What to Say and Not to Say: Supporting a Friend or Family Member with Infertility

| Posted On May 08, 2013 | By:

women talkingFamily members and friends can unintentionally hurt the feelings of couples dealing with infertility. Although it may seem natural to ask couples when they plan to have children, even this question can be hurtful for some.  If you ask and don’t get a straight answer, drop the subject.  If a friend confides in you about fertility issues, listen without judgment.

Here is a “top five” list of things NOT to say or ask someone trying to get pregnant.

5. “It’s just stress.”    

Stress may not help the baby-making process, but—infertility is a medical condition. Stress doesn’t cause tubes to be blocked, sperm counts to be low or ovarian reserve to be diminished.  It is very stressful to try to get pregnant and most patients are already trying to minimize stress.

4.  “Is it you or your partner that has the problem?”

This question may be asked innocently, but it is not helpful. Although the source of infertility may determine what treatments are indicated, it is private information and generally not supportive of the couple or their attempts to build a family together.

3.  “Maybe you should stop doing … (insert exercise, drinking milk, eating soy, drinking coffee, working…etc.)”

Infertility patients ask themselves these questions all of the time and work with their physicians to identify factors that may help their individual circumstances. Not only can it be hard to identify these factors, but taking away some of them (such as exercise or working) may not necessarily be positive, either increasing stress or diminishing self-worth.

2. “Have you considered adoption or egg donation?

Couples may think about adoption but may not be ready to consider alternatives to conceiving with their own eggs/sperm. Egg donation brought up at an inappropriate time may be devastating to the female partner if she isn’t comfortable with the idea or hasn’t explored all options for using her own eggs. If you don’t have complete knowledge of where someone may be in the decision-making process, avoid bringing up alternative options for parenting.

1.    “Are you sure you really want to put yourselves through all of this?”

This is typically the question that is the hardest to answer. No one wants to put themselves “through all of this.” By definition, people undergoing treatment for infertility are not getting pregnant the way they wanted to, and we need to be sensitized to the fact that they are making the best decisions that they can.

It is clear that there are many unhelpful things to say and do, but having a few key people to confide in may be invaluable to infertile couples. Ways to support a couple struggling with infertility include:


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  1. It’s sad how people you love can hurt you with their well intentioned words. Love your point of view, it helped me a lot! Thank you.

    Comment by Monica from Infertilidad on May 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm
  2. One thing that I hated was “I’m sure it will all work out.” Because you can’t be sure. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you don’t end up with a child and need to find ways to move on with your life, as in my case. My sister had also gone through IVF, but it was successful for her, so at a certain point she couldn’t understand either. The best thing anyone said to me was “I don’t know what to say because I don’t know how it feels.” That was honest but also supportive. My friend told me she cared even though she didn’t know what I needed. That was a breath of fresh air. It’s been almost 4 years since we made the decision to stop all fertility treatments and Mother’s Day still sucks. I call my mother but other than that I really don’t acknowledge it. Definitely need to stay off Facebook on that day! And, yes, we did look into adoption, but for various reasons it didn’t work out for us.

    Comment by Susan on May 15, 2013 at 11:24 pm

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