Infertility Faux Pas: 5 Things Not to Say to Someone Struggling to Conceive

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Infertility is really, really hard. It’s harder than I’ve ever even admitted to myself. It’s also deeply personal. Reminders of your infertility are everywhere. I’m not just talking about all of the babies at the employee picnic or the pregnant women at the grocery store or the mailbox full of baby announcements and shower invitations. I’m talking about insidious little reminders like this ad that Aldi posted on Twitter.

Aldi Tweet

“Dear Aldi, you are opening a giant, fluorescently lit discount grocery store. You are not having a baby,” is what I was thinking when I read this tweet. (After clicking the link, it turns out that Aldi is starting to carry a line of baby products so I can see how the people in charge of marketing would think this advertisement is clever. Even so, it still feels a little like- “oh, even a grocery store can have a baby… but not me!”)

Infertility affects millions of women— over 6 million in the United States alone. It is so common that I’m sure you know at least one person affected by it. Yet as common as it is, people still say the strangest things when they find out you are struggling to conceive. So if you would like to be a more sensitive person to those you know (or may not even realize you know) that are dealing with fertility issues, here are some things not to say.

“You just need to relax and then it will happen.”

I cannot count how many well-meaning people have told me this. I also cannot count the ways I tried to “relax” in order to get pregnant. I got massages and acupuncture and did so many yoga classes I became a yoga teacher. I meditated. I feng shui-ed my house. I talked to my belly. I went on vacation. I thought about getting pregnant. I stopped thinking about getting pregnant. And guess what? None of those things make you pregnant. You cannot relax your way into pregnancy any more than you can relax your way into making it rain. If it’s not going to rain, it’s not going to rain.

Why this is unhelpful: You are essentially blaming me for my infertility when you say this. Infertile women (and most women for that matter) are already blaming ourselves for so many things that are really out of our control. Please stop blaming us for this, too. Also, studies show that moderate stress does not affect fertility.

What to say instead: Wow, that must be really hard. I’m here to listen if you ever want to talk about it.

“I know so many people who started the adoption process and then got pregnant.”

Good for you! Good for them! Do I really need to explain why this is so ridiculous? Okay, I will. Adoption is not a cure for pregnancy. I could see how this would be confusing to some people because it can be an alternate way to grow your family when you can’t grow them in your body. However, it is not a magic pill that tricks your body into getting pregnant. Most people who say this think that you are just too focused on getting pregnant and that starting the adoption process will distract you and therefore make you pregnant. This false logic is closely tied to the “relax and it will happen” (see above). It is akin to telling Michael Phelps that his body will swim faster if he just takes up knitting.

Why this is unhelpful: The only people that should start the adoption process are the people who are ready and excited to adopt. Adoption is not a placebo for pregnancy.

What to say instead: Wow, that must be really hard. I’m here to listen if you ever want to talk about it.

“Why don’t you just adopt a (twelve-year-old/ handicapped kid/ kid with cancer)? I would totally do that.”

The people who have said these things to me are invariably the people who had zero problems conceiving their 2-5 perfectly healthy children. Let me tell you something about coming to the decision to adopt a child. It is a very hard thing for many people. Especially when you have dreamed of having a child that looks like you and your partner. Especially when you have imagined what it must be like to feel your baby move inside you, a very part of you.

When you don’t actually have to make that decision, you can imagine you are the type of person that would adopt any and every desperate child in the world no matter the circumstance. Your heart is just that big. You can imagine that you would be the Mother Teresa of adoptive parents. And you can sit with your perfectly healthy, instantly conceived child in your lap while having fantasies about what kind of person you are. BUT when you actually start the adoption process, the fantasy stops. Because you literally have to write down what you are willing to deal with and what you would rather not deal with. Which means you have to say, “hey, you know what, I don’t really want to adopt a kid with cancer because going through the adoption process and becoming a parent is already hard enough.” Remember above where I said we infertile women are already blaming ourselves enough? Cue the crashing waves of guilt for wanting a healthy baby when there are so many other children that need homes. Does anyone ever blame a pregnant woman for wanting a healthy baby?

Why this is unhelpful: The adoption process is challenging, exhausting, and often extremely expensive. Judging anyone’s decision about when and how they proceed with this process (especially if you have no experience with adoption) isn’t just ridiculous. It’s cruel.

What to say instead: Wow, that must be really hard. I’m here to listen if you ever want to talk about it.

“I’m pregnant! April Fools!”

Since the United States treats pregnancy like a disability anyway, this could be a little like saying “I’m in a wheelchair! Just kidding!” Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s a weird thing to joke about. And it’s a thoughtless thing to joke about.

Also, according to the CDC, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended. I would imagine an unintended pregnancy is very stressful, too.

Why this is unhelpful: Not only are you poking those of us who are infertile but you’re likely causing anxiety for half of your pregnant friends as well.

What to say instead: Nothing. Have you ever heard a good April fool’s joke?

“Happy Mother’s Day.”

I don’t think I am one to take things personally when it’s not warranted. Maybe I used to but as I mentioned above, I’m very relaxed now (lots of yoga classes… seriously, tons). However, this one stings. It just does. For the past couple of years, I’ve been lucky enough to spend Mother’s Day with two of the best mothers out there, my mom and my sister. During the course of the day, sales clerks, servers, and other people we encountered would say to each of us, “Happy Mother’s Day!” Sure, these lovely folks got it right for two out of three. Yet for me, each time felt sort of like a tiny little dagger into my infertile little heart.

Why this is unhelpful: It’s not really unhelpful. It’s well-meaning. But it still hurts those who aren’t mothers yet desperately want to be.

What to say instead: I don’t know. Keep being nice to people for sure. The world is too hard not to. Maybe try a genuine, “I hope you’re having a really nice day” rather than a robotic “Happy Mother’s Day!” to every woman that comes through your check-out line.

I did leave one thing off the list. Never, ever, ever comment when a woman is buying a pregnancy test. There is no right thing to say here. Not “oooh how exciting!” Not “uh-oh, good news or bad news?” Not “you must be celebrating tonight!” Remember when I said above how many people were dealing with fertility issues and also how half of all pregnancies are unplanned? More times than not, pregnancy tests are bringing tough news. Don’t comment on these at all.

I’m sure if you have dealt with fertility issues you could add others to this list. What have people said to you that made things harder? Was there anything anyone told you that was helpful?

We Need Your Help

More people than ever are reading Hormones Matter, a testament to the need for independent voices in health and medicine. We are not funded and accept limited advertising. Unlike many health sites, we don’t force you to purchase a subscription. We believe health information should be open to all. If you read Hormones Matter, like it, please help support it. Contribute now.

Yes, I would like to support Hormones Matter. 

This article was published originally in June 2016.

Kerry Gretchen is a researcher, writer, stroke survivor, and a women's health advocate. She has a master's degree in communication from Clemson University, with a research focus on blood clots and hormonal birth control. When not conducting research or writing about women's health issues, she can be found teaching at the College of Charleston.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Story

Migraine, Diet, and Thiamine

Next Story

Sick, Deaf, and Uninsured: The Nightmare of American Healthcare

Latest from Case Stories