Hi guys. Tamara here. Did you know that up to 15% of couples experience infertility?
I’ll bet that if I asked if anyone close to you had ever dealt with infertility you would say yes. As common as infertility is, and even though taboos around it are dissipating, it can still be very hard to know what to say to a friend with infertility if you have never experienced it yourself.
I tried for 7 years to have my beautiful son. In that time I watched my friends have their first, second, and even third children while I longed for my first. It was an extremely difficult time of my life and I know all too well how much well-intentioned, but misguided words from loved ones can sting.
I’m here today to help you navigate this delicate subject and offer some advice on what to say to a friend with infertility (and definitely what not say).
In the 7 years it took me to conceive my son, I think I have heard it all. Below, in no particular order, are a few things you should definitely not say, followed by what you could say instead to a friend with infertility.
Do not say: “Why don’t you just do IVF?”
Short answer: Because IVF is incredibly expensive and invasive, and not everyone with infertility is even considered a good candidate for this procedure
Do say: “Is there anything that I can do?”
If your friend is actively trying to get pregnant (perhaps they are seeing a fertility doctor, or undergoing fertility treatments) their life probably feels consumed by their infertility.
Offer to walk their dog, drive them to an appointment, bring over dinner, or if they have older children, offer to babysit.
Do not say: “Just adopt.”
Adoption is WONDERFUL, but it’s not a solution for everyone. Here are just a few reasons why a person might not feel that adoption is for them at the present time:
– It can be very expensive.
– Adoption can also be filled with heartbreak.
– It can mean a lengthy wait.
– Adoption does not give a parent the experience of pregnancy & childbirth that they may deeply desire.
– Some people (such as those who are adopted themselves and have no biological link to any member of their adoptive family) feel that having a genetic connection to their child is incredibly important.
Do say: “I’m sorry that you are going through this.”
This might sound too simple, but it truly is one of the most helpful things you can say.
When a person or couple is struggling with infertility, it can sometimes feel like everyone is trying to offer advice, or ask a million invasive questions, or tell them that it’s “going to be ok”.
Having someone look you in the eyes and say simply, “I am sorry that you are going through this” in a genuine and compassionate way can feel like a warm hug.
Do not say:“My sister’s bestfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s cousin’s neighbour tried for 10 years and finally got pregnant when they did ________________.”
Cool story. My Sister’s bestfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s cousin’s neighbor just won the lottery and now drives around the streets of Malibu in a solid gold Rolls Royce.
Do say: “Tell me about your experience”.
Infertility is a complicated health issue and no two people’s stories are ever the same. Never assume to know the intricate (and very personal) ins and outs of your friend’s journey with infertility.
If your friend opens up to you about being infertile, simply ask them to tell you more about their experience, and really listen to what they tell you.
Above all, resist the temptation to offer unsolicited over-simplified advice, or clichè platitudes.
Do not say: “Have you tried acupuncture/Chinese herbs/essential oils/yoga/howling at the full moon?”
While many people with Infertility do indeed swear by these practices, offering up acupuncture (for example) as a solution to what is potentially an extremely complicated, deeply personal, long-fought health issue can feel frustrating to someone who is struggling with Infertility. Save these overly simplified suggestions until/if your friend asks.
Do say: “How are you feeling about it?”.
Infertility is an emotionally draining roller coaster ride. How someone might feel from one day to the next, especially if they are actively trying to get pregnant, can be very up and down.
People who are struggling with infertility often feel like they have nobody to talk to because their feelings can be so complicated.
Asking thoughtful questions and really being prepared to listen to the response is one of the best ways you can be supportive.
When you are wondering what to say to a friend with infertility, remember that it is often less about what you say, and more about giving them the time and space to tell their story.
Do not say:“How often are you having sex, and/or please tell me other deeply personal things about your sex life, your body, and your partner’s body so that I can offer unsolicited, inexperienced advice on a topic that I know next to nothing about.”
One of the most difficult things about infertility is that so many people seem to think that knowing this about you gives them the green light to ask invasive, downright rude questions about the most intimate details of your private life. Unless your friend offers up this information on their own, it’s best not to ask directly.
Do say: “Let’s go do this super fun thing!”
Infertility sucks. It’s exhausting, and complicated, and can swallow up your entire life.
You might be reading this blog because you want to know what to say to a friend with infertility, but sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all. Instead, invite them out to go do something fun, even if your kids will be there!
Don’t assume that your friend wouldn’t want to attend your child’s birthday party or tag along on your annual trip to the pumpkin patch, or go see the newest Disney movie simply because they are struggling in their personal life.
Include them! If they say “thanks, but no thanks” that’s ok. They will still appreciate that you extended the invite even if they weren’t quite up to it that day.
Infertility tends to make a person feel rather alone and misunderstood. Having friends who consistently extend the invite will go a long way in making an infertile friend feel included and valued.
Do not say:“You just need to relax and stop trying so hard.”
While it is true that stress can have a negative impact on fertility, saying this to someone who is deep in the throes of struggling with infertility feels terribly dismissive and simplistic. The fact of the matter is that while many people so manage to have a child after they ‘stop trying so hard’, many others simply never end up having a child at all.