Throughout my first IVF cycle, my husband and I made the decision to keep the process mostly to ourselves. While this was an exciting time full of hope and possibility, it was also an experience that we knew might end in heartbreak. But dealing with infertility without anyone knowing about it was hard. I often wished I had someone to talk to who knew how to help someone with infertility. This article will help those “in-the-know” learn what to say to infertile couples–and what not to say.
The toll of infertility
For anyone who’s never undergone fertility treatments, one important thing to realize is the physical, mental, and financial strain of dealing with infertility.
My husband and I couldn’t bring ourselves to add more anxieties to the list by opening ourselves up to myriad questions from our loved ones.
More importantly, however, we were trying to limit the amount of collateral damage if we didn’t end up getting pregnant.
So, we chose a lonelier, quieter path.
While I don’t necessarily regret the decision to stay mum on what we had going on, I also discovered the difficulty of tackling IVF on our own.
The day-to-day grind of infertility and the need for a tribe
When you’re struggling through infertility, the day-to-day grind of shots, ultrasounds, and hormonal woes can leave you feeling like a shell of your former self.
You’re emotional, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the significance of what you’re trying to do, along with how much of yourselves you’re putting into the process.
While my husband and mom, bless them, were rocks throughout the experience, I couldn’t help but wonder what a larger support tribe would’ve felt like.
The one major benefit to keeping our experience quiet was that we never had to deal with unsolicited advice or people who had no idea what not to say to infertile couples. (This, for the record, is a lot of people.)
Still, when it was time for baby number two, we revisited this choice and decided to let a few close family members and friends know what was going on.
While we were ultimately satisfied with this decision, I made an interesting realization: Some people just don’t know what to say to someone struggling to conceive.
Infertility is rarely discussed and generally misunderstood
Imagine your Facebook timeline or Instagram feed for a moment–what do you see? A collection of funny memes, wedding photos, baby announcements, and kids birthday parties, perhaps?
Now, think about how that constant flow of baby bumps and newborn photos might make a woman struggling to get pregnant feel.
Or maybe you’re already intimately aware of how much this hurts, and if you are, I’m SO sorry.
Despite our societal progression into honesty and open-mindedness, there are still certain topics that seem to be taboo.
Infertility, for example, is infrequently discussed and generally misunderstood.
Want to find representation of it on social media? You have to follow specific hashtags or influencers. Otherwise, infertility just isn’t a major topic of mainstream conversation.
With that unfortunate reality in mind, it’s easy to see why so many people don’t know what to say to someone with fertility problems.
Asking for support during infertility can be difficult
While women and men who are continually trying to conceive might yearn for support, it’s not always easy to ask for it.
And, sadly, when couples struggling with infertility open up to their families and friends, they’re often met by a repertoire of sub-standard cliches that do little to actually help.
When my husband and I decided to be honest about trying to have another baby, we were met with diverse reactions.
Most people, thankfully, were kind, considerate, and genuinely concerned about how we were doing. However, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed by some of the responses I received.
“Well, just relax and I’m sure it will happen in no time.”
“At least you were already able to have one baby, in case it doesn’t work out.”
(Editorial note: “At least you already have a baby” is something people often say to couples struggling with secondary infertility. Please don’t say this.)
“IVF is pretty expensive, isn’t it?”
I heard variations of these sentiments over and over, along with genuine disinterest that made my battle with infertility feel small and insignificant.
This is why it’s so important that people learn what to say to someone struggling with infertility.
Supporting infertile couples means learning what to say
If you’re trying to support a friend with infertility, it’s vitally important to learn the things you should and should not say in your efforts to support them.
Let’s go back to our social media feeds for a moment.
When someone sees a constant flow of content that showcases everyone else’s ability to get pregnant and have babies, their own infertility struggle becomes that much more isolating.
While in truth, a large number of their fellow followers and friends are likely struggling with infertility, as well, but they aren’t sharing the experience with the world.
That isn’t to say people are making the wrong choice by not sharing their infertility struggles.
After all, we didn’t share the first time around, and it’s important that families choose what is best for them.
That said, if we could better learn to provide emotional support to people experiencing the grief of infertility, it would likely improve the overall experience of many struggling couples.
Many couples choose not to open up about their quest to get pregnant, but some find themselves desperately seeking comfort from those around them.
When an individual trusts you enough to reach out, learning what to say and what not to say is crucial.
What not to say infertile couples
Simply talking to a friend or family member who’s having a hard time getting pregnant is one of the most beneficial ways of supporting them during the process.
That said, it’s important to realize some conversations and statements just aren’t helpful.
Learning what not to say to someone struggling with infertility is key. The following negative phrases and subject matters are not a definitive list, but they’re some of the most commonly heard by individuals and couples trying to conceive.
There are some things not to say to someone going through IVF, infertility, or miscarriage. Period.
1. “You just need to relax.”
The number one item on this list, and the biggest mistake you can make when talking to someone about their infertility, is telling them to ‘just relax.’
A statement like this is not only unsupportive, but it can leave an already struggling loved one feeling inadequate, as if an inability to manage stress is the sole reason they can’t get pregnant.
While stress does play a role in hormones, it is not the cause of serious fertility issues.
2. Don’t complain about your own pregnancy
When a person feels confident enough to open up to you about their infertility, you should never belittle that openness with complaints about how hard your own pregnancy was. The same goes for parenting.
Whether you’re currently expecting or recently had a baby, remember to be conscientious about what you say.
For couples who can’t get pregnant, the desire for a baby is intense. They would give anything to experience pregnancy symptoms like nausea, heartburn, and an urgency to pee if it meant they were finally going to become parents they dream of being.
They’d take the exhausting, sleepless nights, and the constant worry of being a parent.
This isn’t to belittle your experience–your struggles are real and valid. But the people to vent to are not the couples struggling with infertility.
3. “You’re still young. There’s plenty of time to get pregnant.”
While a 30-year-old woman still feels exceptionally young, her biological clock is ticking. Studies have shown that once women hit the age of 35, they face a higher chance of pregnancy complications and infertility.
Before you tell a friend that she has plenty of time for babies, try to understand that our reproductive cycles age differently than the rest of our bodies.
Also keep in mind that, while biological clocks don’t work the same way as overall bodily clocks, even having plenty of time doesn’t diminish the heartbreak. An infertile couple in their mid-twenties can hurt just as strongly as one in their early forties.
That’s normal and okay.
4. Don’t minimize their problems
“Enjoy sleeping in while you still can.”
“Now there’s more time to travel.”
“Kids are expensive anyways.”
Each of these phrases might feel like a lighthearted attempt to cheer your friend up if they’re having difficulty conceiving.
In reality, though, it probably makes them feel like you’re not taking their situation seriously, and this can leave them feeling more alone than ever.
In a group of people who are already struggling with feeling isolated, please don’t add this fuel to the fire.
What to say to someone struggling with infertility
Lending your support doesn’t have to be flashy and expensive. It can be as simple as learning what to say to infertile couples so they know you care and are there to help in any way that you can.
A sweet text, poignant letter, or caring conversation are ideal ways of boosting confidence and being a supportive friend.
Are you confused about what to say? Here are some of our top suggestions.
1. Say how much you care
This might sound simple, and that’s because it is.
Reminding a friend or family member that you genuinely care about what they’re going through is one of the most uplifting things you can do.
There’s no denying the sadness that comes with an inability to get pregnant. And there’s nothing you can do to solve the problem.
But knowing that you’re on somebody’s mind can be a little ray of light that makes your day a little better.
2. Ask if they need anything
Whether it’s a home-cooked meal, a shoulder to cry on, or even a good glass of wine, it’s always a good idea to ask your friend directly what they need.
This way, you’re able to help her or him in the exact manner they want to be helped.
Another great idea is to offer to help in specific ways. Often, when people need support, they don’t even know what they need.
Saying, “I’d like to bring you dinner next week. What night is best?” makes it much easier for them to accept help.
3. Offer to babysit older children
Fertility treatments take up a lot of time. Depending on what types of procedures an infertile couple is going through, they could even be making daily trips to the doctor.
Volunteering to watch their older children is an excellent way to reduce some of the stress they’re dealing with. And the best news: it’s free!
4. Remember them on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
You might think that bringing up Mother’s and Father’s Days falls under the purview of things not to say to someone going through IVF and infertility treatments.
While this might be true for some individuals, it can also be kind to send them a quick note just to say that you’re thinking of them on these difficult days.
Many couples struggling with infertility want to be recognized as parents, so your quick note could mean far more than you know.
5. Learn about infertility
Being proactive and learning about infertility is an excellent way to show your support. Check out our article “What’s infertility?” to learn some basics!
The fact that you took the time to learn will mean a lot. Not only does it show your interest in their struggle, but it also allows you to carry on educated conversations with them about their situation, when and if they’re ready to talk.
Being the best friend possible to someone struggling with infertility
Deciding to have a baby is a momentous occasion in most peoples’ lives.
When that journey turns sour and getting pregnant isn’t as easy as people hope, it can be one of the most devastating situations they ever have to endure.
It can be hard to figure out what to say to infertile couples.
It’s easy to see why so many people make the mistake of using language that’s not just unbeneficial, but hurtful, too.
If you want to support a friend or family member who’s going through a journey with infertility, the best thing you can do is to let them know that they’re being seen.
Tell them that, while you might not understand exactly what they’re going through, you care about how they feel.
There’s overwhelming loneliness that comes with an inability to conceive.
The knowledge that infertile couples have true, unconditional support can make a significant difference in how they overcome the process.
What’s something you wish people knew not to say to people struggling with infertility? Tell us about it in the comments!
Other Infertility Articles
- Fertility and infertility definition + what it’s like
- In-person and online infertility support groups
- Laura’s primary ovarian insufficiency story
- What it’s like using donor eggs
- What is embryo adoption
- Carly’s cancelled IVF cycle
- How to comfort a friend who can’t get pregnant
Posts about trying to conceive
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.