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13 Things Not to Say to Someone Going Through Infertility

How to be sensitive and supportive of a friend or colleague.

Key points

  • Approximately 1 in every 8 women has accessed infertility services.
  • Accidentally inappropriate comments can be hurtful for people coping with infertility.
  • Support attempts that are accidentally hurtful are telling a friend to just relax and it will happen or telling them they have plenty of time.
Naassom Azevedo/Unsplash
Source: Naassom Azevedo/Unsplash

Infertility is very common. Approximately 1 in every 8 women has accessed infertility services. Yet, it can be a challenging topic to navigate at work, in families and in friendships.

Many of our social rituals revolve around children (e.g., Halloween). Friends and siblings in the same age range tend to try to conceive at roughly the same time. And, parenting can be a big topic at work, especially in the WFH era.

Often, people want to support friends, colleagues, and family members who are going through infertility, but they don’t have enough knowledge of what’s helpful and what’s not. When you’re trying to be supportive, avoid these pitfalls.

Don’t say these things to a friend struggling with fertility:

1. Have you tried…?

They probably have, or it’s not relevant to the reason for their infertility. By the time someone seeks specialist infertility treatment, they’ve tried a lot of other things already. And, many people have a specific diagnosis that means that what worked for you or someone else won’t work for them.

2. Just relax, and it will happen.

Telling people not to worry doesn’t work, and the person likely has medical issues that relaxing won’t fix.

A lack of positive thinking does not cause infertility.

3. I’m worried I might be infertile. I’ve been trying for two months, and I’m not pregnant.

When a person has a diagnosed problem, it can be annoying if other people speculate they might have the same problem.

4. Can you work late? I need to pick up my kids.

Everyone has a personal life and wants to leave work on time. Don’t kick a person when they’re down by implying that their personal life is less important or meaningful because they don’t have children.

5. You’re lucky you have so much free time.

Or, “party now, because you won’t be able to when you have kids.”

6. You’ve got plenty of time.

You don’t know their circumstances. For example, even a woman 25 or younger may have diminished ovarian reserve or other medical issues that mean they do not have plenty of time.

Also, don’t assume that going through infertility treatment at a younger age is less painful than going through it at an older age.

7. You’re invited to my baby shower. It’s Saturday.

Someone struggling with infertility may want to come to child-centered events, but they may not. Invite them sensitively and give them an out.

8. You’re a great aunt/uncle.

When an infertile person’s sibling has a baby, the person is probably thrilled for their sibling and very sad for themselves. It’s usually better not to poke this raw spot.

9. So, what’s wrong with your wife?

When a couple is experiencing infertility, it is often assumed that the woman’s body is the problem. In reality, male factor infertility or couple members having sub-optimal fertility are both very common.

10. I’m pregnant. It was an oopsie.

It’s impossible for someone who is going through infertility to avoid all triggers. They likely deal with feeling triggered every time they go to Target and need to walk past the aisles of baby products.

If you need to tell your colleague or loved one that you’re pregnant, it’s impossible to avoid that feeling triggering to them entirely. However, you can do it in a way that’s as sensitive as possible. You can leave out the details of how it happened and choose your timing tactfully.

11. You’re doing IVF. Cool, you’re going to have a baby very soon then!

People often try IVF after other fertility treatments have failed. Sometimes people assume that IVF will be a slam dunk. But, IVF success rates are far from perfect. Many people do not take home a baby, even from multiple cycles of IVF.

12. Aren’t you worried all those medications are going to cause cancer or birth defects? Nature is best.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone would take more medications than is necessary to achieve their goal.

Fertility treatment can involve a range of medications. Some of these are used to mature more than one egg. However, fertility treatment can also involve a vast range of other medications that may be surprising to people. For example, immune factors can be involved, leading to taking medications like prednisone or other corticosteroids that alter their immune system.

Fear-mongering is unhelpful. Contradicting the person’s doctor is usually unhelpful. Suppose the person’s doctor recommends an approach that utilizes a lot of medication and technology. In that case, it will be based on their view of what is most likely to succeed (given the person’s specific medical history, which you may not be completely privy to).

13. After all this, you’ll get pregnant naturally with your second baby. Your body will know what to do.

Whatever way pregnancy happens, it’s still natural. Whatever treatment a person needed for their first baby, it’s more likely than not they’ll need that treatment again to have subsequent children. Unassisted conception is not somehow better than assisted conception, which is what this comment can imply.

When trying to be as supportive as possible to an infertile friend or family member, try using these tips to avoid possible trap doors. You don’t need to walk on eggshells, but you can upskill so that your support attempts aren’t accidentally hurtful.