Every day, my fertility patients tell me about the hurtful things people say to them. I knew them all too well during my own fertility challenges. Well-meaning friends and loved ones would sometimes say the wrong things despite their good intentions. If you have never had fertility challenges, you may think you are being supportive. Trust me, sometimes your comments are not helpful. In fact, they can be insensitive, judgmental, and upsetting. It is important to understand what or what not to say to your loved ones. Here are some phrases to avoid when talking to friends and family members dealing with fertility challenges.
“If you can’t have a child naturally, then it’s not meant to be. Get over it.”
I had someone say this to me directly. She didn’t mean to be insensitive but her words struck a cord. In my darker moments, it made me feel like a substandard human – one that was not deserving enough to have a baby. Unfortunately, many believe that we must follow a set pathway towards pregnancy. However, that is not the case. Everyone’s pathway is unique and special. There is no one right way to have a baby.
“Just relax and you’ll get pregnant”
There is truth to the relaxation response helping blood flow to the reproductive organs. However, please refrain from saying this as it is not at all helpful. If you were really angry and someone says to you, “just relax”, how would you receive that comment? Probably not too well. And considering that I had blocked fallopian tubes where my eggs would never be able to meet my husband’s sperm naturally, no amount of relaxation was going to make a baby.
“Trust me, you are lucky you don’t have kids.”
You don’t know how lucky you are to have children. Please don’t downplay our loss by making your blessings sound like a curse. We know that our lives will forever change when we have kids but that’s exactly what we are signing up for.
“It’s a lifestyle choice when women and couples delay marriage and families.”
We don’t choose to put our careers first. It is not our personal choice to develop medical problems that impact our pathway to parenthood. Fertility challenges occur all around us. Yet, it is not publicized or talked about.
A study published in the official journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada found that the two most important factors that influence childbearing decisions were financial security and partner suitability to parent. Only 30% of surveyed women mentioned career goals as being an important part of family planning. This is a trend internationally. It is not just an individual’s issue, it is also a socio-economic one.
“You can always do IVF.”
Often, In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is seen as a cure for all fertility issues. However, it is not that simple and it’s certainly not a guarantee that you will end up with a baby. No one wants to go through IVF treatment unless they have to. IVF is a long tedious procedure, one that is invasive, expensive, and emotionally draining. While IVF can be successful, it may not work at all for some.
“You can always adopt. Having children is a selfish act.”
My own brother said this to me at one point. I was really taken aback by his comment especially when he was otherwise a supportive force. He would have understood if I told him how hurtful his comment was but at the time, I didn’t have the energy to respond after feeling like I’ve been beaten up by multiple failed IVF’s. All I could think about was how easy it was for him to say when he has two beautiful daughters.
Adoption is absolutely a wonderful option to build a family. Yet, if I wanted to adopt, I had to come to it in my own time I needed time to mourn the loss of my potential genetic child. There are many reasons why infertile couples don’t snap their fingers and “just adopt”.
During our pathway to parenthood, we explored this route. However, we found it to be just as long, arduous, and expensive of a journey filled with loopholes. Our home study, application and screening process took months. We were placed under a microscope and constantly scrutinized to determine if we would be fit parents. While I completely understand the need to protect children it seemed hardly fair when we are good people who just want to love a child.
This is not a comprehensive list of all of the things that I have heard over the years. If you found that you have said one of these phrases before, don’t be afraid to go back to your loved one and apologize. It will be a healing moment for both of you. To be supportive, ask them how they feel. Truly listen, give them a hug. You don’t need to say anything to show them your love.
If you have heard something that hasn’t been mentioned on the list, share your story in the comment section below.
3 thoughts on “Fertility Etiquette: What Not To Say”
Thanks for sharing. I am recovering from a miscarriage and am reading your book now. It is all very helpful in my process. Please keep writing and sharing.
Hi Mary, this comment is not about saying things but doing, but your opinion would useful. A friend of mine has two children whom my husband adores, especially the girl. My husband is the one who wants children more among the two of us. My friend knows we have struggled with adoption and now with IVF, but she often sends my husband pictures of her daughter. This upsets me as I am afraid it ignites my husband’s desire, while I am doing all I can to have a successful IVF, but going through lots of difficulties with that. Generally this friend is someone very successful at wotk too as she constantly likes to remind me. I am not sure she has the ability to empathise much, and to be honest I am at the stage where I try to avoid her. Anyway it seems to me that sending pictures of your children to a couple going through IVF is not exactly welcome… What do you think? Worth adding to the list? Thanks!
You are absolutely right. What one does can be equally painful as what one says. Kudos to you for honouring yourself and distancing yourself from those that aren’t empathetic on your journey. That’s an act of love and self-preservation. So yes, unwanted photos of pregnant bellies and babies is on the list of not to do’s.