Liz Strong, LMHC, is a Certified Cognitive Therapist in Winter Park, Fl. She founded Infertility Out Loud, a website dedicated to those dealing with infertility, after struggling through her own infertility journey. IOL is a space for people to share their experiences and find solace and support.
“Try rolling her over.”
This gem of advice was offered to my husband, by a near stranger, while we were trying to get pregnant. All this time, energy and money we’d put into trying to have a baby could easily be solved by changing sexual positions – how had we not thought of that? This was probably the most offensive (and comical) comment we heard. Still, there were others. They were all insensitive and invalidating.
Infertility sucks. It is an emotional, mental and physical rollercoaster. Thoughtless comments by others were so painful when we were in middle of it all.
Happily, I also heard a lot of kind and thoughtful words. These words gave me strength. They helped me feel less alone on the days it all felt insurmountable. When I wanted to give up.
As a result of my personal experiences, I’ve had many people ask me how to talk to those that are going through infertility. If you are reading this, chances are you are one of those people. You’ve worried about others and have wondered how to approach them.
Due to the complexity and uniqueness of each person’s struggle, I can’t offer a complete, “Here is exactly what to say and how to say it.”
But I can offer some helpful tips that will likely apply.
Let’s begin with what not to say or do. The following statements are invalidating, insensitive and often not based in knowledge (but have been said to me and others):
- “If it were me, I’d just…” People are full of opinions on what they would do in any given situation. Unless you have been there, keep your ideas to yourself.
- “Just relax and it will happen.” Besides being invalidating, telling anyone to “just relax” is infuriating.
- Telling them it’s “God’s plan” or that if they can’t get pregnant maybe they shouldn’t have kids. Ouch.
- “If it were meant to be it will be.” Being told you are not meant to have children if you need medical intervention is devastating to someone desperate to start a family.
- “Why don’t you just adopt?” I am a proponent of adoption and considered it myself. But people seem to think adopting is an easier and less expensive course of action. It is not.
- Giving input on why he or she may be having trouble getting pregnant. Unless you are a Reproductive Endocrinologist with extensive knowledge of his or her medical history, it is unlikely that you will be able to make a sound determination.
And now for some suggestions on what can be helpful to say and to do:
- A good opening that is basic but opens the door to discussion: “How are you feeling/doing?”
- If you’re met with any hesitation, just follow up with, “I’m here if you want to talk but I understand if you’d rather not. I am here for you if/when you are ready.”
- You can also say, “What can I do that would be most helpful to you?” This can direct you to their current needs (which can change on a dime during infertility, thanks to hormones and medications).
- Tell him or her that you wish you knew what to say or do to make it better or easier for them but you know it just sucks. This acknowledges their heartache and validates their frustration.
- Tell them you believe it will work out for them. This always made me feel supported and boosted my confidence that it would work out in the end.
- Drop them a card to let them know you are thinking about them. Holly Camp designed cards specifically for infertility and they are fantastic.
- Tell them about someone else you know who struggled but was able to get pregnant. Knowing it was possible for others gave me confidence and hope.
- Checking in and remembering what he or she may have previously shared is usually appreciated. It shows that you care and you’re paying attention.
Again, these are just suggestions. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to showing someone you care. Because that it exactly what you are doing. It can be as simple as: 1. ask them how they are; 2. allow them to retreat if need be, or to vent and get it all out; 3. validate his or her feelings. This formula can be applied to pretty much any situation where someone you love is going through a hard time.
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