Infertility is a messy business. So many more people than you realize are struggling to grow their families right now, and it’s hard to know what to say to a friend who is dealing with some form of infertility. But at times, certain sympathetic words can actually be more hurtful than comforting. Trying to make a tiny human and hitting roadblock after roadblock is stressful enough without other people (especially total strangers) offering you unwanted advice.
I want to make sure you guys know up front that this post was not written out of bitterness, not even a little bit. It’s hard to communicate tone sometimes in text form, but I promise I am not venting. Some of you know that infertility has been part of our story for the majority of our marriage, and I have already navigated the rest of the stages of grief many times (denial, anger, bargaining, depression). I am currently very comfortably planted in acceptance, praise God. ❤️ But consider yourself forewarned – this post is not angry, but it is candid. Every single one of these things has been said to me at least once, and I just don’t think people realize what they are actually saying sometimes. I am NOT claiming to be perfect at coming up with the right words to comfort people, and I also realize that some of you might write me off as too sensitive. But I would bet almost any amount of money that most women, and even men, who have walked an infertility path would agree with what I’m going to share.
Here’s my hope for this post:
- That my friends who are struggling with infertility right now would be encouraged and reminded that they are not alone (and maybe that they roll their eyes in solidarity and laugh while reading along); and
- That my friends who have NOT struggled with infertility would have a better idea of what it’s like and be mindful of how they talk to their friends who don’t have kids yet.
With that being said, here’s a few things NOT to say…
“Your time is coming.” // “It’ll happen.”
I know that you’re trying to be nice, and it’s really sweet……but literally every time someone says this to me, the first thought that pops in my head is “But what if it doesn’t??” I promise I’m not trying to be negative; I just wanna be real with you guys about where my brain goes. I know these phrases are meant to be comforting, but the truth is that you don’t know if whatever ‘it’ is – adoption, conceiving naturally, successful IVF cycle – will actually happen. For a lot of couples, one of the biggest steps forward in their infertility journey is learning to accept that pregnancy and childbirth may not or will not happen. Unless you can say with complete confidence that God through the Holy Spirit has given you a specific word for a specific couple, saying something like this is not helpful.
••• Instead, say: “I’m here for you, no matter where this journey takes you.”
“Just stop trying so hard and have fun!”
Hmmm….okay yeah, let me just NOT try to have a baby, that’ll help me get pregnant. *facepalm* Again, I know the intent is good, but not trying is not how this works. The trying is the most important part. Sure, for some people it might just happen, but for couples dealing with various kinds of infertility, there are extra lifestyle changes, doctors, diets, supplements, prayer, and medical intervention ON TOP of all that trying. Saying that someone should ‘stop trying’ can communicate that all the hard work they have been doing either hasn’t been enough or is even KEEPING them from getting pregnant.
••• Instead, say: “You can do this. Don’t give up.”
“I know how you feel, we tried for 5 months before I finally got pregnant.”
This one is actually almost a good thing to say! It’s the mention of how long it took that shoots this comment in the foot. Everybody’s road to parenthood is different, and there are too many variables to try to compare situations. Some couples get pregnant on their honeymoon, and some couples try for 10+ years and never see a single positive test, and every story is frustrating and gut-wrenching in its own way. You can relate to someone’s pain without needing to be so specific about how long it’s been for you or how many babies you’ve lost. There may be a time and place to share that information, but it usually just ends up alienating one or both people. This isn’t about who’s suffered more. Waiting and loss are hard on everyone, and it’s great to share your own experience because it helps your friend not feel so alone! Just consider leaving the comparison out of it.
••• Instead, say: “Ugh, I know how you feel – every month that I got a negative test, I cried and felt like a failure.”
“You’re lucky you don’t have kids!”
Look, we’ve all seen the kids throwing tantrums in the middle of Walmart (and on planes, and at church, and..). And yes, we the childless people get to go on vacations and sleep late and watch normal TV shows and go out to eat without it being a major production. But I would give just about anything to have my adult sleep schedule ruined by a new baby. We are painfully aware of what we’re missing out on, and it drains us of joy and hope for the future when all a parent does is complain about the exact thing we’ve spent all this time waiting for. Don’t get me wrong – kids are the worst sometimes, and you definitely need an outlet to unload about it. But 9 times out of 10, it’s probably going to be with other parents who understand what you’re going through.
••• Instead, say: “Your patience to wait for a child is so inspiring to me.”
“You need to relax, stress will make it worse.”
This goes hand in hand with “Just stop trying so hard.” First of all, it makes it sound like infertility is my fault, which is incredibly insulting. Second of all, WE KNOW STRESS IS BAD. We are trying desperately to have babies and we can’t. We are already stressed about stressing over stress that doesn’t need to be stressed about. We are doing the best we can to maintain a calm, emotionally stable outlook about this huge, life-changing thing that is completely out of our control. Telling someone to relax is about as helpful as telling an angry person to calm down – it usually has the exact opposite effect.
••• Instead, say: “You’re doing a freaking amazing job handling this.”
“Have you tried _____?”
Guys, if I had a dollar for every recommendation I’ve gotten…I could probably go ahead and retire. I’ve been told I need to try everything from various diets, to essential oils, to medical procedures, to vitamins, teas, herbs, superfoods, ovulation tracking devices, chiropractics, acupuncture, putting a red ribbon under my pillow during a full moon, doing the hokey pokey with a pillow shoved under my shirt…kidding on the last two, but seriously, the list goes on and on. I am NOT saying it’s bad to share things that have genuinely helped someone get pregnant, especially if the person who used them was YOU. But there are a lot of factors involved with someone’s fertility, and just because your cousin took these supplements for a month and happened to get pregnant the next month doesn’t mean that those supplements are what caused her to get pregnant. It’s okay to share ideas, but please don’t claim that you’ve found THE CURE for infertility.
••• Instead, say: “If you feel like sharing, what have you guys tried so far? No pressure if that’s too personal though.”
“God’s timing is perfect.”
Can I just tell you something? We know. WE. KNOW. We are reminded of this every single month that the answer to our prayers is ‘No.’ I know that God is control of my life and that His plans are good. I really do. But a constant string of ‘No’s’ starts to hurt after a little while. And for someone who is not a Christian, this phrase can paint God as Someone cruel who enjoys our pain and deliberately withholds joy from us, rather than Someone who loves us, cares for us, and meets us in our sorrow. I don’t know why, but hearing “It’s all part of God’s plan” just is not comforting to someone who is struggling with a loss.
••• Instead, say: “It is so hard to wait without getting frustrated. I can’t imagine how it feels to wait for this long and not know what’s next.”
“You’re young, you have plenty of time!”
Youth doesn’t necessarily equal health. Age does matter when it comes to having kids, but common conditions like endometriosis and PCOS can affect fertility in devastating ways, no matter how old you are. Saying something like this also minimizes a couple’s desire to start a family, and almost makes it sound like there are so many other *better* things they should be doing with their young married years. Another thing to consider is that by the time many couples are diagnosed with some form of infertility, they have already been actively trying to get pregnant for at least a year. Being told you have plenty of time after you’ve already been worried about how long it’s taken can be interpreted as, “It’s stupid for you to worry about that.” Truth be told: (1) It’s none of your business if and when anybody decides they want to have children, and (2) A lot of us DON’T have plenty of time and DO have valid reasons to worry.
••• Instead, say: “I’m so sorry for the stress this has put on you. Please let me know if you ever need anything.”
“Have you been praying about it?” // “Just pray about it.”
I’m iffy about this one. I know that everyone who has asked this or said this has only had the best of intentions, and bringing up prayer is totally appropriate when it comes to conversations about fertility. Prayer has been my most powerful weapon against doubt and anxiety. But instead of wording it this way, it might be better to ask how you can pray for them – and then do it, right then and there. Asking “Have you been praying about it?”, although well-intended, can be interpreted as “You’re not praying enough or you’d be pregnant already.” Trust me, I have already heaped plenty of guilt on myself over this exact thing, and I don’t need anyone else telling me that I’m not spending enough time asking the Lord for a baby. But asking me how YOU can pray for me or actually praying for me in that moment will cheer me up faster than anything else.
••• Instead, say: “How can I pray for you about this?” And then do it!!
“It could be worse.” / “At least (it’s not ___, it isn’t ___)”
I mean….you’re not wrong….but how exactly do you expect me to feel after saying this?? My feelings are totally invalidated. Of course it could always be worse. But who exactly is the final authority on what ‘worse’ is, anyway? Is ovarian cancer worse? Is a stillbirth worse? Is a total hysterectomy at 22 worse? Is an ectopic pregnancy worse? Like I said earlier, this is not the time to try to one-up people with who has the sadder story. Whether we are sad, angry, discouraged, or numb, our feelings are real, and we are allowed to feel them.
••• Instead, say: “I wish I knew what to say to fix this. You are so strong.”
“Why don’t you just foster or adopt?”
Okay, first. JUST??? When did fostering and adopting become *JUST* fostering and adopting?? It is a sacrificial, heart-consuming, lifelong process. Those children are more than “just” a consolation prize for people who can’t have kids on their own. Fostering and adoption are AMAZING, and I have the utmost respect for people who pursue them. But they are also not an immediate fix-all solution for anyone who is dealing with infertility. Having the option of fostering/adoption doesn’t mean your desire to be pregnant and give birth goes away. And for some couples, fostering and/or adopting doesn’t feel like another option. It feels like another risk. Hoping for the chance of getting pregnant and carrying a healthy baby to term is scary enough, but imagining taking someone else’s child, and raising thousands of dollars to do it is completely terrifying. Pregnancy is scary because of the risk of miscarriage, and fostering/adopting is scary because of how many stories you hear about the endless waits, financial stress, and the risk of it all falling through. After awhile, you start to feel like there is no such thing as a secure option.
••• Instead, say: “Families come in all shapes and sizes, and any future kids you guys have will be so lucky to get you as parents.”
“You’re being disobedient by not having kids right now. Don’t you want to ‘fill your quiver’ and glorify God? Aren’t you ready to start your family in whatever way possible?”
First…technically, we already have! We are a family of two right now, and it’s really, really great. We’ve gotten to spend almost a decade together, just us, and sure, I thought we’d have kids by now, but I wouldn’t wish a single one of those days away. Second, you better have a really good relationship with someone before you try to assume the role of Holy Spirit and rebuke them for not having kids. And finally, having kids isn’t what validates our marriage. I have wanted to be a mom all my life, but guess what comes first? Being a wife. And I chose him. No matter how many kids we have or how they come to us, someday, they will all leave the house and it will be just Daniel and I again. If waiting for a baby means I have more time to fall in love with my husband and nurture a strong marriage, I think I’m okay with that.
••• Instead, say: “I am praying for God to give you peace in the waiting and direction for what to do next.”
Whew! Kudos to you if you’ve made it this far. ❤️
I really hope this was helpful to someone! Again – I mean this 100% out of love, not bitterness. Also, I am not claiming to be perfect at comforting people, and I’ve even said some of those things to other women myself. Sometimes we don’t know what to say, but we want to be helpful and comforting, so we grasp for whatever words we can find at the time. I feel like I should also point out that there are exceptions to almost every rule, and one of the biggest exceptions for most of those phrases is how close you are to the person you’re saying them to. For me personally, it’s completely different to hear “It’ll happen” from one of my best friends, compared to hearing it from a total stranger who doesn’t know my story. The bottom line is just be sensitive. “Think before you speak” is good advice in any situation, not just this one. Consider how your words could come across to the person who’s hearing them, and know that it’s okay to not know what to say.
For my buddies who are dealing with infertility: even though those phrases are probably not your favorite things to hear right now, remember that almost every time, they are being said out of love. Become someone who is easily encouraged. I am praying for you, and know that I care about you even if I don’t always know what to say to make you feel better.
Thanks for reading!