As someone who specializes in reproductive endocrinology, I commonly encounter my patients receiving insensitive “advice” during their journey towards fertility. I often hear patients report hearing that simply refraining from worrying will automatically result in pregnancy or that adherence to a specific diet can help.
The reality is that infertility is frequently caused by a medical issue, making it difficult for someone to conceive a child naturally. Even if the cause is unknown, simply relaxing or taking a fancy trip cannot take away their true requirement for medical intervention. Considering that one in every eight couples faces fertility problems, there are probably many others around you who are also dealing with infertility, even if you are not aware of it.
Below are some frequently given (but unasked for) suggestions for those dealing with infertility, the reasons why they may cause harm, and alternative responses that can be provided instead.
What You Shouldn’t Say to Someone Dealing With Infertility
‘Just do IVF’
As a medical practitioner who aids individuals in conceiving through in vitro fertilization (IVF), I appreciate the availability of this state-of-the-art approach for those who rely on it. Nevertheless, it’s not a mandatory solution for every patient, it isn’t an effortless option, and there’s no assurance that it will be successful for everyone.
There are three primary stages of fertility treatment, which include medicated cycles, intrauterine insemination (IUI), and IVF. In most cases, fertility experts advise their patients to begin with the least invasive option first and then progress to the next level of treatment if required, unless there is a medical reason to skip straight to IVF, such as age, male factor fertility problems, or blocked fallopian tubes. Although IVF is the most preferable treatment option, it is multifaceted and can be expensive. It can also be demanding physically and emotionally for some patients.
Even though top-rated IVF clinics have a success rate of approximately 60% live birth rate per embryo transfer, they prioritize the safety of both the pregnant individual and their baby by only transferring one embryo at a time. This is in accordance with the current guidelines from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). Nevertheless, it’s important to note that there is no absolute assurance that the procedure will be successful.
‘Maybe you’re just not meant to be a parent’
Avoiding the topic entirely would be a better approach. It is not kind nor empathetic to tell an individual who yearns to have a child that they should relinquish this dream or just let go.
As a healthcare provider, I often encounter patients who have been told to “just relax” in order to conceive. Although this suggestion may be made with good intentions, it can be unfair to place the responsibility solely on the individual who is trying to become pregnant. It should be understood that no amount of relaxation can compensate for underlying medical conditions that may be hindering conception.
‘You can have one of mine’
It is not appropriate to make jest of offering one’s own children to someone who is having difficulty conceiving. This can undermine the seriousness of their desire to have children and cause them to feel as though their aspiration to start a family is insignificant.
‘You just need to take a vacation’
Implying that a mere vacation can resolve a genuine medical concern seems insulting to the majority of those undergoing fertility treatments. Although it may be beneficial to pause treatment occasionally, advising someone that their fertility problems will be solved by taking a break is exasperating.
‘When you stop thinking about it, it will happen’
As a healthcare provider, I often hear my patients being told that their overthinking or trying too hard may be the cause of their infertility. This advice is not only unhelpful but may also be detrimental to their health. Delaying medical treatment due to such misguided advice may worsen their condition in the long run. Encouraging patients to wait to seek help is not a sensible solution and may lead to further problems.
‘Why don’t you just adopt?’
There are two issues with this proposal. Firstly, it overlooks the intricacies of the adoption process that encompass financial, emotional and logistical factors. Secondly, it implies that adoption is only a secondary option for those who cannot have biological offspring instead of recognizing it as a wonderful choice for various families. Therefore, adoption deserves reverence instead of being presented as a simple and effortless “Plan B.”
‘Have you tried … ?’
As per my daily personal experience, I can assure you that fertility clinics are the least preferred place to visit for anyone. It’s highly likely that people have already attempted various ways to conceive before seeking professional help. Recommending a diet or an old wives’ tale, which you heard about on the news, may not be useful. It’s advisable to refrain from interfering in this profoundly personal matter until someone explicitly asks for assistance. Keeping such ideas to oneself is the best approach.
‘We tried for two months; I know how you feel’
Although we should not downplay the difficulty of trying to get pregnant, it’s important to acknowledge that the experience can vary greatly. There’s a significant difference between attempting to conceive for a couple of months without any known medical problems and striving for two years with the assistance of a fertility expert. It’s best not to try to relate to their circumstances by comparing them to your own. Instead, recognize that you might not fully comprehend the extent of their struggle.
‘It could always be worse’
Although your intentions may be positive, using this statement can belittle the anguish experienced by someone dealing with infertility. It is important to understand that pain cannot be compared and to acknowledge the difficulty and stress they are facing. Acknowledging their emotions can be a meaningful way to offer support, but minimizing their struggles is not helpful.
‘Everything happens for a reason’
It’s not advisable to say something like “maybe it’s just not meant to be” to someone experiencing fertility struggles, just like how you wouldn’t say something insensitive to a person who received a terminal illness diagnosis. This type of statement may downplay the severity of their situation and may even intensify their fear that they are incapable of having a child. It’s important to be mindful of how our words can affect the emotions and experiences of others, regardless of their belief system.
What You Can Say to Someone Dealing With Infertility
If you want to provide authentic assistance and understanding to someone who is struggling with infertility, avoid giving advice and opt for one of these replies instead.
- It must be so hard to still not have a baby in your arms.
- I know how much you want this.
- I’m sorry it has been such a long road.
- You would/will be such a wonderful parent.
- I am really hoping that this works out for you.
- I’m here for you.
- Wow, that sounds exhausting. How are you coping with all of this?
- I know I can’t fix it, but I am always happy to listen if you need to talk.
- Is there anything I can do to help? (For example, bring a meal during a fertility treatment cycle or offer to take them out to see a movie to distract them.)
Remember: you don’t have to have the perfect response or know exactly what to do. Simply offering a listening ear and a safe place for your friend or family member to express how they’re feeling as they navigate infertility is the biggest gift you can give them.