A Little Advice... Infertility

by Corinne

I am not going to give you advice on how to overcome infertility... if I had that magic answer, I'd be pretty rich by now (not that the money would make me any happier!)
Instead I wanted to address how to talk to someone struggling with infertility.  It seems like it is hard to know the right thing to say, or whether to say anything at all.  When I became pregnant with my second child, my sister-in-law was desperately trying to get pregnant, and it was really difficult for her to hear my news, not to mention rather awkward for me to know how to tell her about it.  I wasn't going to insult her by not telling her I was expecting, but how to do it delicately was complicated... I wanted to empathize with her pain and own my joy at the same time.  
Infertility seems to be everywhere. I wondered if it is more common now than it used to be, but this article says that fertility rates are pretty much the same as they were 50 years ago, and that it is an extraordinarily common disorder - 25% of women will experience an episode of infertility in their lifetime.   
I talked to my friend Jen, who is also a psychologist, about how to talk to someone about infertility.  Jen struggled for years to get pregnant.  She gave me permission to use some of her wise words on this very subject.
Here is a great summary what she said, along with some of my own editorials:
  • Acknowledge that there is an elephant in the room... usually...

      For Jen, she preferred her silent suffering to be mentioned.  For my sister-in-law, it was almost always best to avoid talking about it, depending on the day (especially with me, since I was pregnant at the time).  So my advice would be to feel it out... these are your friends and your family.  Just say out loud that you want to be sensitive to their situation, and ask if they want to talk about it, or would rather not, and then respect that. 

And now for some really cut and dry tips from Jen.
  • Don't worry, it'll happen soon
  • Maybe you need to try harder
  • Well, at least you get to have fun trying
  • Just be patient
  • It'll happen when it's supposed to...or it'll happen when God wants it to
  • Who has the problem, you or (your spouse)?
  • Adopt and you'll get pregnant
  • Just adopt, there are plenty of kids that need a good home
  • Are you doing it right?
  • Enjoy the time you have with your husband... it'll be over before you know it
  • Enjoy it now because you'll be hating life later.
Some more insight from Jen:
  • It is hard when everyone asks us to babysit and then when we're leaving they say things like:  "Wasn't that great birth control!"
  • It is hard that I went to 17 baby showers last year and each time someone felt the need to educate me about child rearing as if I've never watched a child in my life! People often treat me like I know nothing about children just because I don't have one of my own.
  • It is hard when people take my schedule for granted because they think I just work during the day and then my life is freed up for (anything else). I finally realized last month that my life is JUST as busy or busier than those with children so I don't have to take responsibility for all the planning and preparation. 
  • Added from a comment:  Don't ask couples (even friends) when they are going to have a baby!  That is a private matter, and you never know when someone might be having fertility problems.
Think about what it would be like to have "baby on the brain" 24/7 and be sensitive - again, just ask if they want to talk or not.  My friend Jen said at one point, "I wax and wane between wanting a baby so badly that I'm willing to do just about anything... to being so sick of the process that if I hear the word baby I want to shut out the world. And other times I'm in the in between stage - Apathy."

    • Are you okay?  
    • I'm so sorry you are going through this.
    • I know you are struggling with infertility and I don't know if it's better or worse to mention it, but I want you to know that I'm thinking about you.
    • Do you want to talk about it?  
    • If you don't want to talk about it that is fine, I just want you to be comfortable and to know that I am thinking about you.
    • Do you know any more about what is going on?  I just want to check in with you.
    • How do you feel about it all? 
    • I hope you are okay.  
    • I am here for you.
    • This must be really hard.  I am so sorry.
    • (Give them a hug).
    Both my sister-in-law (IVF) and Jen (a happy natural surprise) were able to conceive and have a baby since then.  They were very blessed that way.  But I have always tried to remember these little gems (above) that Jen shared with me.  It is always a good thing to be as sensitive as possible to what others are going through.  We can't be perfect, and sometimes we will offend unintentionally, but we can at least try to do and say things that encourage and empathize rather than hurt or frustrate. And sometimes it is so hard to know what to say when someone tells you they are struggling to conceive.

    DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER TIPS TO POST ABOUT WHAT TO SAY/WHAT NOT TO SAY?   Or do you agree/disagree with anything here?  Please leave a comment!  I would love your feedback!

    P.S. My friend Lisa is going to write a post about secondary infertility - the difficulty or inability to become pregnant or carry to term a child after successfully and naturally conceiving one or more children.   Thanks Lisa, we are looking forward to it!


    Senja said...

    Oh Corinne, you really nailed it - spot on! My husband and I have also tried to become pregnant for almost 2,5 years and we will give IVF a try this year and are very excited about it.

    I personally have ups and downs. Sometimes I am totally fine with not having a child, sometimes not. Also, at the moment it just seems that everybody is pregnant! :) Also, two of my sister-in-laws who live very close, are pregnant at the moment. One is expecting one child, the other is expecting twins. I am super excited for them, but at the same time it hurts a little. Also, I do wish they would maybe ask me how I feel about it. I know there isn't really anything to do, they are pregnant and it will not change, but just acknowledging my situation where I am longing for the same and caring, would have made a huge difference. They say: I know it will happen for you someday, be patient, enjoy your time, etc. which is true, but it doesn't make it better. In a way it makes it worse, it makes me feel like they are just "shoveling off my feelings".. I understand that it is not easy knowing what to say in these situations, so I try not to judge.

    On the other hand I am excited that I have the chance to learn from all the pregnant women and new mothers around me for when it is out time.

    I have also had my share of frustrations with people who think that just because I am not pregnant/a mother, have less to do and therefore am entitled to work harder in my church callings. I have a full-time job, my husband has a company in which I support him, I have my own little business, etc. Life is busy! :) It just sometimes makes me feel that what I am doing is less valuable.

    Anyway, this is a long comment! :)

    Thanks so much for this article.

    Love ya!

    Jocelyn Christensen said...

    This is great advice, thank you!

    Dawn said...

    Thank you for the insight! I love advice that gives me skills and this is one bit of info I needed.

    Adrie said...

    I will just say that I had "foot-in-my-mouth" syndrome on this subject more times than I care to remember! I only wish I would have read this article YEARS ago!

    I finally figured out what NOT to say when my good friend was going through infertility (4 years ago).

    Sometimes you just have to live and learn the hard way. Luckily for your readers, if they heed your GREAT advice, they won't make the same mistakes I made!

    PsychDoctor said...

    Great post...

    Sara Z said...

    Two of my very closest friends have been unable to get pregnant after trying for several years now, and when I got pregnant I was unsure of how to tell either one of them the news. I sent them both an email (seperately) that said "There is no way to tell you this news that doesn't suck just a little bit, but I just wanted you to know that I'm pregnant". And they both have told me that it was the best way that someone has "broken the news" to them. I think by letting them know up front, yet acknowledging their struggle, lets them know that I consider their friendship important. And they have both felt comfortable sharing in my good news and showering love on Tennessee, and I think part of it is that I have made them feel included in the process.

    Other people I know have mentioned that it is really hard when pregnant people delay the news (or never share it at all) to their non pregnant friends in hoping to spare their feelings. I can see how hurtful that would be, esp. if you are good friends.

    Lisita said...

    People need to hear this. I'm so glad you were brave enough to write this and I hope others will read it carefully and take it to heart!

    Lindsay-Weaver said...

    Here's another article that also gives good insight:

    I'm dealing with infertility personally, and although some of this advice is a little harsh, I have friends that have taken infertility really hard, so it's a good reminder to be sensitive to their feelings.

    Sarah McK said...

    This is excellent advice and guidance on a tough issue. My sister is dealing with this. I feel like a lot of the exact same things should/shouldn't be said when dealing with a death. (My mom died when I was young.) However, the biggest reason that I think most people say stupid, insensitive things like "Wasn't that great birth control?" after a babysitting job is because the don't KNOW that someone is dealing with infertility. When I see people my age I have no clue if they can't have kids or are just enjoying their freedom. Both situations are extremely common.

    Anonymous said...

    Fabulous info Corinne. I also have a friend who has had two children and since then has had 4 miscarriages and her doctors cannot figure out why. It is just as frustrating for her now, with two children, trying to conceive, wanting more children and not being able to do it. No amount of "It'll be okay's" or "at least you have two" help in this emotional and internal struggle. This is such a personal and desperate struggle that women and couples go through that there is no right or comforting thing you can say to make them feel better. The only thing is to be a shoulder to cry on and an ear for her to talk things through with. You can't fix the situation and you shouldn't try to. It is important to just be there for a friend when they need to open up and cry or talk about things out loud. This sometimes help them work out these emotions and issues to help accept and deal with them. And the very real end may be that they never do have children. Why? We will never know in this life. But I have friend who have adopted and know these are their children that had to get to them through another way. They are theirs in every way. Sometimes what another has to go through is a way to teach US how to be of service to another, to truly listen to someone in need and learn to be a true friend.

    becky said...

    that was great corine!! you know I have had my issues and still do...I have been lucky that not too many people ask me anymore when are we going to have a baby...and if they do I usually just say..God only knows..because that is the truth! We are hopefully going to start IVF this summer...we are planning on going back to the doctor then and discuss what to do next...I just really wish that it wasn't so expensive..and more insurances would cover more of the infertility stuff..but that is a whole other topic! I love the blog!

    Sabrena Suite-Mangum said...

    Super impressed Corinne.

    Aimee said...

    Thank you for writing this. Infertility is such a scary topic sometimes...I appreciate your willingness to write about it. You were both sensitive and to the point. I agree.

    CC said...

    Some good ideas for comments. My husband and I have been married for 12 years and have never conceived. We grew our family through adoption and are so, so glad now that we never conceived...because then we might never have our precious children. But even now, after being the mom of 2, it is STILL hard for me to hear about new pregnancies.

    Sara said...

    Thank you for writing this. I agree both with the what to say/what not to say parts. One part I wanted to add:
    After someone has struggled with infertility and conceived a child through ART or intercourse, it doesn't mean they are done struggling with infertility. I have had too many comments from people after a successful IVF who feel I shouldn't want another child, since I was so lucky just to get my first. They don't understand that infertility doesn't curb your desire to have whatever your personal "full-sized family" is--and that a couple with infertility may try several times, even after successful pregnancies, to have more children, just like those who conceive through intercourse.
    Also, I agree that friends and family shouldn't delay telling a couple with infertility about their own pregnancy any longer than they delay telling fertile and single friends. My sister told me last of all my family, and admitted she wasn't sure she should/could tell me because of our struggles, and then I had to reassure her I could handle her news and share in her joy. It is hard, even now, because I can't conceive on a whim, but we have our plans and we work towards them.


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