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What Not to Say to Someone Experiencing Infertility

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 7:30 AM

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant. It is a really difficult time for couples as they try to navigate their own feelings of handling their infertility while fielding questions from family members, friends and sometimes strangers. Most often comments are well-intended and meant as support, but a seemingly innocent question or suggestion can be loaded and upsetting.

Infertility Couple

Brenda Kim, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology at NorthShore, offers tips to help navigate what you may not want to say and how to support those who may be experiencing infertility.

Avoid saying:

  • “I heard you’re trying to get pregnant.” For some reason, someone’s body is failing that person and bringing up a reminder is painful. Instead ask about work or the next big travel plans.
  • “Relax! Stress makes it worse.” Sometimes that makes the couple feel as if they are doing something wrong or they’re not relaxed enough and, in turn, can create more stress.
  • “It’ll happen as soon as you stop trying.” While these stories exist, it can create false hope.
  • “You shouldn’t have waited so long to have kids.” Couples are most likely aware of this and saying this almost comes across as shaming them. Instead, respect the reason why they waited.
  • “Have you tried cutting sugar/acupuncture/or some other alternative treatment?” They have their own doctor who knows their situation, health history, and is helping them find the best and safest treatment.
  • “You can always adopt!” The couple might feel shamed for not immediately adopting because they want their own children.
  • “Enjoy your free time while you can.” For someone who wants children, saying this doesn’t minimize the pain.
  • “I’m so sorry to talk about my kids in front of you.” That also makes infertile couples feel isolated. Rather, it’s good to be “normal” around them as usual and not ask probing question about their family planning and also not apologize for having kids. 

How to help:

  • Ask them what they need from you. If they don’t want anything, respect that.
  • Don’t bring up the subject unless they do.
  • Read up on infertility so if they want to talk, you’re properly armed with knowledge.
  • Be there for them when they are looking for someone to just listen, and not offer advice.
  • Remember them on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
  • Support their decision to pause or stop treatment.
  • Let them know that you care.
  • Offer to do some stress-relief activities with them such as a long walk, yoga class or attending a comedy show.
  • Remember that they are still people - your friends – who are more than just their infertility.

According to Dr. Kim, the best advice to friends and family of infertility couples is to not bring up the issue. Infertility couples are super sensitive and may easily misunderstand and be offended. If you are discussing this with friends, you might unintentionally say something that is hurtful and realize it after you say it. We might not always have the right things to say and sometimes say the wrong things. If it happens make sure to apologize.