed above usually a) honestly means no harm or even ill will by their words, and b) often doesn’t know what else to say. People can be extremely uncomfortable responding to things which are unfamiliar to them and also sources of grief for someone else. I can honestly understand this in different ways. I do not know what it is like to walk through several different experiences, but I want to know how to love on my friend/family member/neighbor/acquaintance as they’re struggling through a difficult season.
Here are some suggestions
Have a friend or loved one who is struggling to conceive or experiencing infertility treatments or is coping with a loss? Here are some things that should usually land softly, be appreciated, and express the care you mean to convey:
“I know you’re going through something really hard right now. You may not want to talk about it right now, but I’m here to listen whenever you’re ready.”
“I love you”
See also: “I care about you” or “I’m here, you’re not alone” or even “I don’t know what this feels like, but I know I don’t like seeing you hurting. I’m here for you.”
“What do you need? What would be most helpful for you in this moment?”
“How can I be most supportive?”
“Do you want me to ask you questions about this? Or do you just want to share with me what you want, whenever you are ready? Do you want me to text you regularly to check in, or does that feel like too much?”
In general, my recommendation is to keep it brief, but sincere. Supporting someone else through their struggles is only about them, not about you. Try to refrain from making the experience about you, or someone else you know. Try not to be nosey, or invasive. Your person will share what they want (or can) when they’re ready to do so.
I’ve been talking about this topic over on my Instagram all week, and the comments I’ve gotten have been spot on. I know that so many people in the infertility community have struggled with this concept, and my hope is that this blog can be reposted and shared nonchalantly for the people in your life who could use a little guidance.
I’m sending you all my love, friends.
& As always, I’m here to talk! Grab some time on my calendar to see how I can better support your infertility journey.