Part Two: What Not to Say to Someone Dealing with Fertility Struggles
We live in a world where people chronically overshare. In this selfie-obsessed, meal instagramming, uber-documented world we live in, there are still some things that people are afraid to talk about. Fertility struggles are in that category. In my career as a fertility acupuncturist in Portland, one of my goals is to end the stigma and isolation that comes along with fertility issues.
I have made many missteps in my own conversations (or lack thereof) with friends and family members who were trying to conceive, but after helping many couples through it, I have something to share. In part one of this article, I laid out how you should talk to someone dealing with fertility issues — how to bring it up, how to respond, and how to support them if they share this vulnerability with you. In part two, my aim is to help you recognize what not to say — all of the well-meaning things people say that end up being incredibly painful.
1. Unless you have gone through fertility issues yourself, don’t pretend to understand.
Don’t give tips. And if it took you 3 months to get pregnant and she’s been trying for 3 years, don’t try to tell her about how sad you were the two months when you got your period, so you know how hard it must be. This isn’t about you.
2. Even if you have gone through fertility struggles, don’t offer unsolicited advice.
Share your experience, but let her know that if she has any questions or wants any advice, doctor’s names, the number of your acupuncturist, etc from you she can ask. I know you want to fix it — to help, but believe me, if Dang Gui or Maca or having sex upside down were the miracle way to conceive that you read about, there wouldn’t be any fertility clinics.
3. Don’t tell someone who confided with you about her struggles to conceive that she just needs to relax, or go on vacation, or that it will happen when it is meant to be.
She can say that, but you cannot. Everyone has heard stories about the couple who tried for 8 years only to go on vacation and get pregnant, or the people who have had 6 failed IVF attempts only to find out they were expecting a week after they signed their adoption paperwork.
This, however, is not the norm. If it were, people would be going to travel agencies instead of fertility clinics. I know your intentions are good, but when you tell your friend/coworker/cousin this, she kind of wants to punch you in the face. She’s already blaming herself enough, and now you are insinuating with this question that the reason she isn’t pregnant is that she’s trying too hard (trust me, that is what she will hear).
If you think she’s too stressed out (and stress can play a part in fertility struggles), invite her out for pedicures or lunch; don’t just tell her to relax about what is likely the hardest thing she’s ever dealt with in her life.
4. Try not to constantly talk about your own pregnancy or kids.
I know this is hard. I also don’t want you to feel like you can’t share this huge part of your life with a dear friend or family member. The idea here is just to temper it. Maybe plan an outing that makes what you are doing the center of the conversation so you aren’t quite so tempted to talk about your cute baby. Maybe don’t ask her to host your baby shower (if she volunteers that’s different) or help you set up your registry.
Again, don’t be afraid to be direct about this. Acknowledge that you understand if she needs to skip coming to your baby’s first birthday. Acknowledge that you are thinking about her on the day her sister has a baby. It doesn’t need to be a huge gesture or an all out pity-party — just occasionally acknowledge the struggle.
Fertility issues are difficult, but they are even more difficult when they are isolating. Don’t assume too much about someone’s fertility journey, ask questions tactfully, and be available for support. You don’t need to shy away completely from having these tough and potentially emotional conversations with the people in your life. Just use sensitivity, and you can be a great support for someone struggling with fertility issues.