What Not To Say To People Struggling With Fertility

We’ve all unintentionally put our foot in our mouths when talking about delicate subjects. Fertility is one of those topics!  

While it is still common to ask couples about their plans to have or not have kids, when there are known fertility issues (- or not), we hope the following topics to avoid will help keep you on the right side of your friendships. 

Don’t tell them to relax.

Never in the history of history has the phrase “relax” ever helped a person relax. Usually comes out as a judgment or evidence that you are unable to show genuine empathy. 

What to say instead: 

A genuinely caring reflection of what they shared with you. “Thank you for sharing that with me. It all sounds incredibly difficult, and I’m so sorry you are dealing with all of this.”

Don’t say there are worse things that could happen.

This is minimizing, and it is another example of your lack of empathy or sheer discomfort with their struggle. You may be trying to offer some optimism, but unless your friend is asking for that sort of help, pivoting a vulnerable conversation using this phrase shows you are not a person who can sit with your friend in a moment of pain or discomfort.  

What to say instead: 

Any reply that shows you were listening and are willing to continue to listen as they share. “I hear you. That is incredible. How does that make you feel?” or “I hear the pain in story. You are so strong for going through this, even though it may not feel that way right now.” “Thank you for trusting me with this. I am here to listen anytime.”  

Don’t ask why they are not trying IVF.

The plans and strategies a couple chooses to use or not use are none of your business. Not everyone is a good candidate for all therapies, and personal choice, cost, risk, and a variety of other individual choices mean you could be unintentionally adding pain to their experience. Most insurance plans do not cover IVF – infertility stress is physical, emotional, and financial. 

What to say instead: 

Nothing. Asking questions about a couple’s fertility journey is not something you get to do. If your friend is open to discussing more, a great first question is, “I am so curious about your journey. Do you mind if I ask some questions?”

Don’t say, “You’re young, you have plenty of time to get pregnant. 

This is one area where the facts of infertility are not well known. It is recommended that people who have been unsuccessful for a year to get pregnant see a fertility specialist. Being young increases your chances of treatments being successful; however, there is never a guarantee of success. Fertility begins to drop in women widely in a person’s late 20s to early 30s and begins to fall rapidly over age 35. 

What to say instead:

“I am so glad you are aware of what you want and your situation so you can take advantage of the most options available to you. It is courageous to explore needing help.”

Don’t gossip about your friend’s condition.

This is a poor reflection of your trustworthiness, and you mark your self as an unsafe friend. Fertility is very personal. If you feel comfortable sharing information with your friend, you are telling your friend you may do the same thing to them with someone else.

What to say instead: 

Nothing. Gossip is never productive. If you think you are revealing your knowledge of possible treatments, that is possible without bringing another person into the conversation. 

Don’t push adoption or another solution.  

The decision to adopt is entirely separate from the decisions that are made with fertility treatments. Couples exploring ways to grow their family are already aware of adoption. You are not sharing new information. Choosing to end treatments to explore other family growing options is a choice riddled with grief that you minimize by pushing your preferences. 

What to say instead: 

Nothing. When a friend is at the point of choosing to end treatment or to explore other options, they will bring those options to you. Your ability to validate their feelings and affirm their choices shows you can be with them through all of the choices they make along the way. 

Don’t complain about your pregnancy.

For couples struggling with fertility, they would love the opportunity to have the experiences you are struggling with. And it can be hard to be around people who are pregnant, with growing bodies a constant reminder of their inability to conceive. Not complaining is one small thing you can do for your friend. 

What to do instead:

Your feelings are just as valid as your friends, so finding trusted people and space to share your feelings is a kinder option. 

Don’t ask whose “fault” it is. 

Fertility challenges are statistically 1/3 male, 1/3 female, and 1/3 unknown. Applying blame to a situation as complicated as conception is crass, uneducated, and none of your business. The details of a couple’s struggle with fertility could be something they choose to discuss or not. But you asking only threatens to weaken your relationship.

What to say instead: 

Nothing. You don’t get to ask. 

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