Infertility is a very sensitive topic. Often what might seem like simple suggestions to you might be rather hurtful and unhelpful to people who have difficulty conceiving. Here's what to say and NOT say to your loved ones
Infertility affects 1 in 6 couples worldwide, so there is a chance you will know someone who is struggling with infertility. It can be a really stressful time for couples as they traverse this unknown terrain and deal with what the infertility journey is sending their way. Infertility is a very sensitive topic. Often what might seem like simple suggestions to you might be rather hurtful and unhelpful to people who have difficulty conceiving.
Whilst you desire to help or offer advice to your friend or family member who is going though infertility, please know that it is important to educate yourself on how to support them.
Below are a list of Do’s and Do Not’s, please use these as guidelines on what would be useful for someone struggling with infertility. Also know that not everyone going through infertility feels the same way, and it is better to err on the side of caution and tread lightly and sensitively.
What NOT to say
- “ Why don’t you just adopt” or “ Why don’t you use a surrogate”
- “ You need to just relax and stop stressing.. it won’t happen if you stress”
- “ I know this couple, who adopted a baby and then became pregnant...”
- “ Whose fault is it that this is not working? Yours or your husbands?”
- “ You and your husband should just go on a vacation and relax...”
- “ You must be positive ...”
- " My friend did IVF five times, finally gave up and then became pregnant naturally..."
- “ You can have a great life without children, you could travel...”
- “ I know this doctor/clinic...”
- " But what’s the problem? Why aren't you able to have children?"
-" You never know, it might happen on its own.."
- “ You can have my children for a day and you will change your mind about having children”
- “ If I was you, I would have stopped treatment a while ago!”
- “ I would never adopt a child/ use an egg donor”
What NOT to do?
- NO advice!
As hard as this is, please do no offer any advice on treatment, doctor, clinic or lifestyle unless they ask for it. And if they do ask, please share with them what you know.
- Please do not say "Why don't you adopt"/ "Or use a surrogate"
It is an extremely sensitive and personal decision that the couple need to arrive at, for how they will approach their journey. Even though you might betryingto help- these suggestions are an absolute no – no!, unless you are asked.
- Please do not offer your opinions/ values/ religious views
Please be aware that faced with this difficult terrain, the couple is making the best choices for them. Their choices might not fit in with your views, values or religious beliefs about what they ‘should’ be doing. And whilst it might be difficult to withhold your opinion, Please Do. Let their answers come from within. Answers such as How long to try, When to stop trying, Whether adoption is option or not, Whether they might consider egg/ sperm/ embryo donors etc. Please do not present your own opinion unless they ask for it. As these decisions need to come from what the couple are comfortable with.
What to do instead?
- Listen and only listen
If they do bring up their treatment, be a compassionate and good listener- only listen!
- Ask them how they are feeling or coping
You can check in with them and ask them how they are doing and feeling with all that is going on.
- Please let them know that you are there to support them
Let them know that you are available for them whenever they need and ask them how and when they might need support.
- Ask them if it is okay that you check up on them every now and then
Check if the couple are okay to be asked how they are doing or you should wait for them to bring up the topic when they feel like talking about it.
- Ask them how you can support them
Ask if there is something you can do to support them. Ask them if you can offer to drive them or give them company during clinic runs. Offer to bring them groceries when you go to get yours. Offer practical support, as the treatments can take a toll on how they feel physically. Offer to just lend an ear and listen- and be the best listener there is.
- Help them clarify their options, ideas
The most you can offer is to be a sounding board if you are lucky enough to be in the circle of trust for someone going through infertility. It is a privilege not to be taken lightly. Ask them questions or help them clarify their thoughts, without muddying the water with your opinions.
- Do not take it personally
If they refuse help or seem upset please know that infertility creates havoc in people’s lives and it might not have anything to do with you. Some examples are
- Offering suggestions
Lets say you know about this miraculous doctor that you HAVE to tell them about. Please ask them if they are looking for suggestions about doctor's/clinics before offering your advice. And if they say they aren't, please do no take that personally.
- Invite them and let them refuse
Whilst its very hard for women going through infertility to go to baby showers or kids parties, they would rather be asked than ignored. Please do not take it personally if they say no. Also offer to be their ‘safe haven’ touch point, and that they can come to you in the party if it gets too overwhelming.
- Making pregnancy announcements
Before any social media or group announcements for your pregnancy, send a message instead of a call to your friend - "I wanted to tell you I am pregnant before I announce it to everyone. I'm aware this could be hard for you. Whilst I know you care for me and wish me well, I completely understand if it might be difficult for you."
If you are reading this article, you are clearly someone who cares about your family member or friend who is going through treatment. Thank you for caring, making an effort and being there for your loved one. And if you are the one going through fertility treatments please feel free to forward this article to your friends and family so they can support you in ways that are kind and compassionate.