When a couple is trying to conceive, it can be a new and exciting chapter in their life. The thought of having a baby brings joy and much planning for the future.
But when it doesn’t happen right away, anxiety and worry start to set in.
Why is this taking so long?
Is there something wrong?
Should we consult a doctor? If so, when?
According to the Mayo Clinic, in the United States, infertility can affect 10-15% of couples. Infertility is typically defined as not being able to get pregnant after trying for a year. It’s also normally recommended to seek medical evaluation if you’re older than 35 and have been trying to conceive for 6 months with no success.2
As recommended by the Center for Reproductive Health, “From age 30 to 35, wait at least 6 months, but don’t wait much longer than that. Age is a major factor when it comes to conceiving naturally – no matter how healthy you are.”3
TTC (Trying To Conceive) and the waiting period each month can be difficult for any couple. When infertility and treatments are added into the process, it can be one of the most stressful times in someone's life…
Especially when treatments start failing, or there are miscarriages involved. It’s beyond disappointing, stressful, depressing, and scary. The side effects of pumping your body with hormones are the opposite of fun. It feels very unfair. To want something so badly and have it consistently feel like it’s unreachable or unattainable.
What to NEVER Say to a Family Struggling With Infertility… and What to Say Instead
When struggling with infertility, couples may choose to pursue fertility treatments to continue trying to have a baby. Two common treatments are IVF (In-vitro fertilization) and IUI (intrauterine insemination).
While you may feel inclined to talk about this process with your friend or family member who’s doing IVF/IUI, it’s important to choose your words carefully. Comments, while they may be well-intended, can cause pain and stress for someone going through IUI/IVF.
When comments come from a place of care, it’s important to self-reflect and make sure that your support is well-received. You genuinely want to help. And there are often more supportive, positive things you can say.
Here are some examples of what not to say to someone going through infertility, including IVF or IUI treatments, and an alternative to say instead.
1. “RELAX” or “Calm down – The stress is affecting your fertility.”
This will have the opposite effect. Instead, try asking how you can help.
Say instead, “It’s ok to feel everything you’re feeling.”
2. “You aren’t getting any younger!”
Remember, it’s never helpful to remind someone going through IVF about time. They’re definitely aware.
Say instead, “Your journey is yours. I’m honored to be your friend.”
3. “Don’t worry, you have lots of time.”
Say instead, “I care about you and am always here if you need me.”
4. “It will happen as soon as you stop trying.”
Say instead, “I respect your journey and am here to support you.”
5. "I know how you feel… it took us [3 months] to conceive."
Say instead, “I never went through what you’re going through and can only imagine how hard this is.”
6. “But you already have a child. Be grateful for what you have… some people have none.”
Say instead, “I’m sending all of my positive thoughts and love your way.”
7. “Be glad you don’t have to deal with [Insert complaint about your kid].”
Don’t minimize their pain by reminding them of what they don’t have.
Say instead, “It’s completely valid to be [angry, sad, discouraged, etc.].”
8. "Trying is the fun part!"
I guarantee that having needles and hormones stuck in you is NOT fun. And just because they aren’t sharing it, you never know what they’re really going through.
Say instead, “I’m so sorry you’re in pain.”
9. “My sister couldn’t have kids for 10 years. Now she has 5 kids.”
Say instead, “My sister went through it, and I know how hard it was for her. I am so sorry."
10. “Have you thought about adoption?”
While it may have crossed their minds, remember your friend is going through fertility treatments. They’re not going through the adoption process at this time. Also, they may not want to adopt for many reasons. It is very expensive, and maybe they can’t afford it. A dear family member had a baby with colic and is now going through secondary infertility. She says she worries if she could love a child that isn’t her own, after what she went through with her own biological baby.
Adopting isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s a long, grueling, emotional process that takes a long time with uncertainty (i.e., people changing their minds) all along the way. Not easy.
Say instead, “I imagine that the different options for ‘solutions’ can be overwhelming. I’m always here to lend an ear if you want to talk.”
11. “When it is meant to be it will happen, don’t force it.”
Say instead, “How can I support you?”
12. “We stopped birth control and got pregnant right away. We thought we’d have more time."
Say instead, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers.”
13. “I’m pregnant.”
This is a tough one. I understand if you’re super close with this person that you’ll be extremely excited to share your big news. It may be inevitable that they’ll be aware of your pregnancy.
Yes, everyone deserves to enjoy having their moment when they’re announcing they conceived, but please try to be respectful of how you announce your greatest joy to a person who has the worry of possibly NEVER getting to experience the same joy… Or who may never be able to give their child a sibling.
So instead of including them in a public reveal, for instance, it may be more respectful to send a text message instead to let them know and include:
“I know how hard this must be.” Remind her that you love her and understand if she needs time.
14. “I know someone who got pregnant naturally after they stopped trying.”
Say instead, “You can talk to me and lean on me throughout this process.”
15. “It's ok not to have kids.”
Your friend or family member clearly wishes to have a child, if they’re doing IVF or IUI, so this is not a helpful comment.
Say instead, “I’m so sorry. It’s unfair and so hard.”
16. “Just have faith.”
Say instead, “I’m praying for you."
17. “You’re lucky. I’m pregnant, and I’m totally nauseous all the time.”
If you’re expecting, don’t complain about your pregnancy. Your friend would probably give anything to be in your shoes.
Say instead, “You’re not alone. I love you. I’m here.”
18. “You're young, you've got time.”
Say instead, “This sounds really difficult. I’m here.”
19. “Maybe after this, you’ll get pregnant naturally…”
While this may feel optimistic and supportive, try to support their current journey instead of predicting future ones. It’s easy for someone to say this who hasn’t tried naturally countless times and gotten a period time and time again. It’s so emotional. Yes, miracles happen all the time, but they can be rare. And when someone’s in the thick of infertility, holding onto something that is rare feels highly unlikely and defeating.
Say instead, “I’m on this journey with you and am here to listen.”
20. “Don’t you want to give your husband a baby? Or your child a sibling?”
This can be really hurtful to hear. It puts a ton of pressure on the woman already feeling sad and discouraged. No shaming or guilt is needed, please. Especially when giving her child a sibling is most likely something she wants more than anything else and she’s trying so hard to do so, but it isn’t up to her.
Say instead, “I’m in awe of your strength, courage, and love for your family.”
21. “You'll get through it.”
Say instead, “Everything you’re feeling is valid and makes sense.”
22. “Enjoy the single/couple, carefree life!”
When a couple does IVF or IUI, they’re looking forward to hopefully enjoying family life. This comment reminds them that they do not have that yet. Chances are the couple is being told exactly when to have sex. When it doesn’t work, sex can become a constant reminder that the couple may not achieve what they consider the most important thing in life: becoming a family unit/building a family.
Sex isn’t as sexy when there is so much pressure riding on the timing of it. What’s too little? What’s not enough? You feel like you have to be perfect for the stars to align. And it’s hard for both people not to think about this during sex. So, when someone is making a comment about “having fun,” it can come off as really ignorant toward the struggle that comes with infertility
Say instead, “I know you want to build a family. I’m sending all of my positive thoughts to you and [insert partner’s name].”
Questions NOT to Ask Someone Going Through the IVF or IUI Experience
“Who’s fault is it?”
“How long did you try naturally?”
“Aren't you scared to use a donor/adopt?” (for those considering donor eggs or adoption)
“What week of treatment are you on?”
“Do you have a cutoff date?
“Are you guys trying?”
The main thing to ASK instead is, “How can I help you, and what do you need to feel supported?”
Let them know you care. Drop or send them a little something to let them know you're thinking of them. It can be thoughtful to send a gift basket when they’re undergoing treatments or if you find out that a round of their IVF failed.
Offer to watch their younger children at home if they’re going through their second round of treatment. Moms often visit the clinic once a day, for months. Even offering to watch their children if they are ever in a pinch can be a supportive gesture.
Instead of invasive questions, try validating their IVF/IUI experience and feelings by saying:
It’s okay to feel sad.
It’s okay to feel bitter.
It’s okay to feel angry.
It’s okay to be jealous.
It’s okay to avoid.
It’s okay to unfollow.
It’s okay to feel however you feel.
Your pain is valid.
I see you.
It must be devastating to feel like your treatment is working and then to experience a loss.*
*It’s important to save space and create awareness for those women who’ve had IVF/IUI/fertility treatments work and then experienced a miscarriage. This is an incredibly lonely place to be and one to be extra sensitive to.
Check in with a text and let them know there is no pressure to respond or share the results of their IVF/IUI treatments.
How to Help Someone Going Through Infertility, IUI, or IVF (Things to Say to Someone Going Through IUI or IVF)
So, what can you do to help?
Show empathy and understanding
Say, "I'm here."
Do something fun together
Get to know their schedule and be flexible around treatments
Offer to support them at home or by driving, if they'd like - ask what they need
Make food and deliver it to their home – don’t ask, just do it!
Be part of the grieving process
Just remember that everyone's journey with infertility is different. But one thing remains the same: Infertility is a lonely, stressful, sad, and scary place to be.
Talk less, listen more, and be the support that your friend or family member needs.
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Mayo Clinic Staff, “Infertility.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infertility/symptoms-causes/syc-20354317 Accessed 12 April 2023.
Cleveland Clinic, “Infertility Causes.” https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16083-infertility-causes#:~:text=You%20should%20seek%20help%20sooner,risk%20factor%20that%20affects%20fertility. Accessed 14 April 2023.
Center for Reproductive Health, “6 signs you should see a fertility specialist.” https://fertilitydoctor.net/6-signs-you-should-see-a-fertility-specialist/ Accessed 11 May 2023.