Updated: Mar 24
Opening up about the struggles of infertility is no easy task. Many couples struggle in silence while fighting the constant disappointment and pain of infertility in the comfort of their own homes. If someone does decide to open up and confide in you about their struggles, it's important to learn the difference between toxic positivity and compassion.
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with thinking positively! However positivity becomes toxic when it minimizes, invalidates, or diminishes someone else's experience. One of the most common responses myself and thousands of other couples receive during their struggles with infertility is "Just relax, it will happen." This may seem like an optimistic response from someone who has never struggled, but in reality, it invalidates and minimizes the pain they are going through.
It's important to remember that infertility is a diagnosis that often requires medical intervention in order to get the desired outcome of becoming pregnant and delivering a healthy baby. It is not the same as a reproductively healthy couple trying to conceive.
If you've never experienced infertility, it's ok! We know that you don't understand, and it's also ok to admit that. However, not understanding what someone is going through is not an excuse to lack empathy or compassion. It's ok not to understand another person's pain, but it is never ok to minimize and invalidate it. Below are ten things you should never say to someone experiencing infertility.
1. Just Relax
This is probably the most common saying we hear. When you tell someone to Just Relax, you're taking a medical diagnosis and minimizing it to becoming something someone just simply hasn't achieved yet. The difference between Infertility and a reproductively healthy couple trying to conceive is that infertility is a diagnosis that requires medical treatments in order to have a chance at conceiving a healthy baby. Relaxing is not an option for those who have to physically take medications, do injections, go through multiple surgeries, or try different procedures for a chance at becoming parents. There is no “relaxing” with infertility. Even though these comments come from a good heart or a place of comfort, they actually do the exact opposite. Instead of saying just relax, it will happen, try saying “This must be so frustrating, I'm sorry you are going through this.” This shows empathy and compassion for what they are going through and validates their pain.
2. Stop Stressing
This is another very common phrase that minimizes what a couple has to do in order to get pregnant while going through fertility treatments. When you tell a women to stop stressing what you’re actually doing is casting blame and causing her to second guess her worries. Fertility treatments are like having a second job. Your life revolves around phone calls, perfectly timing injections, taking multiple medications multiple times per day, going to the doctors office every other day, planning your schedule around medical procedures, and being overcome with hormones and emotions you've never experience before. Unfortunately that can be very stressful and being that fertility treatments take up so much time there is no option not to think about it. Instead of saying “stop stressing and don't think about it” try to say “Fertility treatments must be so stressful, you’re so strong.”
3. Giving Advice of Any Kind
This is a big one that happens to couples struggling with infertility. As soon as couples open up about their fertility journey, it seems like all the sudden every one in their family and all of their friends become fertility specialists and have the answer to solve your infertility. When you open up about your infertility what they choose to hear it “We’re struggling to get pregnant.” Which leads people to believe that said couple is just not trying everything that helped them get pregnant. What they're really not hearing and understand is what they are actually saying is “We haven't gotten pregnant yet because we suffer from a medical diagnosis that requires medical help from a specialist.” Again, infertility is not the same as a reproductively healthy couple trying to conceive. Couples are flooded with “advice” from literally everyone they know and that can become overwhelming. You can't give advice to someone if you've never experienced it yourself or are not a fertility specialist. Instead of offering unsolicited advice, try to say "I know I don't understand, but I trust you are in good hands with your fertility specialist."
4. Have You Tried X,Y,Z?
We know you're trying to be helpful and offer advice about something that may have worked for you or someone you know, however, everyone's body is different and no fertility journey is the same. Remember how I discussed the multiple injections and medications earlier in this post? Fertility doctors will put you on as many supplements, medications, and injections as needed and know the patients body inside and out. Have faith and trust that they are on the right path with their doctor and don't offer advice unless asked.
5. Why Don't You Just Adopt?
Adoption is a beautiful and selfless process, but it is not a cure or a bandaid for infertility. It does not eliminate the very valid and real pain that comes with wanting your own biological child. Adoption is not just for those suffering with infertility. It's for anyone and everyone who have the resources to go through it. Adopting is a beautiful thing. I admire and have so much respect for someone who decides to take that route. It's also not for everyone, and that's ok! Often times it's more costly than most fertility treatments, it's a timely process, and it's also not always a guarantee that comes with it's own set of struggles. Those struggling with infertility have just as much of a right to desire having their own child as someone who is reproductively healthy. Period. We have to stop putting the pressure to adopt on those struggling with infertility. Finally, for many couples the desire to have a child is not often for the sake of having a child, but rather to procreate with their specific significant other.
6. You're Still Young
Infertility does not care about your age. Take for instance my husband's issue. We discovered my husband had male factor infertility at 20 years old. There is not much that can be done about that. Anything that could have been done, we've tried. Time does not matter and will not change anything. In fact, the longer you wait around, the higher the chance is that your ability to get pregnant decreases, and because we are not sure what caused my husband's male factor infertility, there's no saying that one day he could become completely sterile as our fertility specialist has mentioned. It's best to be proactive and take all precautions as possible. Instead of saying "You're still young, you have plenty of time." say "I'm sorry you're going through this. I had no idea that infertility can affect you at any age."
7. Everything Happens For a Reason
Stop telling people that everything happens for a reason. Even if you whole heartedly believe this, you're invalidating their grief from infertility, or even worse, miscarriage. This is the perfect example of toxic positivity because this well meaning phrase ends up hurting more than it helps in the long run. Think about it this way, you'd never tell someone that everything happens for a reason when a loved one dies, so why say it to someone struggling with infertility or miscarriage? Never tell someone their grief and disappointment is happening for a reason. This will only minimize their experience.
8. Complaining About Your Pregnancy
Know your audience! We're happy for you that you're pregnant, but please never complain about your pregnancy around someone who is struggling with infertility. We know that pregnancy isn't all rainbows and butterflies, and you have every right vent about your discomfort with other people in your life, but please for the love of god know your audience! Your infertile friend would give anything to be in your shoes and experience the beautiful gift of pregnancy.
9. Telling Someone With Infertility How Easily You Got Pregnant
Again, we're so happy for you that you haven't had to experience the struggles of infertility, but rubbing it in someone's face who is struggling is so insensitive. Never make light of their situation by cracking jokes about how easily your husband got you pregnant. Instead, say "I know I don't understand what you're going through, but I'm here to listen when you want to vent." Emphases on vent because as I mentioned previously, you cannot give advice on a topic you don't understand and infertility is a medical diagnosis.
10. I Know This Couple Who...
If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone tell me about a couple they heard about who either stopped trying and then got pregnant, got pregnant after stopping fertility treatments, or even got pregnant after adoption. Success stories are wonderful, but at the end of the day, it's not mine. Their bodies are different than mine, their fertility protocol is different than mine, and their journey is different than mine. All we hear when someone tells us these success stories is that there's another person who became pregnant and yet somehow I still haven't. It makes the journey feel that much more isolating. Of course, I know it can be helpful for some couples struggling to see hope, but it's best to refrain from comparing one person's journey to another.