Unsolicited comments are a constant in today’s society, especially with the prominence of social media. Thus, during my time undergoing fertility treatments I experienced no shortage of, let’s call them “unfiltered” remarks. Similar to that of comments made to a pregnant woman (minus the lovely ones like “don’t you look beautiful” or, “congratulations”), comments made to those struggling with infertility should, for the most part, be kept to yourself. Actually, I might even go so far as to say any comments regarding a woman’s body, unless solicited, are better left unsaid! While these comments are often well-intended, they usually translate as hurtful and annoying.
The vast majority of infertile women and couples keep their diagnosis to themselves for this very reasons! Thus, you may not know that someone you are communicating with is suffering from this otherwise invisible disease. But, if you are one of those people that just can’t seem to keep their mouths shut, I have compiled a list of things to never say to a couple struggling to build a family, or any female of what you would classify as “prime child-birthing age” who has not yet conceived.
- Just relax!! Oh how I HATE this one. As someone who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder and OCD, relaxing is about the last thing I can ever do. And you telling me to relax just brings out more crazy. Studies show that everyday stress does not cause infertility. And honestly, most of us probably weren’t so stressed out until we realized we weren’t getting pregnant easily!
- Why don’t you just do IVF? IVF is often seen as ‘the end of the road” when it comes to fertility treatments. Most couples go through multiple tests, treatments, etc. before finally taking the IVF leap. And actually, many couples get to the IVF crossroads and do NOT take that leap. IVF is extremely expensive, approximately $12k per cycle in the USA – not including genetic testing! And a lot of times it takes more than one round. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t just have $30k lying around. We had to open a new credit card, save money, and look to family for assistance. Many people don’t have those options! And some need donor eggs, donor sperm, donor embryos or surrogates, which can increase one cycle by tens of thousands of dollars!
In addition to being expensive, IVF is emotionally and physically draining and it is not the ultimate solution in every case. Some couples go through multiple rounds without every carrying a pregnancy to term! Not to mention the rigorous injection schedule, numerous ultrasounds, body and health restrictions, mood swings, and more. So don’t just assume we can “do IVF”.
- You can always adopt! Adoption is an amazing option for some families. But it is not one that most people jump to. The adoption process takes a very long time, and again, it is not a guarantee. And it is extremely expensive. And it doesn’t erase the fact that it is not a biological child.
- You already have one. So what if I have one? Or two or three of four? It doesn’t make the fact that you are not conceiving any less hurtful! Secondary infertility is a real thing. It is still a dream dashed. I hope to live in a world where someday all families can be as big as they would like, and are capable of providing for. Some people have SO much love to give.
- Count your blessings that you don’t have a real illness. Fact check! Infertility is a disease recognized by the World Health Organization! Of course it is not on the same level as cancer, but it is still a disease that causes pain and requires intervention. Don’t be the judge of who deserves sympathy and prayers, and who does not.
- You’re still young, you have plenty of time! That is not always the case. While a woman’s ovarian reserve diminished as she ages, conditions like endometriosis, PCOS, premature ovarian syndrome can occur early in very young women. Some, like myself, have unexplained infertility.
- Stop trying and it will happen. Ah, yes. One of my favorites. How the heck are you supposed to get pregnant in the first place if you aren’t doing the baby dance? I mean, I know you don’t have to technically have sex to get pregnant via IVF, but at that point you are really trying. And for many couples tracking ovulation, fertile days, etc., are how they get pregnant. Sex is key to getting pregnant. Stopping surely won’t improve your chances.
- Who is the problem, him or her? REALLY?? Does it really matter which person is having the issues? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither (unexplained infertility), but we don’t need you poking and prodding into our personal lives. What matters is WE are struggling.
- Oh, look at that little bump, are you pregnant? NEVER ask a woman if she is pregnant if you aren’t 100% sure of the answer. Do you really need to know that badly? If so, ask someone else close to her if they know. If you don’t know anyone close to her, you probably don’t really need to know. Or you might get an answer you don’t expect. Like, maybe I’m just bloated from all the shots I’m giving myself in the stomach each day and I gained 5 pounds from my last unsuccessful round of IVF. Oh, and my ovaries feel like they are going to explode. And I have gas.
I know we are all curious about what is going on around us, but infertility is an invisible disease and you never know what feelings you might stir up by asking a simple, unsolicited question. Rather than asking these questions, start advocating for infertility treatment and coverage. Share your sympathy with a friend. Bake them cookies or send them a card. Let them know you care and that you are thinking about them.
Understand that they may not want to go out on Friday night because they are afraid that one glass of wine will ruin their chances. Recognize that they may not want to go to a baby shower because it will hurt too much. Let them know it is OK to be upset that your best friend is pregnant, after all, you’re happy for them but sad for yourself.
Offer to be there when they need you, but don’t push when they don’t want to talk about it. Try to talk about things other than your kids. Don’t let the conversation always revolve around pregnancy and babies. They will appreciate your effort and kindness more than you know.