When you are doing everything in your power to conceive and it’s just not working, emotions, understandably, are high. Then couple that with the physical stresses, and the tiniest thing can send you over the edge.
When going through infertility myself for the first time, I found that navigating relationships with friends and opening up about our story to others, even in the medical world, sometimes led to even more anxiety and frustrations because of the unsolicited advice or well-intended (but totally unhelpful or event hurtful) comments that people gave in an attempt to help.
I’m writing this blog today for two reasons. First, in the moment, it’s easy to think your friend or relative is completely insensitive and doesn’t get you at all. You are partly right, if said person has never battled infertility, they have no clue how you are feeling. But most of the time (note that I say “most” because some people are just jerks), people aren’t giving you unhelpful advice to hurt you, they are doing it because they simply don’t understand what you are going through and they are trying their best to make it better.
Many times those of us experiencing infertility are to partly blame. We don’t open up to those we are close to and let them in on our journey and then snap at them for making an insensitive comment when we have not let them in enough to give them the proper information they may need. This blog is for both the person walking the infertility journey but also those around them who don’t understand this journey and desperately want to help.
As someone who has personally gone through IVF and as someone who hears from people all around the world going through their own journeys, I have a bit of a unique perspective on the topic. So I compiled some thoughts here on what to say and what NOT to say in those sometimes awkward and sensitive situations.
Here is a list of things to NEVER say to someone who is trying to conceive and what we are actually thinking when we politely smile at your advice:
What you say: Just stop trying so hard and relax and it will happen.
What we are thinking: Sure. Just like “relaxing” cures cancer.
What you say: Did you try using a pillow afterward?
What we are thinking:OMG you are a genius! In the past year, I’ve never once looked on the internet or thought about gravity. Thank you so much for your advice.
What you say: Eat lots of protein and drink water.
What we are thinking: Am I dieting here?! Trying to compete in a body building contest?! No, I’m trying to get knocked up and I don’t particularly think eating grilled chicken and drinking water by the gallons is somehow going to help me make a mature egg, clear my fallopian tubes, make my husband have sperm or be the miracle cure to my “unexplained infertility” diagnosis.
What you say: My sister’s cousin’s neighbor can’t get pregnant so I totally understand!
What we are thinking: If you don’t actually understand it’s ok. Pretending you do actually makes it worse.
What you say: You’re too skinny. Gain some weight!
What we are thinking: First, when going through infertility, there are a million different things going on with our body as it is, so commenting on weight does not help. There is some merit to this if you are so skinny that you stop ovulating but since you probably track that to the minute, I’m sure you know better than this person.
What you say: You really need to lose some weight.
What we are thinking: Thank you. I really needed to be body shamed on top of everything I’m going through. If a person is overweight in a way that will affect their probability of having a child, this person’s medical doctor will enlighten them on this. It is NOT your place to do so. It is your place to be supportive and loving, not to add stress to this person.
What you say: It’ll happen when you stop thinking about it.
What we are thinking: I’m thinking I don’t like you anymore. Like at all.
What you say: It’s God’s will.
What we are thinking: True, but that’s an A and B convo with me and the Man upstairs so C your way out of it.
What you say: Maybe God doesn’t want you to have kids.
What we are thinking: Did He personally come down from the Heavens and deliver this message to you? Because if not, I’m guessing God doesn’t need you to speak on His behalf, if He has a message for me I’m sure He can get it to me.
What you say: Just adopt – then you’ll get pregnant!
What we are thinking: Just give me 50k then. Thanks! Also let’s not even discuss how hard that process is! Also, at the end of the day telling a couple to do this is not your place.
What you say: Guess what? I’m pregnant! Sorry! And we weren’t even trying!
What we are thinking: Oh goodie. I hope you get really fat and have morning sickness all day, every day, for your entire pregnancy.
What you say: We are pregnant but to be honest I really don’t want a baby.
What we are thinking: I am NOT the right person to be having this conversation with at all! Just as much as you want your infertile friend to be genuinely happy for your pregnancy you should make an effort to be sensitive to offhand comments like this.
What you say: Stop and smell the roses.
What we are thinking: Really. Can a flower get me knocked up?! Does it have magical powers?! If not, please don’t waste my time. I cannot stress enough how these generic, non-helpful comments only serve to irritate a person struggling to conceive.
So what can you do if you are a friend that just doesn’t understand what infertility looks like but wants to be there for your friend?
First, don’t offer advice because this person isn’t looking at you to tell them the magic secret to getting pregnant. They are looking to you for comfort. They just want to vent and have someone who validates their emotions and sides with them even if you don’t understand what those feelings are. They are constantly let down monthly, are probably upset with their body for not working properly, fearful beyond words if they can’t get pregnant, have strains in their marriage because infertility issues are a beast to deal with, are suffering a bout of depression and feel broken.
They want someone to open a bottle of wine and tell them it’s ok to cry and let them share every single intimate detail of their story and complain about their body, partner, doctors, tests, shots absolutely anything. This person doesn’t want medical advice or hypothetical situations, they get enough of that searching the internet all day long for the “answer”. They just want you to hug them, let them ugly cry, drive them home after they polish off the bottle of wine.
Additionally, be mindful of not making off-handed comments. Some people don’t know what to say so they try to offer advice or a helpful anecdote and usually this doesn’t help. I’ve had people jokingly say that they would carry my child since I couldn’t, tell me that it was my training and diet that was causing it, blamed me for my miscarriage because of working out and flying and have even told me to be grateful for my miscarriage because there was a potential that child could have be “a pain in the butt”.
It’s ok to not know what to say in certain situations. My best advice is to say just that. Say, I do not know the pain and emotions you are going through. I would do anything for you to be here to help you through this difficult time. If you want me to pop open a bottle of wine I can, if you want me to take you out for the night to get your mind off of it, let’s do it. If you want to come over and binge on Netflix, you just tell me the time and I’ll find the show. Let the person dealing with infertility lead the plan and just be there to be supportive and loving.
If you are the person battling infertility, there are some things that you can do to help yourself and your relationships. First: Open up. No one can read your mind or know how you are feeling unless you tell them. Be honest and raw, it’s such a release and will make you feel so much better to not hide away from everyone.
Maybe you aren’t ready to tell your friends or family. You can opt to speak to a therapist or join an online group of strangers. It is very helpful to connect with others that have been through the same process and feelings.
Opening up how and when you feel comfortable is completely for you to decide. Do not let anyone pressure you into talking until you are ready unless you are doing something harmful or unhealthy to/for yourself.
I will say, though, if you are not telling people because you are feeling embarrassed or ashamed, please don’t feel this way. I know these feelings and it has taken me a lot of time to process them and understand that this is not my fault. There is nothing I could do differently to make my ovaries function or have Kyle have more sperm or avoid cysts in my uterus or explain why we had a miscarriage. There are things that are just out of our control and we can’t blame ourselves, though I know this is much easier said than done. I have found that connection with other women on social media that have been thru the same is what has helped me to overcome some of these negative feelings.
If you ever find yourself feeling alone and need someone to talk to, please send me a DM on Instagram or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I do my best to read and respond to as many as I can because I know how important it is to have the support of someone who knows what you are going through.