5 Phrases to Avoid Telling a Couple Dealing with Infertility
Most couples keep their struggles with infertility private, opening up to only a few trusted family members and friends, as well as their medical team. If a friend or family member opens up to you about dealing with infertility, it’s natural to want to jump and offer something to reassure them.
Typically, our first instinct in sensitive situations is often to minimize—to make the problem of infertility seem less troubling than it appears.
That’s a mistake.
Unless you’ve directly struggled with infertility yourself, it’s easy to downplay the emotions that come from being unable to start the family you desperately want. Grief, sadness, guilt, low self-esteem, anger, and depression often results from fertility issues. Here, we cover five well-meaning but heartbreaking phrases couples struggling through infertility hear far too often.
1. “Just relax”, “It’s all in your head”
The belief that infertility can be stress-related is common. You may assume that a couple is just being impatient, or that the root of their infertility is the stress that comes from worrying about it.
The truth is, infertility isn’t just in people’s heads, and it can’t be beaten with just an attitude shift.
Infertility is a real medical issue. The Centers for Disease Control defines infertility as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex (6 months for women over 35). The CDC estimates that nearly one in eight couples of childbearing age suffers from infertility.
Moreover, there is no proven correlation between stress and infertility. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine makes it clear: “It is not known whether high levels of stress can prevent pregnancy or affect a woman’s chance of conceiving.”
Diminishing the inability to conceive down to stress can make it feel like you’re casting blame. A sense of being blamed is stressful for the couple, at a time when they likely are already feeling intense guilt and insecurity.
2. “It’ll happen naturally”
Similarly, it’s easy to assume pregnancy will happen in its own time. Many couples do in fact need a few attempts to conceive, and it sounds reassuring to tell a couple pregnancy will happen naturally. That’s what’s meant to happen, right?
But there is a major difference between a few months of trying and medically-defined infertility.
Unexpected pregnancies can and do surprise couples, but infertile couples typically aren’t so lucky—that’s why they seek help to start a family. Far from being reassuring, advising a couple that “it will happen eventually” suggests that you don’t really understand what that couple is really going through.
3. “Maybe it’s just not meant to happen”
Another approach often heard is saying that if it doesn’t happen, it’s not meant to happen.
If the couple is still seeking fertility treatment, they haven’t given up on starting a family. Fertility treatments require a massive effort and amount of time, as well as a deep emotional commitment. Couples determined to pursue fertility treatments will not want to hear such fatalisms about their chances.
There may come a time when the thought that ‘what will be, will be,’ is comforting to a couple struggling with infertility, but it’s unlikely to be in the midst of the stresses of treatment.
4. “But you have so much to be thankful for!”
Most people have a great deal to be thankful for, no matter what they’re going through. While this advice may be true, it’s not actually helpful.
As RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association explains, couples trying and failing to conceive a child aren’t just experiencing disappointment – they are simultaneously experiencing intense feelings of both grief and loss, as well as suffering a shattering of self-esteem:
As repeated attempts to get pregnant come to naught, there is a realization that this intensely strived-for goal has not been, and may never be, attained. As this failure becomes more and more evident, one’s self-image is assaulted. It is easy to move from procedures that have failed to the feeling that “I am a failure.”
People living with infertility issues are not just indulging feelings of disappointment and sadness. They are working through intense grief, guilt, and anger. Asking them to put those difficult feelings in perspective simple won’t make them disappear – they must be worked through.
5. “Kids can be a nightmare”
You may complain about pregnancy and raising children, thinking that a friend or loved one will take some comfort in recognizing the downsides of starting a family, and be thankful for what he or she has.
Untrue. For many couples dealing with infertility, even the mention of children can be painful. Many couples find that simple attending events where there will be children is too difficult to handle. The holiday season in particular is especially hard—RESOLVE even advises couples to avoid holiday gatherings if they worry they might not be able to cope.
Be aware that children can be a sensitive subject—never assume that hearing about the downsides of having kids will make infertility easier to bear. A couple struggling with infertility wants to experience all aspects of parenthood, from the frustrations to the joys.
If you need further advice and resources on coping with infertility, RESOLVE’s website offers a trove of stories, facts, and support for people at all stages of the fertility journey. The Aspire Fertility Patients and Family page also explains many of the experiences that couples with fertility issues go through.
Great article! I have a friend going through this right now, actually, and never know what to say or NOT to say. Great tips!
Infertility can be a very painful topic to those dealing with it. I try to lend an ear to just listen and add the couple to my prayer list because you never know what could set the mom off from a simple discussion.
We actually went through this and it is HARD! I had all my friends all having babies and we tried everything! We now have one little boy and I love him SO much!
It’s important to be extra sensitive when talking to a couple dealing with infertility. This is a great overview of what NOT to say! Thanks for sharing these tips.
I have several friends who couldn’t have children. It can definitely be a touchy subject and should be handled with care.
It’s definitely important to consider these things. I can only imagine the stress couples feel when going through this.
Well, since my son is adopted, I know that there are always alternatives. We are not rich, we are two dads, and we did not think it could happen. Ye, here I am planning my son’s Bar Mitzvah in 10 days! And we also know how being sensitive to others is important, luckily not too many people have put their foot in their mouths with our situation!
This is great advice. It took us a couple of years to get pregnant with our daughter. I think I heard it all while we were going through the processed.
These are things I wouldn’t even think of that may hurt the feelings of a couple dealing with this. I am glad you are opening up the topic.
I can’t image the stress associated with these difficulties. It is so important to be aware of what you are saying.
It is a shame that people need to be told these things. I don’t have to agree with someones personal choices but I wouldn’t be offensive to them. A battle is a battle.
People can really make some insensitive comments. Thanks for sharing these tips, good for everyone to keep in mind.
Infertility is so difficult to deal with without people making it worse. These are great tips and I really hope people take notice.
I would hope those phases never came out of anyone’s mouth. They’re terrible!
I love your honesty, and how much truth is in this post! Thank you so much for sharing. I cannot imagine going through this.