Infertility & Friends: What Not to Say

In general, and as they should be, the holidays are about families.  The gifts, cookies, and treats are nice, but it’s spending time as a family that counts.  In other words, babies and kids are everywhere.

While couples struggling with infertility often enjoy spending time with extended family, including holding the new babies and playing with kids, it can be a big reminder that they are still waiting for their turn.

It’s hard on everyone, to some degree.  Friends and loved ones often don’t know what to say in the face of infertility.  They tend to rely on clichés or attempts at humor that fall flat or, worse, result in hurt feelings.  Believe me, I’ve heard it all.

That said, below are ten things that you should NEVER say to your friend or loved one who is struggling with infertility:

1.    “Maybe it’s not the right time”:  If it’s the right time for millions of other people, why shouldn’t it be the right time for your friend?  First rule of pregnancy:  There is no “right” time.

2.    “It’s God’s will”:  Does anyone really believe in a God who grants some people children in an instant but makes others struggle for years and endure horrible medical treatments?  I certainly hope not.

3.    “It’s not in God’s plan for you”:  See #2.  Also, you never really know what another person believes.  In general, it’s best to leave religion out of it.

4.    “It will happen when you least expect it”:  When you’re expecting it to happen every single month, this just doesn’t apply.  Also, it kind of puts blame on the couple.  As if willing it to happen is actually having the opposite effect.

5.    “You need to relax”:  I find that, in general, people who say this popped out a few babies quickly.  They know little about Clomid, hormones, miscarriage, and messed up cycles.  Relaxing and infertility treatments do not go hand in hand (even if they should).

6.    “At least you can drink”:  Most (probably all) women dealing with infertility would gladly give up the glass of wine to have the baby.  Since they don’t have the baby, they need the wine to get through the family dinner.

7.    “One day you will have a house full of kids”:  Are you willing to bet your mortgage on that?  Of course that’s what they’re hoping for, but clichés and grand statements get old quickly.

8.    “You can have mine!  Believe me, you’re the lucky one right now”:  The jokes about giving away your kids are among the most hurtful.  Try to remember that this person is probably feeling desperate at times.  All she wants is one little tiny baby.  She doesn’t feel lucky at all.

9.    “I have the best doctor.  You should definitely see him right away”:  Assume that your friend has either consulted another doctor or is working with an infertility specialist.  Honestly, when you see your doctor constantly, you tend to love him.  I did.  And if I didn’t, I would have switched doctors early on.

10.                “Enjoy the quiet house”:  Your friend is hoping against hope to end up with a loud house full of small voices.  Assume that your friend has made the most of the quiet moments and is ready for something different.  Trying to point out that you wish you had what she has is hurtful; you both know it’s not true.

Let’s end on a few things that you can say to help your friend.  It’s always best to end on a positive.

1.    “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I would love to be there for you”: Lack of experience in infertility doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good listener.

2.    “This must be a really hard time for you.  I’m here when you need me”:  Sometimes we really just need an escape hatch.  Provide that for your friend.

3.    “I can’t stop thinking about you.  What can I do to help?”:  It’s really hard to ask for help when your friends are busy with kids and work.  It feels like an imposition.  Give your friend the green light to lean on you and she just might do it.

And for the 7.3 million Americans out there struggling with infertility this holiday season…I’m here for you.  I know how hard it is to try to balance all of your emotions this time of year.  I think the best advice I can give you is to be a little selfish and focus on your needs, and to be honest with those around you.  Take a little advice from John Mayer and “say what you need to say”.  Your friends can only help you if they know what you need.

What things have been said to you that only made you feel worse?  What would you want your friends to say instead?

Note: This post was originally published on my other site, Practical Parenting, on November 27, 2011.