What NOT to say to someone struggling with infertility

Guest post by jackie anderson
What NOT to say to someone struggling with infertility.

At the grocery store today, I was browsing the “family planning” section. Of course, there are the things that help prevent pregnancy, but I was obviously looking at the things to help promote pregnancy. As I was reading the back of every box of “ovulation predictors” and trying to decide which was the best one, a female employee that was probably in her later 30s came up to see if I needed any help. The conversation went like this:

Employee: “Ma’am, you need any help?”

Me: Oh, no, I am just reading the back of each one of these ovulation predictors… my doctor recommended doing these as well as the ultrasounds over the next few days to ensure we catch the egg as quick as possible for doctor-assisted insemination.

E: Trying to get pregnant, huh?

Me: Yea, unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as I would have hoped… and definitely not cheap. (With ovulation predictors, you have to buy digital because the lines are too hard to read on the others, so for a week supply it can cost upwards of $25-35)

E: Never had that problem… my husband would look at me and I would get pregnant. Had to get him fixed since I refused to have any more kids after 6 little rugrats running around, all under the age 9. You can have some of mine if you want!

Me: Lucky you. Thanks for your help. Have a great day.

I threw my predictors in the cart and walked away slightly fuming. I know she was trying to be polite. I know she was trying to make conversation. I have had people say the same things that were trying to be encouraging or provide empathy. I just kept telling myself that the woman didn’t realize what she was saying and didn’t know any better.

Over the past three years of trying to unsuccessfully conceive, I have heard many phrases that *irk* me. Here goes my ranting:

Just relax!

Oh thanks! I can certainly relax on command now that you told me to!

…Just never say this. Ever.

Why don’t you just adopt?

I really want to turn the question around on them and ask them “Why didn’t you adopt instead of having your own biological children?” If you can’t answer that without the answer involving the kid being yours biologically, creating a mini-me version of you and your spouse, or wanting to experience pregnancy, why do you expect me to? Especially since I am still in the first few years of trying to conceive and just now doing our first round of intrauterine insemination, why are you suggesting we give up and start the just as long and equally hard road to adoption? We still have options for conceiving our child.

I knew this one couple that adopted and right after they got their adopted kid, they got pregnant!

So you are saying I should adopt just in the hopes that I will become pregnant… and ignore the fact that I have labwork, ultrasound results and countless doctors telling me that I have a slim to none chance of getting pregnant without medical help? I am pretty sure that 100% of infertile couples that adopt will not go on to have their own biological child (with or without medical assistance). Do not throw that in my face. EVERYONE *knows* a couple that had that happen.

You want kids? You can have mine!

I hate this comment for a couple different reasons. I don’t want to be a babysitter, I want to be a MOTHER. I don’t want YOUR kids. I want MY kids. Don’t offer your kids up to me like they are a cup of sugar. I have been trying so hard to have kids that when someone else seems willing to just give theirs away it tugs at the heartstrings a little bit — even if it’s a joke. I get that raising kids is hard and that you would never actually give your kids away, but with this phrase you are just trying to be funny or amusing, and it isn’t working.

Image from page 40 of "On sterility in the male and female, its causes and treatment" (1844)

Everytime my husband even sneezes/breathes/touches/looks at me, I get pregnant.

Gee, thanks for pointing out your hyperfertility. Thank you for pointing out how easy this process should be if we could do it naturally. Would I have loved to magically take a pregnancy test one month and have two little pink lines come up instead of one? OF COURSE. Would I rather be able to enjoy the baby-making process instead of having to be impregnanted by a turkey baster? Duh! Yes, please! I didn’t choose to have these issues, but thank you for informing how easy it was for you and how difficult it is for me.

Oh, you are still young! You have plenty of time!

While I may be 27, I have to have a full hysterectomy by the time I am 35 and they want me done having kids by 34. So, in baby-making years, I am mid-30s. My actual age doesn’t mean anything to my uterus or ovaries. Do not point out how young I am because you are actually doing the opposite. You are pointing out how old I am, how much closer I am to needing that hysterectomy, and forever losing my chance at biological motherhood. Basically: never point out someone’s “young age” as positive because you never know their full medical issues.

You are so lucky… you can sleep in/have date nights/travel/etc.

Yeah… but I can’t just pick up and jet off to an island. My schedule is all around doctor appointments and testing. I can, if I choose, to have a date night on Saturday or whatever day with my husband — but so can you. You may have to find a babysitter, but you can do everything I can do if you truly wanted to. Guess what I can’t do as easily as you? Be a biological mother.

Happy uterus #amigurumi #crochet #craft #igersmelbourne #instameet #iphonography #iphoneonly #ig #igers  #instagood #melbourne #mobilephotography

At least you are having fun trying!

Yes, having our romantic encounters scheduled is fantastic. Ever have to pee on a stick to find out if it is time to have sex? On top of that, the hormones I am on make me feel ubersexy with hot flashes, moodswings, and even weightgain. Trying to conceive with fertility issues is a completely different ballgame that isn’t near as fun as any infertile couple would like.

The main reason I actually wrote this is because I know the people that have said these things have only meant well — I’m hoping to enlighten. While someone that has never experienced infertility may view these comments as completely harmless, helpful or even funny, the person experiencing the infertility issues may not.

To me, this is the best thing you can say to anyone going through infertility issues:

Try this instead: “I am here if you ever need to talk. I can only imagine how hard it must be.”

With this, you are not saying that you “understand,” — you are empathizing. The only people that can understand what infertility feels like are infertile people. For instance, I would never tell someone that has reached the point of IVF that I understand… because I don’t. I have not reached that point. I hope I don’t need to get to that point. But if I were talking to another person that has experienced several miscarriages or not being able to conceive again for the past four years, then I would be able to say “I understand” because I have been through that.

Empathize without downplaying their problem — offer support and comfort.

If you struggled with trying to conceive, what were the MOST HELPFUL things people said to you?

Comments on What NOT to say to someone struggling with infertility

  1. This is such a great article, and I’m so glad you wrote it. I’m also 27, trying to get pregnant, and failing. What bothers me is people constantly asking us when we are going to start a family. Of course, they have no idea that we’re already trying and failing month after month, but it hurts every time they say something. Or at work every time I have a headache, a cramp, a craving, exhaustion, and so on they say, “Oh! I bet you’re pregnant!” I really do hate it, but without going into my screwed up reproductive system, I just smile and say “Maybe”.

    And, PS the Dollar Tree often carries ovulation predictors. My doctor said Dollar Tree preg. tests work just as well as the expensive pharmacy ones, so maybe the ovulation predictors do too.

    • Ooh, word. I went and bought a bagful of Dollar Tree kits, and they’re fine. They’re a bit of a lab experiment, but they’re also the reason there’s a cup in the bathroom labeled “DO NOT USE FOR WATER-PEE CUP”

      • ha ha I have a pee cup too. I keep it under the sink but I’m petrified someone’s going to stay over and I’m going to find them swishing with water out of the pee cup!

        • One morning, I absentmindedly picked up the toothbrushes that were resting on the sink and stuck them not in the toothbrush holder, but in my pee-cup, which I had forgotten to put away.

          I had washed out the pee-cup, but Mr. Ivriniel was still understandably annoyed at me.

        • It’s been years, but maybe someone will read this in the archives 🙂 I had the same kind of ovulation tests and you know what works weirdly well– disposable shot glasses that they sell for college parties. A pack is reasonably cheap and I don’t keep a pee cup around, although my trash does look like a frat party exploded.

  2. I’m in my second month of infertility treatments, and I hear you. I hear you loud and clear. I’ve known since I was 16 that I likely wouldn’t be able to conceive without medical assistance, and I laid that out to my partner when we first got serious. He had friends who’ve been through this as well, so he had the idea, but going through it now? Completely different experience.

    We have referenced ‘sex homework’ to our friends who say ‘oh, you have to have so much PRACTICE’ My libido is flipping out all over the place guys! It really is sex homework, with all the connotations of homework included. I haven’t been in the mood all week….so of course, I’ve finally managed to ovulate. Woo. Sex homework time.

    • Yup! We refer to having to do our homework as well. And I think the analogy is particularly relevant for those of us “good students” who can’t escape the feeling that if you work hard and collect all your data and analyze all your data and do your homework on time and do everything right that you should be rewarded with a baby. Obviously logically I know that isn’t true. But good student in me can’t help but think it.

      As for the most helpful thing I’ve heard, it came from my acupuncturist who simply told me to be gentle with myself.

  3. The most helpful thing was from my husband:

    (I will preface this by saying that I am not religious, butconsidermyself spiritual)

    Every time I peed on that stupid stick and got another negative, he would say, “well, our little soul just isn’t ready yet”

    The thought that there was a specific soul for us was waiting out there is the reason we kept trying for two years.

    • That’s exactly what I told myself after my miscarriage. I just keep telling myself that when that specific little soul is ready, he’ll make his (or her!) appearance… we are destined to have that baby.

      Sending out the best vibes for you, Pink, and all the other fertility-challenged Offbeats.

    • Hmm, this is one that had the opposite effect on me. For me it is along the lines of “it’s just not the right time yet”. There’s an implication of you are supposed to wait. Not believing in fate or divine intervention, I feel this minimizes the issue. That said, someone else I know said this to me and while I find it unhelpful a) she wasn’t meaning it to be and b) she said it because at that moment it was helping her with her own fertility issues

    • Aww that is so very sweet. Whenever I get my period or a negative test, he just hugs me and tells me it is not time yet, but we will keep going until I need a break. Sometimes our guys can really surprise us, when I was on clomid and suffering the horrid side effects, he brought me a little gift almost everyday b/c of how bad I felt.

      Good luck!

  4. My heart goes out to you, Jackie. My husband and I also struggled with infertility, and it was so hard to hear these bizarre comments that were supposed to make us feel better – not just from strangers, but from family and friends who you would think would be more sensitive. People are really just uneducated on infertility and not equipped to deal with friends and family members going through it, but hopefully that will change as we share our stories.

    I will tell you the comment – that I told myself – that I wish friends, family members and acquaintances would have told me during my struggles: You will be a mom someday. I’m sure of it.

    • One of the kindest things a friend says to us (and she remembers to repeat it whenever she can tell I’m feeling down) is “I am 100% confident that you guys will conceive.” She got pregnant during their first month of trying, so she can’t commiserate with me on how hard it is; but her positive attitude is a bright spot for us.

      • See, for me, that sort of thing has the *exact opposite* effect! (I don’t meant this as a negative nelly comment, just an addition to the conversation) When people tell me their success stories and how they’re sure it’ll all be fine for me, I get pessimistic and frustrated because ‘hey, what if it doesn’t, what do *they* know?’

        But I am a SUPER pessimist and optimism in the face of The Suck has never been my strong point. Do other people struggle with optimistic comments like this?

        • Oh, this friend doesn’t pair that comment with her success story. She’s smart enough to keep her success and my so-far failure totally separate. And when other friends give me similar optimistic comments it DOES bother me sometimes. Just something about this one particular friend’s confidence feels good to me. Like, she’s in my corner.

          But yes, I understand how relentless optimism can feel, especially when I feel, well, broken. Sometimes, coming from some folks it downright pisses me off.

        • I am usually super negative about everything, too, but that’s why I always liked the vagueness of the comment, “You will be a mom,” w/o some bs success story that didn’t apply to me. “You will be a mom” means you might have a kid through fertility treatments, surrogacy, adoption, foster care or some other kind of family arrangement. It also silently acknowledges the possibility that you may not ever be able to go through pregnancy and childbirth – something that is always looming in the backs of your mind but you don’t want to just bring up in casual conversation.

          • Yeah, this is always my angle too — supporting that they will be a parent if they want to be. I’ve said things like, “I’m pretty sure you’ll find your way to parenthood, even if the path curves in unexpected ways.”

          • The thing is, even that isn’t necessarily true. I was 21 and infertile. I’m 28 now and not only did treatment not work for us, surrogacy isn’t a realistic option, and it’s looking like adoption wont be possible either. Yes, there is fostering, but while I loved our foster kids they already had a Mum. I was their carer, it’s rewarding in it’s own ways, but it’s not the same as being a parent to a child who’s a permanent part of your family.

            It sucks in a thousand different ways, but for some of us it won’t work and we will never be parents. It’s a horrible loss and difficult enough to accept without people trying to sugar coat it with their own hopes for us. And you know, at the end of the day, we’ll be okay. If we can never be parents it won’t brake us, our life wont be ruined, it will just be different and we’ll have a whole lot of other options in and choices that we wouldn’t have otherwise had.

            I really wish there was more discussion about it being okay to stop trying and it being okay to not be parents even when it’s something you’ve wanted with every part of your being. That’s what I wish people had told me. Whatever happens, baby or no baby, you will be okay.

        • Yes! This is not entirely related to fertility, but I went through a very scary health problem last year and I swear every time someone said “oh it’s probably just x,” it seemed like the universe scaled it up a notch and my test test would show it wasn’t whatever the more benign option was at that point. Around when they were trying to figure out whether or not it was cancer, I actually started cutting people off when they started to say “it’s probably…” with “I really can’t bring myself to speculate anymore, and I’m working closely with medical professionals to figure out what this is.” If they pushed, I would add: “we’ve had so much disappointment that I just can’t bring myself to hope in any direction, but thanks for your kind thoughts.” I know people were trying to comfort themselves (and me), but it was making me feel much worse.

        • Hell yes, I do!! I hate hate hate it!

          As a Christian, with a bunch of christian friends, I hate hearing “just trust God” (I am, but maybe I’m trusting that God’s plan for me can take me in any direction and even though that’s good, I’m still sad now), “God will give you the desires of your heart” (maybe my desires need to change and God is using this to change them), “one couple I know couldn’t have children and then they just gave it up to God and he blessed them with children!” (I heard this one about marriage too and I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t work like this all the time and in all situations. What do you know?!).

          They don’t seem to get that when i’m telling them, I want a hug and a “there, there, this must be really hard for you”. Not a lesson on what I should be doing better.

          I love my Christian friends, but I’m starting to believe that Christians are CRAP at empathy. They all want to give advice, even if it’s shoddy!

          • I think everyone is CRAP at empathy when it is outside their area of experience and/or comfort zone.

            People want to be helpful, but don’t have a clue how.

          • When we struggled a bit (just a bit — I cannot overemphasize it without being insensitive to others), I had a friend who kept up with the “God’s timing” stuff. Even though this is a faith friend — meaning I am sort of kind of in my own unique and personal way a person of faith and this is a factor in our friendship — it still drove me nuts. She meant well, but I just didn’t and don’t believe that argument. However, because she had had her own set of struggles and that kind of thinking helped her, I just nodded and kept my mouth shut, not wanting to belittle her way of thinking the way I felt she kind of dismissed — albeit unintentionally — mine.

            I ultimately just tried to tell myself that thinking of “God’s plan” was ultimately a way of saying “I’m not in control.” When I thought of it in those terms, it made it easier for me to hear about “God’s plan.” I am not sure how much weight I put in God’s plan, if any, but I definitely believe I cannot control 90% of the things I do wish I could control!

          • Yes, about Christians and empathy. Thing is, often lots of the words I get are words I would say– Yes, God is working all things for good! Yes, I know that, and I believe it, on a fundamental level, quite truly! But do not tell me that, tell me “DANG that sucks, I don’t get it either! There, there!” and give me a hug and maybe a brownie and let me sob messily on your shoulder a while.

          • Teffer: totally true! I say those exact words all the time to myself and it IS a great comfort to me. I don’t mind hearing them, but it can often sound TRITE! Can I get a “there, there” with it as well please?

            I like to think that going through all this might help me be better at sympathising to someone else later on. Like, just knowing WHEN to go “there, there” and when to offer advice, y’know??

            I err on the side of not offering advice unless they’ve asked me. OR I caveat my advice with “this might not apply to you and I’m just through these ideas out into the air and you can grab one of them if it makes any sense to you” and then list some ideas. 🙂

      • Like Haley, a statement like that had the reverse effect on me. When you’re going through IVF and faced with the odds of success (in our case, our chances were pretty slim, but we tried anyway), a friend’s confidence isn’t going to add any hope to a very stressful and crazy hormonal procedure.

  5. I think that when we were trying to get pregnant with medical intervention the most helpful comments were people interested in the process who refrained from predicting the outcome or offering advice. What I wanted was someone to simply be present with me where I was, leaving me the room to change my mind/heart if I needed to.

    All that being said – and so much good wishes to you on your journey!!! – I adopted my kids and my adoptive mama-heart hurts a little bit when people use the phrase “my own child” to specifically mean a child that you conceived, carried, and birthed. I get what you’re saying and it’s completely valid. I share your pet peeves – including the “just adopt” thing as if adoption is either easy or the second best default to pregnancy. That drives me nuts! But so does the question “so you couldn’t have your own kids?” My kids are my own, even if I didn’t birth them from my body.

    • I completely agree — the greatest comfort would come when another woman who was trying, or even just thinking about trying, had questions about my process. The process of taking your temperature every day and charting your cervical mucus and peeing on ovulation predictor kits causes you to go a little bit wacky all up inside your brain… but you NEVER get to talk about it with anyone. It was always such a relief when someone else acted like it was normal.

      • I agree with this. Of the people who know that I’m having trouble, it’s the people who knew that it probably involved taking annoying temperatures and charting like a crazy person, and they were happy to eye-roll with me about the sheer craziness of it. Having people share that ‘hey, that’s probably really tough and frustrating, isn’t it?’ has been the best. Because the thing is, if I want advice, I go to my doctor (and Google) — I just want empathy and ears and maybe some laughs, you know? No advice or sage wisdom, just solid “That sucks and is sucky!”

  6. Thanks for writing this. I’m sure I’ve said some of those things before, like the “Well… trying is fun!” without knowing that the couple might be struggling. Or I will go completely silent while trying to form a polite response to something I know nothing about. then that seems rude, so I panic, and end up saying something really lame anyway… Like “Well, good luck! I…. have a conference call….” I guess running away is better than accidentally saying something worse.

  7. Ahh. I really enjoyed reading this. My husband and I hardly used protection for 4 years and we never got pregnant. Once we decided to “actively” try it just wasn’t happening. Month after month buying those tests. Negative. Negative. Negative. My ob/gyn tried me out on Clomid and I became a f***ing monster. He basically told me that I was young, shouldn’t worry and I should lose weight. By the way I was maybe 20 pounds overweight, asshole! Needless to say I found a new dr and he referred me to a fertility specialist. It had been 22 months of negative tests. Nearly 2 years of trying is heartbreaking. After aggressive treatment and an artificial insemination, we were pregnant. My baby girl is 16 months now. And I couldn’t be happier. Being in your shoes I know the exact feeling. Please try to stay positive. We’ve decided to try to conceive naturally and so far (4 months) nothing yet. Back in the boat. But be aggressive. Especially to the jackasses who think that they are “helping”. One last thing. My husband and I have realized/found out that those who have a more difficult time conceiving are amazing parents. 🙂

    • Yes, that’s another one that peeves me – you’re still young! Um, I’m not in the “advanced maternal age” but I’m ready now at 33 and it’s already been a few years of trying

  8. so, i definitely don’t have a clue what you’re going through…but i wanted to second from a different point of view the “why don’t you just adopt?” comment. as someone currently working towards foster parenting, the phrase “just adopt” made me laugh out loud. i mean, it is (obviously) a totally different type of difficult, but adoption isn’t exactly “hi, i’d like a baby now, thanks!”

  9. Would you be able to give any tips/ advice on what to say? I struggled with infertility before getting pregnant, but not as much as others I know. I would love direction on how to be supportive.

    • Offer hugs. Listen if they’re comfortable enough to talk about the challenges with you, or let them know you’re there if they need someone to talk to. Send them a card that says you’re thinking about them. Invite them out for tea. Send them a card or flowers if their attempts aren’t successful. Honour them when you can for being an awesome person. Ask them how you can help or support them.

      And one of the biggest: “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”

    • I love the tip at the end of the article: Try this instead: “I am here if you ever need to talk. I can only imagine how hard it must be.”

  10. Hi there. I totally get it. It took me 3.5 years to get pregnant. Two rounds of IVF and all the fun stuff that leads up to that. Thankfully I had a son and he’s already 18 months but the pain of it all still reverberates and I feel for you.

    I have heard all those comments and more. Don’t forget the one that goes, “Did you hear that so-and-so celebrity just got pregnant, and she’s 45? You will totally get pregnant.” Sigh. I was in an infertility support group, and so many of the women had heard all the same things that I was thinking of creating a bingo board with all of the things people say, and we could all play it each week for “FUN”.

    The adoption comment is the worst, because guess what, it costs upwards of $35,000 to adopt, when it’s free to get pregnant the old fashioned way. I don’t think we could have afforded that so it is not an option for everyone even though people seem to think it is.

    Anyway, I wish I had some ideas about what was the best thing I heard. I think just having someone say that they really believed and hoped it would work out for me was nice to hear. Nothing really made me feel better because I was just so FRIGHTENED, but it helped to talk to people who had been through it. People just asking about it and simply acknowledging that getting pregnant is actually a MIRACLE and NOT ALWAYS EASY was very helpful, especially when it feels like it’s easy for everyone else but you.

    I wish you all the best and thanks for this post.

    • The celebrity thing bothers me so much. I like to ask them if they think the person used donor eggs since the chance of conceiving naturally at that age is so low. I figure it might make them think for a second before saying the same crap to someone else.

  11. What is the most helpful / supportive thing I’ve heard? Generally nobody knows we’ve been trying. But the people I have told have shared stories of friends and family who have also struggled, I guess to make me feel not so alone. That is the best thing, honestly, because it also shows they’re aware that it happens to a lot of people, that I’m not some kind of anomaly…

    But I am very happy to say that after a year and a half I’m pregnant with twins!!!

  12. I’ve never had fertility issues before – been through 3 pregnancies either achieved accidentally or with little trying. However, that has now changed. Infertility seems to happen at any time. My fiance and I have been trying since September with no luck and I’m pretty much 100% positive it won’t happen for us without medical intervention. I’ve done the ovulation prediction kits (BTW I NEVER seem to show the surge) and we know we are dealing with male factor issues on his side. Right now the hardest part is the fact that no one knows there’s a problem yet since we’re not married so no one is assuming we’re trying. I hope I don’t get insensitive comments…oh wait I’ve gotten a couple and my fiance has even been the one to say it. “at least you have kids already”. Yeah I do, but my family still feels incomplete so it’s not any easier in that instance.

    • You might already know this, but do you know to pee on the ovulation predictor stick at night rather than in the morning? The ovulation hormones peak at a different time of day than the pregnancy hormones. I never had any results on the predictor tests until I switched to doing them at night and then they were so much clearer. I don’t know why no one ever mentions this fact.

      • Yes! Or even in the middle of the day. One time I peed on it on the morning and saw nothing, and then in the afternoon tried again and got a smiley face!

    • I’m so sorry. The ovulation predictor kits never worked for me. Have you tried temping at all? That didn’t work for me either which pretty much convinced me I was never actually ovulating. Good luck.

      • Thanks ladies. No one told me about the evening bit of the OPK kits. I knew about the midday bit though. I will keep that in mind if I need them again. We have male factor issues and I started my (now) husband on a vitamin/pill regimen in September. The doc also has him taking Clomid and sometime this month we are to go back and check to see what results it’s had. We KNOW it has increased his sex drive (which he and I are both fans of. :)), but other than that…hm. He takes some “Fertility Blend” pills that you get at GNC, along with Glutathione, Acetyl L- Carnitine, & L-Carnitine. Recently we added extra vitamin C and a regular multi vitamin to the mix but that was him wanting to be a little healthier in cold and flu season. I HOPE this works. Really I do.

    • Just wanted to send you some empathy. I think male factor issues can be very stressful. We discovered we had them via some lab work and we ended up conceiving after 11 months without doing IUI, but it was very very stressful.

      I think male factor is more stressful than many people can realize, especially when it comes to timing sex. Too often is bad, as is too infrequently, in terms of trying to maximize sperm count and motility, and so peeing on the sticks becomes very important in trying to time the encounter — and it isn’t just one encounter one has to time — ovulation day! — but also somehow predict the days in advance and the right abstinence periods to maximize that sperm quality. This is doubly stressful — the woman has to read her own signals right, and then the man has to perform several times under extremely unromantic circumstances.

      I was very surprised by how stressful this was, and by how little is OUT there to read on male factor infertility, from both the woman’s and the man’s perspective.

      We ended up with one of those gaggy, revolting, annoying “the month we gave up we got pregnant” stories — it was the month before we were going to consider IUI (we had not yet decided) and so we just sort of assumed it was a month that didn’t count and so we were more casual about it all. We did get pregnant that month, but I think it had nothing to with “relaxing” or any of that crap that people tell couples struggling with infertility. I think it was just random luck.

      I will forever have empathy with couples and individual struggling with infertility, though, especially the less discussed and less prominent male factor issues.

      There is just no rhyme or reason for why pregnancy can result so easily for some, and with such difficulty, or not at all, for others.

      • Thank you! I hope we get a gaggy story too. It is stressful having to time things, and also it seems like every time the time is good for me (my more fertile days), he is either sick, or tired or both. It’s like the Universe is aligned against us.

  13. oh yes! I know these all too well sadly. After struggling for three years to have a baby, we luckily got our wonderful baby boy on our only go of NHS IVF. Before that, the “helpful” comments would often leave me in tears or frankly, wanting to rip someones throat out. The horrible pain of infertility is something that I don’t think can be really understood unless you’ve lived it. Even though ever month you know not to get your hopes up, there’s still that little part of you that thinks, this could finally be your lucky month. Then you get some well meaning person telling you “maybe you’re not meant to have kids” or “go out, get drunk and have sex, you’re bound to get pregnant, thats what happened to me”. I wish you all the luck in the world, infertility hurts big time, i know.x

  14. Oh god, the “at least you’re having fun trying!” business. It would be more fun if my husband and I had higher libidos. But we don’t. So having sex a lot right around that window is HARD (har har har). It actually pushes us into cranky mode from time to time because we are both much happier having spontaneous sassy-times instead of scheduled we-have-to-do-this-RIGHT-TODAY-even-if-we-did-it-yesterday-and-are-not-feeling-the-least-bit-sassysexy.

    As for age, even if you don’t have medical issues that give you a timeline, there are other factors that might be at play. My in-laws are considerably older than my own parents, which means if my husband and I want future kids to know their grandparents consciously, the clock is ticking (I’m 25). Or you might want to switch jobs, but you have maternity benefits and weeks of time off stored away with this current job, and you don’t want to lose the privilege you would have of taking guilt-free job-secure time off. A new job might push you down on the totem pole of Acceptable Long Amount Of Time Off. (Also my situation as I near the end of grad school.)

    Basically, as with all things in life, sometimes people should think before they speak. But they often don’t, which makes it hard when you know they’re saying things because they mean well, even as those things cut like knives. This stuff is tough stuff, and sometimes it takes a lot of grace to wobble your way around on this road.

    • Another note on the “having fun trying” comment: As a person with several overlapping pelvic pain conditions AND fertility issues who is trying to conceive… Trying is not always fun. I mean, OF COURSE I like having sex with my husband, but no one likes intercourse when they are in a lot of pain. And when you don’t ovulate very often, there is always the great debate between “seeing signs of ovulation and wanting to time intercourse appropriately” and “having a really bad pain day and not only having no desire for sex but also knowing that it will likely feel bad to do it.” Not “fun.”

      I guess my greater point is that when it comes to health issues (and pregnancy/trying to conceive count, even if you are not AWARE of infertility), it is always best to rid your comments of as many assumptions as possible!
      I’d rather that someone say something positive/optimistic that didn’t touch on the physical side of things, like:
      “Wow, I hope you are successful soon… You guys will be great parents!”
      “Your child will be lucky to have parents like you!”
      “You two will raise an awesome kid!”

  15. thank you! I wish I had this a few years ago to just send to people. 3 years and 7 miscarriages brings a lot of bad advice… We are lucky that we have a son now but infertility is the most difficult thing I have ever been through. and all the while watching my friend multiply like rabbits. so difficult…

  16. I try to talk to all people as if I were in their shoes so I’m sorry this happened; it wasn’t a thoughtful clerk.

    Good luck and best wishes to you and your partner; it will turn out for the best.

    • HillJo, I know you’re trying to be thoughtful and for the most part you succeed. But some people struggling with infertility might be turned off by offerings like “it will turn out for the best.” which could be taken the wrong way. Because, unfortunately, some people who want to have babies will never get to. And sure, they might go on to have perfectly full, happy lives but “well that turned out for the best” might not be a sentiment they’ll share in that case.

      I’m not trying to be bitchy, just trying to openly share how that comment makes me (and possibly others) feel. My mom says things like that to me every time we talk about my husband’s and my struggles in conception, and I know she means well and wants to make me feel better because she loves me to bits, but it makes me feel panicky and depressed instead. Like, “It’s for the best that I might not get to have a baby?! How is that better??” Consequently, I don’t talk to my mom about it anymore, which hurts just as much but in a different way.

      And then I feel guilty for the little anger stabbies that I get towards innocent bystanders (like my mom, and you) who are truly just trying to be helpful/positive. It’s such a loaded, loaded topic.

      • I think this is why I freeze up and do bambi-stare when people mention fertility struggles. You never really know what is going to make a particular person feel worse, or better.

      • I really meant well and I don’t think calling me out was merited for a vague statement.
        I don’t feel as if what I expressed is any more hurtful or helpful than “I am 100% sure you’ll conceive.”
        I am taking a commenting break for a while…

        • Like I said, I really wasn’t trying to be bitchy, and I’m sorry if I came off that way. I was just trying to illustrate how carefully words need to be considered, because people could (and, as I illustrated, do) take things the wrong way even when you have nothing but good intentions.

          • The post ended with the question “what were the most helpful things people said to you?” and people have posted many different answers. At the same time though, we see evidence that those comments are also some of the most hurtful. Clearly this is a highly emotional topic, but it seems that there isn’t a single safe statement you can make without seriously hurting someone.
            So which is less hurtful? Hearing a platitude that you know was meant to be helpful, though sadly is anything but or feeling alienated as the other person goes into deer in the headlights mode because they know their chances of hurting your feelings is at least 95%?

  17. Yup. My other favourite is: it’ll happen when you stop trying. or- ignore all of your drs advice & just have fun! or- if you’re unhappy you probably won’t get pregnant, try to be happy!

    right… it’s right up there with people telling you that your baby was probably fucked up anyway and so it’s for the best that you’ve just had a miscarriage – because that’s supposed to be comforting?

    • oh yay, those are the worst… I heard them so many times I could have yelled…. And when luckily against all odds (I have had cancer so…) I fell pregnant, too many people told me “I told you so” (and now please I must not stress about the pregnancy, uhhh….) All the best to you Jacky and take care of you

  18. This is such a great article! I wish I’d have read it a year or two ago.
    I didn’t struggle with infertility myself, but my in-laws did.
    We fell pregnant quickly, and when it became known that my in-laws were having trouble, I had no idea what to say or what not to say. I wanted them to know that I was sympathetic, but remain upbeat and optimistic, not seem all doom and gloom about the whole thing. Often it was like they were looking for advice or reassurance, and I had none to give.
    Like stepping through a minefield at times.

  19. The most helpful thing? Shut the f up. Unless it’s a relative or close friend who wants to bring it up, there is no need for me to have a when/how/why/where are you getting pregnant conversation with anyone. I think the basic human decency rule is to not assume anything. You don’t know what anyone’s journey has been, and it’s probably best to let them speak first (otherwise they probably don’t want to tell you about it).

  20. Oh, yes. I’m 9 months pregnant via IVF and I STILL get asked why we didn’t ‘just adopt’? Um, because we wanted to see what it was like to have one this way first? Adoption is on the table for future babies, but as everyone here points out, it’s not an easier or cheaper or less fraught experience, and it’s not one that I felt ready to take on at this point, especially if there were still other options. Also, it’s not like I’m going to suddenly un-have the one I’m working on and go back to change things now, so why be weird when I mention IVF and try to advise some other way to become a parent. Just bizarre.

  21. Yes! This! I struggled with fertility issues for years, had five miscarriages, lost my last pregnancy at 13 weeks (we were seeing a fertility doc at the time and I was preggers as a result of all that intervention). The kindest things said were “I am so sorry you are going through this.” And, “Would you like to hang out/ walk/ talk/ get a drink?” The worst things were “When it’s right it will happen.” FUUUUU. It didn’t happen, so how should I take that? The “timing” isn’t right or I am not right? At 41 I am done.

    We had been foster parents already and even that folks felt was fair game to comment on. “Isn’t that hard for you if you have to give her back?” (No, doy, cakewalk!) and “I could never do that!” (then, um, don’t?). The two worst, Worst, WORST things ever said to me were “I didn’t know they let childless people be foster parents to an infant” and “Don’t you want children of your own?” How frogging insensitive can one get?

    So we are in the process of adopting a baby through foster care (she’s been with us since she was five days old; she is now 9 months old) and people still say the most horrible things. “Ha! Now watch – you’ll get pregnant!” or “Why didn’t you adopt from China?” or “How do you know what you’re getting?” Seriously, people? I wanted to me a mom, I did what I could to get there, this is what happened to us. And mind your own damned business, please.

    My in-laws? Awful. Have we looked into surrogacy? What about an egg donor? How do we know this adopted baby won’t have “issues?” Don’t we want out own child? Nancy Grace had twins at 50! It’s exhausting.

    My heart goes out to everyone who struggles with fertility. I am sorry you have have to go through this.

    • This makes me want to cry. Congratulations on your daughter–I also hope the adoption process goes smoothly for you, and that your relatives learn to not be such jerks about the little girl who IS your ‘own child’. Do they think they had any control over whatever issues the kids they raised came away with? Seriously? Kids aren’t like burritos–you don’t just put in the right ingredients and BAM! Perfect person!

    • This is all disgusting, but especially “how do you know what you are getting.” I used to get that a lot when we discussed adoption. Having biological children is ALSO always a crap shoot. Stuff happens all the time. Chromosomal problems immediately evident, latent physical and psychological challenges that emerge later, etc.

      Sometimes I think the ultimate truth about parenting is that “we are not in control of ANYTHING.” And the sooner we realize that, the better of we are. Biological parents don’t know what they are “getting” any more than non-biological parents.

      Every single person who is born into the world is unique and fully separate and “other” from the parents. I think this often when I look at my son. We are so close in some ways, but I also know that what goes on inside his head makes him ultimately “other.” He is his own soul with his own relationship to the universe, no more or less so just because he shares my genes and grew in my uterus.

      Best of luck to you and congratulations!

  22. It took us four years to have our daughter (finally conceived through IVF). During that time I avoided gatherings involving small babies, burst into tears in a toy store and went on several cyring jags in the drug store (the tampons are always beside the diapers).

    One of the hardest things to hear from my well meaning friends and family now is the persistent suggestion that I won’t need IVF to conceive siblings for my daughter. I know that it is impossible for us to conceive naturally (and they would too if they had been paying attention to details over the last 4 years, ha, ha!) I suppose that people just want to make positive sounding comments no matter what the medical realities are.

    The infertility journey is different for every couple but one of the common bonds for all infertile couples is the amount of tongue-biting that goes on. At least we all get practice in being patient!

    Good luck to everyone out there who is trying to conceive.

  23. I want to add that we had three failed adoptions, too. People said equally stupid things about that. I think they *meant* well, but it didn’t translate. Or people would say to us “When are you two having children?” We had a bunch of stock answers including “You can’t get pregnant the way my husband likes to have sex.” Conversation stoppers, let me tell you. We were at a party the day after a miscarriage and the hosts knew about it (they were tremendously supportive) but no one else did. We were asked, easily, a dozen times when we were going to have kids. My spouse was horrified and I told him women get this ALL THE TIME.

    Am I ranting?

    • YES.. The fact that NO ONE ASKS MEN THESE THINGS?! I cannot tell you how many times I came home raging or sobbing because I was already having a rough day on the subject, only for a neighbor to ask “So, Why haven’t you given your parents any grandchildren yet!?” in a large crowd. One day, mid sob/rage, I looked up at my husband who was trying to comfort me, and suddenly realized that he had no idea what this part was like. He can go to work, parties, dinners, family visits.. and no one ever asks him why he doesn’t have kids yet. No one asks him about our specialist appointments or treatments.

  24. Not too long ago, my best friend started trying and said to me “I honestly believe it’s taken you so long to conceive so you and I can have a baby at the same time.” I truly doubt the universe or fate or God or whatever gave me an ovarian tumor so that our children will be a bit closer in age. It was uncharacteristically insensitive and I just shrugged it off, but if it comes up again, I think I’ll try to explain why that doesn’t make me feel any better.

    • Thank you for this post and all the comments. What I found most interesting and hopeful about Jackie’s post was that the last sentance asked us, her community, for the most helpful comments. Many good ones have been suggested and I like the respectful dialog here. I also appreciate hearing about other women’s stories of infertility or challenges of becoming pregnant.

      Like someone else here, my best friend also said that I must be waiting for her to have her 2nd one and I’m a LESBIAN!! What the?

      After trying without a penis directly involved, a miscarriage, several unsuccessful IUIs, two known donors and many, MANY sperm runs later we have our awesome daughter, but so many people have NO idea what it is like for a Lesbian to conceive.

      It isn’t as simple as just using a turkey baster. It really isn’t-for most of us.

      Talk about insulting.

      Forget about romance with my partner while trying to get pregnant. The first time was fun and exciting as she slipped the needle-less syringe of sperm into me. The next few trys were like a scientific experiment, but when it finally worked I think she was out running an errand and I was laying in bed by myself planning the next round. The temping and charting and taking clomid (totally unsuccessful and made me crazy) and wacky OPKs were all straight up INSANITY and I promised myself if we ever try for another one I will not put us through that again.

      As an act of gratitude I vowed to help all women trying to conceive in any way I could; whether it was telling them more about what worked for us (when asked) or pointing them to informative (and NOT scary) websites or blogs.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation