What You Shouldn’t Say to Someone Experiencing Infertility

This week is Infertility Awareness Week. If you’ve been following my story for some time, you’re aware that I experienced infertility and underwent a variety of treatments, including IVF, to become a mum. It’s so important to me to share my infertility journey to help comfort and uplift people who are experiencing something similar. 1 out of every 6 Canadian couples will struggle to conceive. This means it is extremely likely that someone you know has been or will be on an infertility journey. It can be difficult to support loved ones through something as trying as infertility, especially if you’ve never experienced it yourself. As part of my special series for Infertility Awareness Week, I’ve compiled a list of what you shouldn’t say to someone experiencing infertility. My hope is that this post will help you be the most supportive friend you can be! 

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Phrases to Avoid

  • “Just relax” or “It will happen when you’re least expecting it”.
    • Both of these phrases minimize the emotional impact that infertility can have on hopeful parents. Additionally, these phrases suggest that the person is actively harming their own fertility by worrying or having anxiety. This just isn’t true, and it can place an unnecessary burden on your friend. 
  • “You’re lucky you don’t have to…” or “Enjoy not having kids while you can.”
    • If you’re currently a parent, you may feel inclined to remind a friend struggling with infertility about the stresses and downsides of parenthood. Someone struggling with infertility wants to experience every side of parenting—the good, the bad, and the ugly! Suggesting that they’re better off not changing diapers or attending weekend soccer tournaments isn’t encouraging or helpful. It only reminds them of their struggle.
  • “You have plenty of time!”
    • Issues with infertility can strike at any time, regardless of a person’s age.  Stating that they have plenty of time not only ignores other issues of infertility outside of timing, but it also suggests that the person should just be more patient. This isn’t a comforting thing to hear when you’re struggling. 
  • “We’ve been trying for two months and haven’t gotten pregnant! Maybe I’m infertile too!”
    • Attempting to conceive and struggling with infertility are two separate experiences. This response centers your own experience above your friend’s, and it can trivialize what they’re going through. This type of response almost suggests that infertility is just a passing thing that everyone goes through and minimizes the impact of long-term infertility. 

Approaches to Avoid

  • Pushing Your Own Solution
    • Many families, cultures, and communities have approaches to infertility. When comforting a friend experiencing infertility, it isn’t always helpful to hear your community’s strategy for encouraging pregnancy. If your friend specifically asks for advice, then feel free to share! Otherwise, it’s better to be a listening ear. 
  • Prying About the Factor or Cause
    • Many couples experiencing infertility are not sure about the reasons they’re struggling to conceive. About ⅓ of infertility cases are tied to female factors, ⅓ tied to male, and ⅓ are unknown. Additionally, there is no benefit to “assigning blame” to a specific partner.  Many partners carry intense feelings of guilt around infertility, and this response only intensifies them. 
  • Complaining about Pregnancy
    • If you’re pregnant at the same time as a friend experiencing infertility, it can be extremely stressful to know what to say and what not to say. It’s a tough situation, and your friend most likely wants you to enjoy and experience every aspect of your pregnancy. However, it usually is not helpful to complain about pregnancy around a friend experiencing infertility. It’s 100% okay to have negative feelings about pregnancy, but you may need to find someone else to confide in. 
  • Searching for a “Bright Side”
    • Sometimes when we don’t know what to say to someone who is struggling, we tend to try to find a bright side. This might cause you to think something like, “At least you have your health!” Or “At least you can focus on your career!” While finding the bright side might sound like encouragement, it minimizes the difficulty of experiencing infertility and can come off as insensitive. 

In Conclusion

After all of these notes, it might seem like there’s nothing you can say to a friend experiencing infertility. That’s not true! It is always helpful to have someone who expresses their understanding: “I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this,” or “I understand how difficult that must be,” or “I’m always here to listen” can have a huge impact on someone who is struggling. Remember, as a friend, it’s not always your job to fix problems! Sometimes it is your job to just be a listening ear

If you’re experiencing infertility yourself, don’t be afraid to set boundaries with friends and family who aren’t sure how to support you. A quick reminder to say, “I really just need you to listen and not provide advice right now” is totally okay! Try and surround yourself with people who want to support you, and always reach out for additional support, counseling, or therapy as needed.

xoxo Fil

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