Infertility is more common than you think. According to the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth by CDC, one in every eight couples have problems having a baby. With such high numbers, it is highly possible that someone around you is quietly going through the ordeal with a smile on their face—so many people don’t come out with it, and the ones who do sometimes end up getting hurt by the way people respond.
No one wants to make an insensitive comment that is hurtful, but—out of ignorance or just in a vain attempt to lighten a rather serious moment—we say something to an infertile friend that hits them where it hurts.
Sometimes, knowing what not to say is the better way to provide support, and when someone confides his infertility in you, here are the things you should avoid saying:
10 Things You Should Not Say to the Infertile
We’ve all heard stories of people who conceived just when they got all relaxed about it, but that doesn’t mean relaxing will work for everyone. It is important to realize that for some people it cannot happen because there is a medical problem, and one that cannot be cured by relaxing.
Imagine a friend who is going to doctors, getting surgeries and inseminations, and you end up telling them maybe “you need to lighten up.” That could be insensitive.
2. See the positives of not having kids
“You could travel, you could enjoy late nights, and there is lesser financial burden…” as you count the possible benefits of the just-us-two situation trying to cheer your friend, the effect might just be the opposite.
When someone decides to have a child, they have obviously considered the possible alterations they will have to make in their lives and are willing to go with it. If they are already undertaking infertility treatments, it means they desperately want to have a child and being able to enjoy late nights and travel doesn’t make up for it.
3. So who’s the problem?
Just because someone has decided to share a personal problem with you, do not take the liberty to be all intrusive and ask questions that might make them cringe inside. In about 20% of the cases, it is not even clear why the couple is not able to conceive, and it’s even more uncomfortable to share who has the problem.
4. You can take my kids
An attempt at humor can backfire when the other person is in a rather grave situation and in no mood for jokes. A crude joke can be irksome; be careful.
5. Why don’t you try IVF?
Your friend is unlikely to be unaware of the common available medical treatments and if IVF was so simple, affordable, and certain, they would probably go for it. But, it is not! A single cycle of IVF treatment can cost between $12,000 and $25,000 and multiple cycles are often needed. Even if someone chooses to go for a lower priced option like IVF in India, or say, Mexico, it requires an emotional investment.
It takes time to come to terms with the fact that one cannot have a baby the natural way and medical intervention is required.
IVF is an invasive treatment, the results are not certain, and not everyone is prepared to go through the process. Respect that.
6. Maybe, you are not meant to have kids
Really? Someone who can make such a thoughtless remark is perhaps not meant to have friends.
7. My pregnancy was…
Now that you have a kid, the person who cannot is already feeling a little less. Do not go on sharing the stories of your own problems with pregnancy.
People with fertility problems often complain that it is painful to see how everyone around them can easily have a baby, while they cannot. When you complain about discomfort, fatigue, stretch marks, someone is secretly longing for all that when it comes bundled with a pregnancy.
8. So many children are waiting to get adopted
To adopt and nurture a “stranger’s child” one has to first accept that they are not going to have a child of their own, which can involve a lot of grievance. There are some people who cannot ever come to the point of accepting another person’s baby and if you mention adoption to such a couple, they will just be more frustrated.
Let the couple decide for themselves; if adoption is a viable choice, they will consider it when they are ready.
9. Thank God! It’s not cancer
Telling someone that they must be grateful that the situation is not worse is just downplaying their pain. It’s like telling someone who broke their spine in an accident that they mustn’t complain about the pain because they could have died.
Yes, the situation could have been worse but that doesn’t mean it is not bad enough.
10. But you already have a child
Even secondary infertility—that comes after a biological child—is painful and difficult for people who face it. And if someone is already feeling bad about not being able to have another child when they want it, you will make them feel worse if all you do is remind them to be appreciative of the one they have. Chances are, they already are, but now they want to have another addition to their family, which is being blocked due to medical reasons.
Infertility forums and social media groups are replete with stories of people who’ve been hurt by friends or family that blurted inconsiderate things. There are no classes for infertility etiquette but you can be sensible about what you say to someone dealing with the problem, and if you are not sure, maybe you can just listen to them and ask if there is something you can do to help.
Dr. Deepika Garg — from healthcare facilitator UniMed Travels that facilitates medical tourism in India and several other countries