For couples going through infertility, it can be a dark and depressing time full of uncertainly, doctors visits and advice galore. While all your other friends are posting cute pictures of their round tummies and chubby little babies on Facebook and Instagram, you’re left feeling damaged, broken and often alone.
It’s a sad reality that one in six Canadian couples face, and one that often isn’t talked about. So if you have a friend, family member or loved one actually open up to you about their problems, your best bet is to be a supportive ear. And no matter what, try to avoid any of these entirely too common phrases.
1. “Don’t worry, it will happen”
While we appreciate the kind thoughts, advising us not to worry also feels like you’re telling us that our thoughts and feelings are invalid. Have you ever tried telling an angry person to calm down? It often has the opposite effect. People dealing with infertility think about their infertility every single time they see a baby, hop on social media, watch television or go out for dinner. New life hits us at every stop along the way and it’s a type of pain that, unless you’ve experienced it, you probably won’t understand.
What to say instead: “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It must be incredibly hard.”
2. “Just stop stressing out about it and it will happen”
Yes, we understand that stress does crazy things to the body, and that there’s a correlation between stress and fertility. However you know when we weren’t stressing about the fact that our bodies were failing us? Back in that first year when we began trying. After 12 months of doing it on our own and finally reaching out to a fertility doctor who ran a plethora of tests, it’s actually a little more complicated than that. Besides, women have been getting pregnant in stressful situations like war, imprisonment and world crisis for centuries now. So while we wish we could just sip a glass of wine and check ourselves into the spa so that a baby magically happens, the sad fact is that isn’t always the case. We hear this one so often it can make us want to cry, scream or do both at the same time.
What to say instead: “This must be such a load on you guys. Do you want to talk it out some more?”
3. “Have you considered giving up alcohol and coffee?”
This one is two-fold. One, it feels incredibly judgemental. Two, believe us — if we’re at the stage where we’re telling you about what’s going on, we’ve probably already done the research involved in getting our bodies into the best baby-making shape they can possibly be. Having you weigh in with opinions on our diet or exercise routines just feels like you’re trying to give us a magical cure and aren’t really understanding what we’re going through at all.
What to say instead: “I guess I’m lucky that I’ve never been through that, what kind of a process has it been like for you?”
4. “Look at it this way… at least you don’t have cancer”
Look, we get it. Cancer is an awful thing that happens to people and we wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemies. People with cancer can die. Their bodies fail and they go through hell just to survive. However comparing our disease — and make no mistake about it, infertility is indeed a disease involving medical testing and treatments — to another isn’t the best way to get us to look on the bright side. In fact it will make us want to shut down and not talk to you at all. You wouldn’t compare MS or AIDS to cancer if someone told you they had been diagnosed with one of those diseases, would you?
What to say instead: “Anytime you feel like you need to talk about this, please don’t hesitate to call me.”
5. “You could always adopt”
We sure can — after going through a lengthy application process and being put on a long waiting list, that is. Not to mention forking over thousands and thousands of dollars and getting our own emotional stability in check. One of the first things support people at these agencies ask potential adoptive parents is whether or not they’ve mourned the loss of their own unborn child. And they do so for a reason: before you can get to this stage you actually have to mourn the loss of your unborn child. You have to accept that you will never see a baby with your eyes or nose, and be completely okay with that. Saying this to someone going through infertility before they’re ready often only serves as a harsh reminder of what they’re in the process of losing.
What to say instead: “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. How long have you been dealing with this?”
6. “Sometimes I wish I didn’t have kids, you’ll have way more freedom without them”
You know what we wish? That we had kids. Or at least that option to decide for ourselves. Maybe we hate travelling or feel like we’re the only couple without a baby and have therefore been unintentionally freezed out by former besties who are trying to spare our feelings or think we don’t get it. Maybe we don’t, but believe us; we wish that we did.
What to say instead: “I love my kids so I can’t imagine how rough this must be for you.”
7. “I didn’t invite you because I thought it might be too hard”
Look, we appreciate that, but please give us the opportunity to decide what’s too hard and what’s not. If you’re having a baby and are doing a baby shower, we want to be invited. We might not be able to come and we really hope you’re okay with that if that’s the case, but we may also surprise you. Just because we’re sad for ourselves doesn’t mean we aren’t overjoyed for you. We just wish we could have some of that joy too.
What to say instead: “I’m sending you an invite because I’d love to see you, but please don’t feel like you have to make it out if you’re not up for it.”
8. “This amazing thing happened to a friend of a friend of mine”
You know what we’re talking about. That friend of a friend who adopted and stopped stressing and all of a sudden had a kid? Or who got a puppy and whoops! Bun in the oven. Or who went through one round of IVF and BAM! They were preggers? These stories are meant to be helpful, we know… but at the same time, they’re told so many times because they’re actually also a lot more rare than you’d think. And we’ve heard them all.
What to say instead: “I’ve heard infertility is a lot more common than we think. Have you found any support groups that have been helpful?”
9. “Well have you tried (insert random trick here)?”
Yes. We have. Or we’ve considered it. Believe us, just like we know about giving up coffee and alcohol, we’ve probably also dropped hundreds at the health store for supplements, drank special teas like they were going out of style, had sex in every position possible and gone through a cocktail of drugs and treatments with our doctors. Don’t get us wrong, it’s so awesome that this worked for you or a friend, but unless we ask you for some tips or tricks, please don’t feel like you need to bestow this information on us either.
What to say instead: “I have a friend who went through something like this. I’d be happy to pick his/her brain or put you in contact if you ever have any questions.”
10. “You should be happy you have one kid at least”
You see, infertility doesn’t just affect wannabe parents; it affects those who already have children too. And while we feel completely #blessed for our first bundle of joy, there’s still a deep pain that comes with knowing our bodies just aren’t up for a second (or third, fourth) baby. The fact is, you don’t know what it feels like until you’re in that situation. So maybe it’s better to not assume.
What to say instead: “You’re such a good parent; it’s a shame that you’re dealing with this. I’m so sorry.”
11. “Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be”
Telling someone who desperately wants to be a parent that maybe they just weren’t meant to be a parent is a huge slap in the face. Another iteration for this is, “Maybe it wasn’t God’s plan for you.” While we get that everyone has their own spiritual beliefs, this isn’t the time to bestow them like they’re magical nuggets of wisdom. Even though they’re probably said with the best of intentions, it’s actually quite hurtful. What we’re actually hearing with these phrases is, “You’re not fit to be a parent” or “You actually deserve this pain.” That may sound extreme, but would you tell someone who is dying that maybe their life wasn’t meant to be? Well we’re dying on the inside right now as we mourn the child that we might never know.
What to say instead: “I love you and I hope you get through this. In the meantime I’m here for you every step of the way.”
WATCH: If you feel like you’re all alone, you’re not.