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What not to say to someone experiencing infertility

It’s Infertility Awareness Week and those of us who have experienced infertility in some form probably hate this week. We really don’t need to be reminded of the cross we bear every time we see a big family or hear another pregnancy announcement or are asked when we are having a baby. We are all too aware of infertility on a daily basis.

But perhaps we can use this week for something constructive, for gently helping others understand this burden and how hurtful some comments are when directed at people who have experienced infertility or are currently trudging painfully through it.

Infertility is terribly heartbreaking

My own infertility journey, like many others, was – and still can be- heartbreaking. I experienced secondary infertility, which means that I already had a child and could not, for whatever reason conceive another. We tried for a year and a half and every month it was just heartbreak after heartbreak. Two of my family members announced pregnancies within weeks of each other during this time and, to this day, I can’t quite describe the deep pain, longing, and anger this brought. We should be happy for babies, right?

It’s so hard when you’re trying for one and your body, or your partner’s, doesn’t work as it should. I ended up having a laparoscopy to zap minor endometriosis, took drugs to help stimulate ovulation earlier in my cycle, and finally, finally conceived the child I had longed for.

This isn’t how a lot of infertility stories end and I can’t say I understand what those must be like, only that I know parts of the agony of what they must be going through. I am incredibly grateful for my two children and so heartbroken for couples who cannot biologically have the family they dreamed of.

For the majority of my infertility journey, it was hidden from my family and friends. Very few people knew what we were going through. It was more than a year after my daughter was born that I started talking about it more freely – only to find out I wasn’t the only one going through it.

Why don’t we talk about this more? If you’re struggling with infertility, know you aren’t alone. Many couples are walking this hard road and it goes a long way to be kind and compassionate to them, even those you may not know are going through infertility.

Don’t say these things to people experiencing infertility

“Relax and it’ll happen!”

Don’t say this. Most of us trying for a baby have tried to relax in its various forms and well, still no pregnancy.

“You can always adopt”

Adoption is amazing and I know many families who have adopted who have both experienced infertility and those who have been able to have kids on their own. But sometimes it’s not an option for whatever reason for couples experiencing infertility.

“My [friend/aunt/sister/etc] took [this supplement] and got pregnant”

Some of us likely tried alternative medicine – I did acupuncture for eight months – and want to consult with medical professionals about appropriate treatments.

“When are you having a baby?” or “When are you having another one?”

I hate this one and before I went through infertility, I asked couples this seemingly harmless question. But it’s not a harmless question to someone going through infertility – it’s a question they likely have been asked a hundred times and maybe just smile and say something benign when, inside their hearts, they want to cry.

“Why don’t you try IVF?”

I’m Catholic and our faith specifically does not allow IVF (in-vitro fertilization) for reasons of morality. You can read about that here. For those who want to try that route, IVF is crazy expensive and out of reach for many couples.

“Maybe God doesn’t want you to be a mother”

I’ve had this told to me in so many words and you can imagine how hurtful it was. Don’t say it to anyone.

“At least you…”

Maybe your friend has a child and you tell them to “at least be thankful” for that child. Or maybe you bring up a sad story about a person who you know is sick and say something like “at least you don’t have cancer.” Yes, we are thankful and are aware it could be worse but that doesn’t take away the pain we are going through.

Side-eying small families

This is something I’ve seen more at churches where bigger families are given accolades while the smaller ones are sometimes given the side-eye, implying that we are taking birth control and not open to more kids. We want nothing but more kids and for some reason, we can’t have them. Or maybe we do have them but they aren’t with us and they are in heaven due to multiple miscarriages. You don’t know what a couple has been through.

Supporting those going through infertility

If you’re wondering how you can support people going through infertility, I’d suggest a few things to say instead:

I’m here to listen: So often we don’t have anyone to talk to about this. It’s such a hard issue and a kind ear to just listen can mean the world to us.

I’m praying for you: There are a lot of terrible things in this world where words won’t do a bit of good. To know that someone is in your corner thinking of you and praying for you is comforting.

It’s ok if you don’t want to go to the [baby shower/other baby things]: Baby showers are especially hard on those experiencing infertility, even if they are for people we love. Masses or church services where expectant moms are notably blessed or acknowledged can be hard also. Having someone acknowledge those feelings and understand how we are feeling can be an unexpected moment of relief.

How can I help?: Honestly, I often don’t even know what I need when someone offers help but knowing the offer is there is nice. Maybe your friend needs a night out or the opportunity to take a hike or just forget about her struggles for awhile. Be there for her.

Oftentimes, just knowing there is someone to listen is a big deal to those of us suffering from infertility. It can be a lonely journey and we know you can’t make a baby magically appear no matter how much you – and us – wish for that. But a text, email, phone call just asking us how we are doing is a worthwhile gesture.

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