Top 5 Things Not To Say To An Infertile Woman

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not pregnantIt’s an awkward conversation, there’s no argument about it. No matter how it’s brought up, infertility challenges the limits of etiquette. Just how should one respond when someone says, “Oh, we would really like to have another, it just hasn’t worked out for us yet.”

Do you try to make a joke? Because an infertility joke is pretty hard to land. Do you express your condolences? A simple, “I’m so sorry to hear that,” never offended anyone. It’s not very personal, but it’s not out of line.

Well, I can’t give you a perfect answer, because every couple and relationship is different. But I can tell you a couple things that I am enormously tired of hearing. Really, the cliches when it comes to infertility responses are horrible. Also, they prove just how misunderstood infertility is. Anyone who knew about the problems that couples who are trying to conceive face would never say something like, “Well you just need to stop trying.”

People who understand infertility realize how infuriatingly condescending that is. (Just in case you didn’t realize, now you know.)

Just to help out, since this conversation seems to be happening more and more, I put together a list of the top five things you should never say to an infertile woman or couple. Keep these in mind next time you’re chatting with anyone who is struggling to have a child.

(Photo: Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock)



  1. NotThumper

    June 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Ok, do you do any research whatsoever before you start typing? Stress can ABSOLUTELY affect ones ability to conceive. Yes I know trying to get pregnant is stressful, I struggled with infertility at a young age for several years trying to get pregnant with my daughter. You think it is stressful when you want a second child? Try dealing with the same problems when you don’t have any children and all you want to do is become a mother and you are terrified it will never happen.

    I feel for you, I do but jeez…these articles are getting ridiculous! If you are going to continuously whine about not being able to have a second child at the very least do some research before you start spouting about what does and does not affect fertility.

    • Lindsay Cross

      June 7, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      I do lots of research about infertility, both for my own knowledge and for the contents of the pieces I write. I actually have a whole piece about stress and why it’s not as big of an issue as people like to assume.

      Basically, stress can possibly delay ovulation. But if you’re already testing and tracking ovulation, you know when it happens regardless. For stress to actually halt ovulation is extremely unlikely.

      Stress doesn’t make it harder to get pregnant. It makes it harder, but not impossible, to know when you’re ovulating. And either way, it’s insulting to tell someone to stop stressing about an inherently emotional and stressful situation.

    • Nancy

      June 8, 2012 at 9:18 am

      I hate when people say stuff like NotThumper just said. It’s like when a friend dies and other people get mad at you for crying because they were BEST friends with the person. It’s ridiculous.

      Maybe she IS in more pain than Lindsay, who knows, but just because you might feel worse than someone else it doesn’t make their pain any less. “Talk about insensitivity!”

  2. pkjane

    June 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    So over these “Five Things Not to Say…” articles. How about no one ever says anything to anyone ever?

  3. NotThumper

    June 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Please re-read what you just wrote:

    “Stress doesn’t make it harder to get pregnant. It makes it harder, but not impossible, to know when you’re ovulating.”

    Unless ovulation has nothing to do with conceiving then yeah, stress affects it.
    I hope your research is better than your proofreading and your editing.

    I get that it is insulting but know what is worse? Listening to a woman bitch about not being able to have a SECOND child when some struggle with simply having one.
    I know that you desire a second child as badly as some women desire one but jeez…talk about insensitivity!

    • Kristin

      June 8, 2012 at 1:41 am

      Why does the number of children she already has disqualify her from feeling the pain of trying to conceive? It took me over a year to become pregnant with my daughter and now, with 3 years of trying and 2 miscarriages, I’m struggling even harder to conceive again. The losses make it difficult to let go of the dream that all these heartbreaks must be worth it. In fact, I think it’s even more difficult to bear now because my daughter is so spirited and beautiful. I have never felt more at home in my part in this world than I have since she was born. Another smile, another pair of arms around you is something everyone should be allowed to hope for.

  4. Dawn

    June 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    After struggling for nearly two years with infertility and failed fertility treatments, I have heard every single one of these and more. It is hard to hear, especially from people who have no idea what it is like to deal with the heartbreak and loss. After a while the bullshit gets to you. But most people did not know what I was going through and I certainly didn’t walk around with a t-shirt that said “Ask Me About My Empty Uterus.” I had to remind myself early on in the process that people will say things and for the most part, mean no ill will. But when you are in a rough situation like infertility, the slightest well-meaning comment can be taken out of context as a jab to the ovaries.

    I think the biggest problem with infertile women (and I was guilty of this too) was thinking that the world is getting pregnant to spite you.I couldn’t be around my pregnant friends, I couldn’t watch shows about pregnancy, etc. But I realized that I needed to get a grip on reality if I was going to put myself through more treatments. Getting upset over every Pampers commercial was not going to help things. Alot of infertile women are already depressed about the problem that it is very easy to fall into the “poor me” mentality and sulk about it. But that helps no one.

    If you are struggling to have a child (whether it is your first or fourth child) the best way to help yourself is to ignore the comments and focus on your own wellbeing.I know that can be difficult. No one else, besides your doctor, can fix the problem for you. So no one else should matter.

    *and side note: according to my fertility doctor (who has been in the specialty for 30 years, and named one of the top doctors in my state) stress does not directly impact fertility. Like Lindsay said, it can cause changes in your ovulation schedule, but stress alone does not prevent the sperm from uniting with the egg. so telling someone to ‘just relax’ is total bullshit.

  5. Briann

    June 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

    How is adoption not an acceptable back up plan? If someone is so desperate for a child that they’re wigging out about what people say to them, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be an option.

    I agree that it is not a “substitution,” but only because I don’t believe biological children are somehow “the norm” or the default, and that any other means of adding children to a family are alternative to it. Adoption isn’t “substituting” anything, because it is a perfectly legitimate and valid way to add a family member, just as much as conceiving a biological child.

    And, I would hope, one would want a child in order to raise a human, to better the world, and to make a positive impact. Why is adoption a “completely separate choice” that somehow has its “own purpose?” What exactly is the “purpose” of adoption that is so different from biological children?

    I suppose if you are one of those people whose only goal is to clone themselves and have an object they can own and it MUST HAVE MY GENES OR IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH, adoption would somehow be “separate” and different and hard. But those people really shouldn’t be reproducing.

    • kate

      June 8, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Briann, i understand where you are coming from but I just wanted to give you a different view on what lindsay said. I dont think she was was trying to say that adoption is less valid or only an ‘alternative’ or some how inferior to procreation. i think what she was trying to get across is that when people make a blanket statement of “why dont you just adopt?” they are assuming that all people want to adopt and because it is possible, they should stop trying to procreate and “just” adopt. Adoption is wonderful and just as real a way to add to your family, but not everyone wants to go the route of adoption for their own personal reasons. I dont think it boils down to just “must have my genes”.

    • whiteroses

      June 14, 2012 at 7:16 am

      Let me say that I think adoption is an amazing, noble and wonderful choice. But I think it’s people who assume that adoption is easy and is the right choice for everyone are the ones who are doing it a disservice. Sometimes it’s not that you want to clone yourself. Sometimes it’s that you honestly don’t feel equipped to take on anyone’s children other than your own. Especially after struggling with infertility, I can see why that may be a difficult choice to make. Adoption can bring its own set of heartaches- birth mothers change their mind, children die before they can be adopted, kids can have disorders and anxieties that adopted parents aren’t ready for, things like that. I’m an only child, my mother desperately wanted to adopt, and my father didn’t- because he was afraid he wouldn’t love another child nearly as much as he did me. He regrets it now, but there’s nothing to be done about it at this point.

      With parenting- and with adoption especially- it should absolutely not be done until you’re ready. Adoption shouldn’t be a back up plan. You should want to do it of its own merits, not “if I can’t have a biological kid, I’ll just adopt.” Adopted kids aren’t puppies, and you can’t leave them on the side of the road if it doesn’t work out. You’re making just as much of a commitment as if your child was yours biologically. Some people can make that commitment to their biological child, but not to an adopted one. And I give them kudos for recognizing that BEFORE they bring another child into their family.

  6. Amy

    June 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I like your lists Lindsay, because I have family and friends who have gone through or are going through infertility and miscarriages. Most os us struggle with what to say and ultimately fail because we try to hard to make them feel better. We try to encourage them with (what we think are) hope-filled cliches, or alternatives, or advice because we don’t want to see them sad. It’s heartbreaking to see our friends go through this.

    Unfortunately, none of those things help because you can’t just fix another person’s sadness. I’ve learned to just listen and allow my friends to feel what they feel and try to just be there.

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