In honour of National Infertility Awareness Week, and with 1 in 6 Canadians currently struggling to conceive, I thought I would put together a post about fertility etiquette. While many people have good intentions, most don't know what to say (or say the wrong things) to friends and family members dealing with infertility.
Below is a list that I created of the top five things not to say, and what you could try saying instead.
1. Just relax and it'll happen
I made this number one on the list because it has to be one of the most frustrating things an infertile can hear. We have tried our hardest to just go with the flow and "let whatever happens, happen" but when you stare at a negative pregnancy test month after month, you can't help but wonder and stress about why you can't conceive. Studies have shown that anxiety and depression rates caused by infertility are much more prominent than those who can conceive without issue. In fact, their stress levels are similar to those who are diagnosed with cancer! So please, don't tell a person or couple struggling with infertility to relax. It only causes more stress!
What you can say instead: If your friend or family member has bravely opened up to you about their struggles, you can show understanding and compassion by saying, "I can understand how this can put a lot of stress and pressure on you. I'm here if you want to talk or vent." This shows that you don't minimize the problem and want to help in a productive way.
2. You should try (insert generic advice here). It totally worked for my friend/sister/cousin, etc!
Trust us when we say that we research and try ALL the things. We do anything and everything to have a baby, from traditional methods to the wild and crazy. What works for one person won't always work for another, so while you may be coming from a good place and trying to help when you say this, it's really not helpful in the long run. An important thing to remember here is to only give advice when it's asked for.
What you can say instead: I'm sorry that you haven't had any luck yet. How are you coping with everything? This shows that you care about the person and are looking out for them. You could suggest that the two of you attend a yoga class together, go for weekly walks, or just hang out and have coffee/tea together. You know, to reduce stress! ;) Most of the time, an infertile just needs someone to be there for them and distract them from the daily routine. By helping them be more comfortable discussing their struggles, it could open the door to them asking you for advice or tips/tricks. And then this would be the appropriate time to offer up suggestions.
3. Maybe this just isn't meant to be
Ugh. I hate this one! There is no place for the discussion of someone else's life plan when it comes to infertility. What makes you an expert on someone else's life and reproductive timing? Those who struggle with infertility almost always blame themselves. They think about all of the unplanned pregnancies or abortions people have. They think about children who are abused and neglected, and think, "why can't I conceive when I want a baby so badly?" Let's just leave this comment out of the dialect entirely.
What you can say instead: Keep going. Stay strong. I'm here for you and I support you with whatever path you decide to take.
4. Enjoy your free time/sleep while it lasts!
A comment like this can minimize the importance of someone's struggle with infertility. Typically, this comes from those who are already parents. It's not meant to cause harm and it generally said out of a place of exhaustion and stress. But let's be clear here. An infertile would HAPPILY give up anything and everything just to carry and hold a baby in their arms. They would highly appreciate any opportunity to be kept awake multiple times at night, and want nothing more than to be covered in spit up, as odd as that may seem.
What you can say instead: I understand how frustrating this must be for you and although I find parenting stressful at times, I know that you want nothing more than to experience it. I'm here for you if you want to talk. This can validate their emotions and personal stressors and, again, shows that you support them.
5. Be grateful you already have a child/children
This comment relates to those struggling with secondary infertility, whether it be trying for a second, third, etc. This one especially hurts because, believe us, we are beyond thankful for our child/children, even more so now that we've experienced the sting of infertility. A comment like this can make us feel extraordinarily guilty and selfish for wanting to give our child a sibling(s). Everyone has a different view of how they want their family picture to look and yes, even though we have successfully conceived, birthed, and are raising a child, that doesn't make our desire to grow our family any less valid.
What you can say instead: How can I help? Remember how we discussed the stress of parenting above and how stress can impact someone's fertility? Here's where you come in! Offer to babysit the person/couple's child for couple of hours so that they can get out for a while. This will help clear their mind or at least distract them for a little while, which can reduce stress levels, which may have a positive impact on their fertility!
I hope this has been a helpful guide on how to talk to those who are experiencing infertility. Remember: we know you're coming from a good place and you want to help, so please refer to this little list to help keep an open and positive dialogue going. Let's all work together to help end the stigma of infertility and encourage those who are "in the trenches" to keep going. Infertility sucks, and nobody should have to suffer alone.
Until next time,
Want to be notified about upcoming support groups for families experiencing infertility pre or postnatally? Connect with MMC and give us your thoughts about what fertility support is needed in your town.