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The Things You Should Never, EVER Say to Someone Experiencing Fertility Issues

 

In the 3 years prior to conceiving my daughter, I spent 7 months on clomid, did what seemed like endless months of injections and ultrasounds through failed IUI’s and IVF’s, had 4 early miscarriages, and had 3 surgeries just months apart on my pelvic region. There were also complications like ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, 4 ovarian cyst ruptures, one pregnancy/miscarriage I shockingly didn’t know about until I hemorrhaged badly the night before my second surgery, mysterious things growing inside of me… Sadly, I could go on and on. Each of the three surgeries uncovered new problems that hadn’t been addressed, and revealed that the prior fertility treatments were completely futile, which only added to the pain and frustration. In the end I was told to give up and have a hysterectomy at the age of 33, but persevered and had the third and final surgery, which was successful and I was pregnant with my daughter 2 months later.

 

After having my daughter, I had two more losses, with my 6th most recent miscarriage being in the fourth month of pregnancy. So I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve been around the infertility block, and that I can provide an insider’s perspective on the issue.

 

Online forums were a tremendous source of support for me in the beginning, before I became more outspoken about our issues to help lift some of the taboo surrounding them. I have witnessed numerous posts where women vent about the well intended advice that has been bestowed upon them. I’m finally going to speak up for all the frustrated ladies out there I know - you know who you are.

 

This post is for those women. I am not saying that the people who say these things are not well meaning, or that they don’t care about the person involved. However, someone needs to come forward and let these people know that the things they are saying are not as helpful as they intend for them to be.  So here it is –

 

The Things You Should Never, EVER Say to Someone Experiencing Fertility Issues:

 

“It’s part of God’s plan/God has a plan for us all.”

 

OK so first, they may or may not even believe in God, in which case you could be supremely irritating them if they don’t. On the off chance that you happen to know for sure that they do, I’m sorry, but that’s pretty sadistic to make people go through such a thing to have a child. If God exists and what we’ve gone through is his plan for me, then I have a few things to say to God, and the conversation isn’t going to be pretty. I’ve heard many (not all, but many) who DO believe in God that are equally troubled by this completely uncomforting statement and share this sentiment.

 

“When it’s meant to happen, it will happen.”

 

If you have ever uttered this phrase, then LISTEN UP! When you say this to a person, chances are they are smiling politely while envisioning in their head that they are kicking you in the shins and running away. Seriously people, this is definitely one of the top peeves among the infertility forums when we rant about this stuff. JUST…DON’T…SAY IT! It’s not comforting, it’s not helpful and it’s kind of implying that I’m meant to lose a baby at 16 weeks, have a failed IVF, have a chemical pregnancy…whatever the situation is at the time. Don’t say it – that is all.

 

“Everything happens for a reason.”

 

This is a variation on the phrase above, and people love to offer their omniscient wisdom regarding the tragic events of your life. Yet another solicitor for fantasized shin kicks, this unhelpful phrase will guarantee that the person you are speaking to will probably never seek solace in your words again.

 

“Just relax and it will happen!" -or- "I know 'so and so' and when they stopped trying they got pregnant!”

 

I feel obligated to add this after the overwhelming response, mostly because I forgot it and feel as strongly about it as the rest of you.  For us, "relaxing" was not an option, because without assistance I sometimes couldn't even get my period on my own, much less ovulate, so the notion that we should "stop trying" to get pregnant was out of the question.  I would like to find a person who finds it relaxing to inject yourself twice a day with emotion altering hormones, squeeze ultrasounds every other day into your schedule, have your swollen, tender ovaries stabbed to remove eggs, try to recover before embryos are implanted, and then wait for results.  Might as well be in the Caribbean sipping Pina Coladas... It sounds SO RELAXING!  Furthermore, I was playing beat the clock on losing my uterus, and in intense pain from my afflictions like adenomyosis.  Whatever the situation is, you never know if that person has the option to simply "stop trying" and you certainly can't guarantee they'll be just like your Aunt Maureen and get pregnant when they do, so please keep these anecdotes to yourself. 

 

“You can always adopt./Have you considered adoption?”

 

Well thank you, Captain Obvious! If you find yourself saying this, then you might as well stamp your forehead with a sign that says, “I’m completely ignorant and unsympathetic to your need to have a child.” We all know adoption is potentially an option, yet may not be financially attainable for some. Regardless of whether it’s a viable possibility or not, many of us have an aching in our heart to be pregnant, and to give birth to a baby. Bringing up adoption only widens the gaping wound in our soul that we may never be able to give birth to the baby that we long for.

 

So what CAN I say, you ask? For starters, don’t say anything. Listen, wipe their tears, give them hugs, check on them, and try to understand that their pain is very, very real, even though there may not be something tangible like a terminal illness or the loss of a person everyone knew that is causing it. Second, realize that they may be out of their minds under hormonal influence! I was never myself on those awful shots and pills, and it made it all the more difficult to cope with the emotional pain.

 

Ultimately, just show them that you care. Don’t offer them platitudes. Instead, offer to cook them dinner when they get home from their IVF egg retrieval and their ovaries are swollen like grapefruits. Drag them out to a funny movie when they find out that yet another cycle and round of daily injections in the belly have failed…again. Call them to check on them weeks after they’ve lost a pregnancy, just to see how they’re doing. Caring about their pain and not wincing or changing the subject just because it may involve mentions of ovaries or semen is the absolute BEST thing you can do! Overall, just be present. We get it that you will never be able to be truly empathetic to our suffering if you haven’t been through it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be there for us.

 


 

400Amy Serotkin is dedicated to sustainable living and finding ways to eliminate toxins in her home.  She is an avid organic gardener and cook, and is always looking for more ways to challenge herself to lessen her family's ecological imprint.

 

Her website, www.themindfulhome.blogspot.com, shares with consumers the information she's found on toxins and eco friendly products that help eliminate disposables or toxin exposure.  She also hopes to highlight smaller retailers, crafters and manufacturers.

Comments (24)

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Thank you for this!! And might I add "Just relax and it will happen" and "Don't think about it so much" - both a variation of that being tense or stressed out is solely the reason. I have come to realize through my experience with infertility that it is ok to say nothing rather than offer meaningless words of comfort that actually hurt when people are suffering through something unexplainable. 
Can I add, "Well, you never know," as a response to the "Our fertility road is over, there won't be any (more) children in our future" statement. Because, um, yes, I DO know. I could theoretically change my mind and try again, but when you have one or both partners who are totally sterile and your ONLY chance of conception is through artificial means, then when you say "It's over," it's over.
And thank you for the "Have you considered adoption" response. I think I'm going to start answering, "Thank you, Captain Obvious" when I get that one. For reasons I really probably don't want to explain to every person who asks, after years of careful consideration, research, and contact with adoption counselors, we eventually ruled out adoption as an option for our family.  Not because we wouldn't love to adopt, but because our chances with our particular non-traditional family type are so slim they're significantly lower than our chances with fertility treatment.
I would like to add the "I know how you feel because it took us ___ months to get pregnant." or the other wonderful, "you should be grateful you have the one child."My husband and I dealt with secondary infertility and had to go through numerous rounds of IUI and two IVF's. Infertility is so emotionally damaging, and I think it is difficult to understand unless you have been through it. I still avoid baby showers, and have a tendency to avoid talking about pregnancy.
I'll add, as this is the one that still haunts me from my most recent 16 week loss; "Honey, you didn't want that baby. That baby wasn't perfect. This is how nature takes care of imperfections."  ....
 
Um, yeah. I did, I do still, I might always want that baby. But, sadly for me, it wasn't, won't ever and will not be my baby.
 
Good topic. People mean well. But they say the dumbest things.
This is a great article. Something that was said to me was, "Well, at least ___________________ didn't happen to you.  That happened to me." or "I was never this upset." Really?  This isn't about your journey of loss, this is about me and my grief. Sigh. I think people ultimately want to connect with you and are unsure about what to say and how to feel and how to act. But, it is incredibly hurtful sometimes. One of the nicest things anyone ever did was to leave a beautiful fresh fruit basket on our front porch and just let us know it was there. We also received cards with food gift certificates in them which helped because cooking was the last thing on our minds. Personally, I so appreciated people just checking in with me and asking how I was doing, even weeks/months after. It meant a lot to me for people to show me they still remembered, they could suck it up and ask me ... it was harder when people just ignored it or pretended nothing had happened.  Thanks again for writing this article.
Totally agree with all of this. I'm pregnant and hopeful after 3 1/2 years of TTC, two early miscarriages and several chemical pregnancies. "Just relaxing" will not help babies stick better if my hormones are not doing what they need to do to support a pregnancy. Since I'm Christian and part of a faith community I also get a lot of the God's Will stuff. I don't think it's God's will for anyone to lose babies. But we live in an imperfect world and things happen. I even feel a little bad praying for this one to stick because I don't believe I lost the others because I didn't pray enough. And I hate "it'll happen eventually" because really, it might not, and if it doesn't eventually we're going to be too old to keep trying. There really aren't any platitudes for people dealing with fertility issues that are actually helpful.
 Thank you for this article.  Oh the stupid comments I heard.  And can I add to the list, "Well at least you and your husband must be having fun with all this trying, right?" Um, yeah, this is a blast.  Getting my hopes up and getting my heart broken every month is just a blast. And as for the sex, sure, I like sex with my dh, but there is nothing like having to say, "honey, I know we've both had exhausting days, and you aren't feeling well, and we didn't get home from work until late, and we have to be up early tomorrow, but it appears that my body has decided THIS is the night, so start getting romantic" to really kill the mood.  Oh, and I have to add one more . .. the well intentioned but incredibly clumsy, "Well I'm an expert on getting pregnant because I got pregnant when I didn't even want to . . . "  Look, I know that you went through your own personal tragedy about that, and I really tried to be there for you, but your completely different experience does NOT make you an expert on my pain.  Stop giving advice.
You could also add for us younger IF sufferers, "You're still young! You've got plenty of time!" Yeah, actually, I want to start my family NOW, not in 10 years, and suffering from IF when you're young and SUPPOSED to be fertile is pretty devastating. (Not that suffering from IF when you are older isn't!) I can't count the number of times I was told that I was young, or that we had just gotten married, we needed to be patient and/or just enjoy ourselves in the time before I got pregnant with our son. I know those comments came from a place of love, but denying someone's pain is never helpful.

I do believe God has a plan for everyone, and that it is not always what we want or expect. However, that knowledge is only comforting if you come to that conclusion yourself, based on your own faith. Having someone else tell you that is meaningless.
A great article. Thank you. People just don't get it. I was one of those people when I was having babies easily. But now I have been ttc to four years and I know the sadness and pain that accompanies month after month of negative tests, then the hope that is shattered when you miscarry for a second and third time. I have heard so many hurtful comments, particularly as I already have children: "This is God's way of telling you that you have enough children", "If it were meant to be, you wouldn't have miscarried", "This baby wouldn't have been perfect, so you are better off"(from the nurse at my D&C after miscarrying a second time, when I was coming out of the anasthetic and crying), "surely you have you hands full enough already, why would you want another child?". None of those carefully thought out statements helped me understand or cope with the loss of my babies.
 @ Monkeyscience I was just going to post what you said. I am so tired of hearing "well you're young. It's ok. " Well actually it's not. I have heard every single one of the statements above and they are all very hurtful. I also hate when people who don't know I am having IF issues tell me "Don't have kids yet!" or continue to complain about their child. I would die to have a baby teething in the other room. If you don't want them I will take over for you.
Brutal honesty can be devastating as well. I had a close, decades-long friendship end after my friend told me, "I really want this for you, but I just don't believe it's possible -- you're engaging in magical thinking and hiding your head in the sand." Even if she didn't believe it in her heart, I wish that she could have held that space for me to believe and could have honored my longing. Her honesty felt good and right to her -- I think she thought she was doing the right thing -- but to me it was a very painful emotional betrayal that I still haven't recovered from.
Is it weird that I actually find comfort in those things that you list never to say? I say them to myself. I think they are enormously helpful - and if things get overwhelming I meditate. Accordingly, if things that other people say start to get to me, I know it's time to do a self-reflection and definitely meditate. Do we ever fully understand what others go through? No matter what we go through, people will always have things to say, but it our response to them that we control. Getting angry at people for their well-meaning attempts to comfort us sounds like a projection for anger and sadness of the supremely difficult situation that is infertility. 
As much as I completely agree with this article and the sentiments in it, I REALLY wish it didn't have a picture of a newborn baby right at the top. When I was going through infertility hell, I would have found that incredibly insensitive, and even now I'm reluctant to pass this link on to friends who are currently experiencing infertility. Surely there is another way to visually represent the pain of women (and men) who experience infertility other than waving a picture of the dream they may never achieve right at the top of the page? 
@monkeyscience I hate that phrase! Even my doctors have told me that and it infuriates me.
Ok, First, I get it, I haven't had any issues falling pregnant, ever, but my mother did and lots of issues, she never carried to term. However, infertility isn't something you can just expect others to shut up and listen to, people naturally want to help, when it comes to "just relax" we know its hard, we know its probably never going to happen but the need to try and help is so overwhelming that you aren't going to stop hearing it. I completely understand your frustration and tears and anger at some of these phrases... Honestly, I do... to not speak openly about how you have considered adoption and then to not explain why actually carrying yourself is so important to you is to breed ignorance. Your attempt to encourage people to speak openly about fertility issues and to remove the taboo surrounding it is crippled by the people suffering themselves continuing to enhance the taboo by wanting to kick people who are trying to get you to open up and talk... we want to hear the frustration, we don't mind the anger, we don't even mind the "are you an idiot, RELAX! you have got to be kidding! THIS is what I'm going through" because all in all it lets the rest of us know what the hell its like....
I'm adopted, my mother had 14 miscarriages between adopting my brother and adopting me, she had 3 rounds of IVF and one miscarriage happened a week after she had heard the heartbeat. The next week her ultrasound looked like she had never had an embryo in there at all. I get it. Not everyone has my experience. Help others understand what you are going through, please don't push them away.
OK, so what are the things you SHOULD SAY to someone experiencing fertility issues? Let's keep it positive!!
I hate hearing "well, at least you already have kids" yes, yes I do...I do, not my fiancé, men have a desire to have a child too. Why should he give that up just because I already have children?

I've been told to "chart my cycle" even when I've explained that My fiancé has erectile dysfunction and retrograde ejaculation., they still say it. Timings, charting, bbt, etc won't work if we can't get the sperm where it's supposed to be in the first place. My fiancé has ejaculated "properly" 4 times in 7 months, most at the wrong end of my cycle. There is a very, very slim chance the last one worked, as it was on the day I ovulated, but I'm not hopeful. We have an appointment in the new year with the fertility urologist, so maybe we can get answers soon.
As a reflexologist I'm sure I have offended a few people who are suffering through the trials of infertility.  I'm a very practical person and my first instinct is always to say, "Would you like me to try and help you?"  Many people are exasperated by this because they feel that they have already done so many extreme things to fix the problem, and they struggle to envision how something as non-invasive as reflexology (basically a relaxing foot massage with some pressure-point stimulation) would do anything in the face of all the medical madness they have had to endure.  But I've helped so many people in the past that I know it's really effective!  I truly want to help, especially if I can try doing something for them that feels comfortable, pleasurable, relaxing and supportive after all the horrible medical procedures.  If you've never had reflexology you HAVE to try it to get what it is like:  it relaxes your body to the very core, in a way that is impossible to do on a conscious level, basically using touch to hijack the autonomic nervous system and short-circuit the fight or flight response.  Blood vessels dilate, cortisol and adrenaline levels decrease, blood flow to organs and glands improves immediately, fine capillary perfusion increases which oxygenates parts of the body that have been oxygen-starved for months or years. 
 
This is not particularly helpful when you have actual anatomical defects, but if a hormone imbalance is the primary cause of your infertility, reflexology is REALLY a realistic option.  At the very least it can improve your state of mind and be a comforting, calming therapy during a stressful, emotional time, but people often seem offended and confused as to why I would be offering them this, as though I am a bit dimwitted, so I have stopped offering. 
 
The same goes for when I say,  "Have you thought about trying a low fat vegan diet for a few months?"  People struggling with long-term infertility can't imagine why I would say such an insensitive thing, but this is another truly effective measure that is SO underused, and when I hear all the painful, awful things they have tried that haven't worked, I just have the uncontrollable urge to point them to one last option which is at least pleasant, not difficult and possibly very effective. 
 
I suffered from polycystic ovarian syndrome since I was a teenager, and one day I was just over it, so I prayed in my room on the floor and it went away.  Then a few years later it came back and my extensive and rather desperate research lead me to the link between animal protein, animal fats and human hormonal and reproductive issues and there is a HUGE correlation.  Today I eat only plant foods, about 80% raw, and it's the first time in my life I have a regular period without excruciating pain and debilitating PMS.  So I KNOW for a fact that animal products have a huge effect on human hormones and fertility, not to mention that if we knew what harmful hormones have...
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