Infertility Etiquette


I know you mean well, but…

I had just suffered through my second miscarriage. I shared the sad news with an acquaintance, who was quick to offer the reassurance that “God must have needed another angel.”

I smiled and fought back tears. Inside, the words I’m sure she meant to be a comfort instead wounded me deeply. Why would God take my baby? I thought. Maybe He needed another angel, but couldn’t He just make another one and not take away mine? I needed my baby, too. It seems selfish for God to take my one baby away when He already has thousands of angels.

She meant well, but her platitude set in motion a train of thought that rambled on irrationally through the rocky emotional terrain of my heart.

That’s often the case with friends, family and acquaintances of those navigating infertility. They almost always mean well with their comments and conversation, but they can still sometimes cause pain with thoughtless or artless remarks. Here are some tips for what to say – and what not to say – to people struggling to have children:

“So, when are you going to start a family?” It is just never ok to ask anyone this question, no matter how long they have been married or how ready you think might be. The decision to have children is intensely personal, and should left to the people most directly involved – the prospective parents. For couples who are struggling to get pregnant or carry a child to term, the question can be especially devastating.

“Just relax and it will happen.” Not only does this statement defy medical reality, it places blame on the couple by suggesting that they are somehow self-sabotaging. Nothing is less relaxing that someone telling you to relax, either. It’s automatically stress-inducing.

Perhaps instead, you could say something like, “I can imagine this is a really stressful season for you. I’d love to treat you to something special so you can decompress for a bit.” Then, follow through in a way that is meaningful for your friend. Send a gift certificate for dinner out, take them to lunch, treat them to a spa day, or even just offer to mow their lawn. No, it may not help your friend get pregnant, but it will remind them that they are loved and supported.

“Have you tried (insert folk remedy/medical treatment/incantation, etc. here)?” Yes, no matter how outlandish, it’s probably been tried. And it’s probably failed. If your friend is already connected with a good fertility doctor, suggesting other treatments and approaches just adds to the anxiety and stress. Let your friend and their doctor work through the treatment plan.

“It’s all just part of a grander plan.” It’s natural to seek meaning from life’s most difficult challenges, but over reaching for those answers can be hurtful. Instead of offering answers, perhaps you could simply offer to listen.

That’s the key to offering comfort to someone you love struggling with fertility: let them lead. Let them share their journey when and where and how they feel comfortable. You don’t have to avoid the conversation, but if it comes up let them control it. Don’t feel pressured to offer advice or answers in an effort to comfort them. They already have advice and answers coming from the medical professionals who are helping them. What they need from you is simply love, support and a listening ear.