Infertility Awareness: Say This, Not That

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woman comforting friend. infertility. Des Moines Mom1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility.

The reality is someone you know is currently immersed in the world of trying to conceive. Their lives revolve around family planning, tracking ovulation, timed intercourse, peeing on a stick (or five), doctors visits, miscarriages, medical procedures, shots, medicines, and so much more.

These couples are living through some of the hardest and worst days of their lives and most of it is done in the privacy of their own home. The tears are often shed behind closed doors. Whether a couple wants to keep a pregnancy a surprise to announce or they don’t want to be a burden by sharing their journey, many keep infertility a secret.

Therefore, if someone is opening up and sharing their struggles with infertility, they are trusting you with their broken heart. They are taking a huge leap out of their comfort zone to share their journey.

As with anything, it can often feel awkward and hard to know what to say when someone opens up about a difficult situation. Therefore, I’m here to share “say this/not that” to someone struggling with infertility. My hope is people will use this space to listen, grow, and become the best support they can for friends sharing their infertility journey.

First things first, STOP ASKING, “When are you going to have kids?”

I had multiple people share that this was asked just days after a failed IVF transfer or miscarriage. You never know what people are struggling with and this question stings no matter how long a couple has been trying. If they haven’t shared their struggles yet, they aren’t ready. Give them space.

Stop Saying This

I asked my followers on Instagram to share some of the hardest/worst things they’ve heard while living through infertility. Here are some things to consider NOT saying when someone shares their struggles:

  • “At least you…”
    • “At least you get to have fun trying!”
    • “At least you have a great husband.”
    • “At least you can get pregnant.” (after a miscarriage)
    • “At least you have a child.” (secondary infertility)

      “At least you…” implies that what they are feeling isn’t valid. These words tell someone to look past the pain and be grateful. It minimizes the hurt, and I promise you the person will instantly shut down. Someone who just experienced a miscarriage is mourning the loss of a child. Please don’t make them look on the bright side. In my opinion, there is no bright side.
  • Unsolicited advice/questions/jokes
    • “Just relax!”
    • “Go on vacation, then it’ll happen.”
    • “Have you tried…?? It worked for…”
    • “Maybe just stop trying and it’ll happen.”
    • “Quit thinking and trying, it’ll just happen.”
    • “That if I just ate vegan then I’d get pregnant like they did.”
    • “I just have to look at my husband and I get pregnant.”
    • “Oh gosh, you can have mine.”
    • “Are you sure you want kids?”

      In my experience, I never wanted advice. I just wanted someone to listen and validate my feelings. Infertility is a medical condition that cannot be solved by just relaxing, vacation, or trying whatever your brother’s friend’s cousin’s wife did to conceive. And while jokes seem lighthearted, they still hurt to hear.
  • God’s Plan
    • “It’s all in God’s plan”
    • “God just didn’t have your baby ready for you yet. Glad He has him ready now.” (pregnancy after multiple miscarriages)
    • “It’ll happen when it’s meant to happen.”
    • “God wanted another angel.”

      While these are said with good intentions, no one wants to believe God planned this type of pain for them. I personally struggled with my faith because of these statements. Simply saying, “I’m praying for you” (and actually doing it) means so much more.
  • Blaming
    • “What did you do?”
    • “Did you lift something?”
    • “Don’t you know how babies are made?”
    • “Next time stay in bed and don’t get up.”
    • “Maybe you’re not meant to be a parent.”
    • “Are you on any medications that might be preventing you from getting pregnant?” (Referring to antidepressants)

      We already blame ourselves. Please don’t make us feel worse.
  • Adoption/Donors/Surrogacy
    • “Just adopt.”
    • “Have you looked into adoption? It’s a sure-fire way to get pregnant!”
    • “Just try adoption. Then you’ll get pregnant, that’s what always happens.”
    • “Oh, you’re adopting? As soon as you adopt, you’ll get pregnant.”
    • “You are going to regret not having biological children.”
    • “You will finally have one of your own!” (pregnancy after adoption)
    • “Have you ever considered surrogacy? I would carry for you!”
    • “Have you ever thought about a sperm donor?”

      Infertility is a medical condition and adopting will not lead to a pregnancy. Yes, some people get pregnant after adopting, but this is not the case for everyone. Also as an adoptive mother, I can tell you adoption does not heal infertility, and there is no just thing as “just adopting.” Adoption is a complex, lifelong journey, and children who are adopted deserve to be seen and loved as more than a secondary option or just a way to get pregnant.
  • Comparison
    • “I know how you feel.”
    • “I never want to be compared to someone else’s pregnancy journey as every person and every pregnancy is different.” 
    • “My sister in law’s loss was ‘way harder’ for the family than mine.”

      Every couple’s journey with infertility is different, and everyone deals with it in their own way. Whether you have been through it or know someone who has, it is hard to compare. One of my friends suggested this instead, “I remember how I felt when we experienced _______, and I’m sorry you are dealing with this situation.”

Instead, say this

I then asked my followers what friends and family did to help on their journey. Overall, the responses were simply checking in, listening, and validating our feelings.

Here are some of the responses:

• “What can I do for you? What do you need?”
• “We’re praying for you and think about you all of the time.”
• “Someone’s silence, but willing presence. A willingness to show up and listen, give a hug, and shed a tear with you in solidarity of your loss.”
• “Sharing their own stories. It can feel very isolating and knowing you’re not alone helps so much.”
• “Told me how deserving I was, and that those babies are waiting for me in heaven.”
• “I’m here to listen whenever you need.”
• “I found the most helpful thing was when people just listened and didn’t try to offer solutions.”
• “When friends personally told me about their pregnancy before announcing.”
• “When people checked in and told me that they were there to listen. And when someone said ‘I’m sorry’ and told me they would pray for us. The power of prayer is amazing.”
• “Take small steps toward taking care of yourself first and the rest will follow.”
• “Send a text to say ‘I’m thinking of you’ – check in but don’t ask a question that I feel like I have to respond to.”
• “Let me talk, said nothing, offered encouragement, prayed and pointed me back to Jesus.”

You are not alone.

If you made it this far, chances are you love someone going through infertility or you are experiencing it yourself. Always remember, no matter what your unique journey looks like, your feelings are valid, you are doing nothing wrong, and you are not alone.

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Betsy is a stay at home mom to two handsome, energetic boys and a sweet baby girl. Most days are spent chasing after little boys, reading books, and playing superheroes, but she loves spending any extra time she can painting, cooking, writing, listening to music or audiobooks, or being outside. After years of infertility and now as a mom through both adoption and IVF, Betsy loves connecting with, supporting, and advocating for those on their own personal journey with infertility or adoption. Follow her family’s story and connect with her on Instagram @betsydearnoone.

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