Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Things Not to Say (or to Say) to an Infertile Couple

Taking a little detour for the moment, but I thought it might be useful to share some things of what not to say to an infertile couple. Recently a visitor at church kind of cornered me and put me on the spot with question after question about if I had children, why I didn't have children, and pointed at one of the kids and said "see, don't you wish you had one of those, now?" I was incredibly speechless and nearly broke down in tears when a quick thinking Liz came to my rescue and diverted the conversation to something else when she responded with "Well Mary will be doing something very important when she goes back to school to work with animals!!" The topic then turned to animals and Florida and all was well with the world again. I later thanked Liz profusely for stepping in at the very moment I needed someone. Admittedly, there are moments where I feel selfish and tell Wes how much I am enjoying it just being the two of us. Disney World is a great example. I love it just being me and him. But most of the time, I'm thinking of how great it would be to have a little one running around. My emotions are a rollercoaster on the topic, and nothing embarrasses me more than to start crying in front of other people, especially when the majority of those people don't know what's going on. I can't even bring myself to look people in the eye when I'm in tears, I usually just keep my head low. So as you can see, I do a pretty good job giving myself an emotional beating. So in efforts to keep that "beating" to only myself, I'm sharing with you a list of things that should never be said to an infertile couple. And yes, these are things that have been said to me. The italics are what shouldn't be said, the regular font is "Inner Mary" and what she wishes she could say, but doesn't. I am warning you now, "Inner Mary" is full of sarcasm.

NEVER say:

You need a vacation, then you'll get pregnant.
If that were true, we'd have around 8 kids by now....

I can't believe you sought medical treatment. Seeking medical treatment just shows you are spiritually immature and you don't trust God. Crying over it is also a sign of spiritual immaturity.
So do you usually comfort cancer patients this way as well?

Have you tried praying about it?
Now why haven't I thought of that before?

You should try standing on your head after sex so "it" can rush up to your egg.

[in reference to our miscarriage] Well at least you know you can get pregnant!
Wow, thank you for minimizing my loss of my child to just a test run to see if pregnancy is possible. Yeah, I appreciate that.

It's all in your head. If you stop thinking about it, it will happen. ("Just relax")
Infertility is a real medical issue. I have endometriosis which is a biological reproductive disease and causes my infertility. But yeah, thanks for implying that I'm mentally unstable enough to cause myself to not have kids.

[One that Wes detests] You must not be doing it right, let me show you how it's done.
Keep it up! My husband really enjoys being told that he's apparently inept when it comes to our sexual life.

You must be having lots of fun trying!
Oh yeah, it's a blast when there's all this pressure on both of us, and then you're poked and prodded to get test results and you're asked all kinds of questions about your sex life to a doctor you've never met before. LOADS of fun. Wish we started sooner.

You should adopt, then you’ll get pregnant right away (or the "you could always adopt")
I would never ever ever use adoption as a method of getting pregnant. How absolutely terrible for the adopted child!!! Besides, check your facts. There is no correlation between adoption and having a biological child. The percentage for getting pregnant after an adoption is exactly the same as the percentage of getting pregnant before adoption.

My husband just looks at me and I get pregnant
Good for you.

Here, you can just have one of my kids
The next time someone says this to me, I might just grab their kid, hop in my car and drive off, just to prove what a heartless comment that is.

Things could be worse
For me, this IS the "worse." My feelings are valid.

You're still young
I'm well aware of my age, thank you. I'm also well aware that my endometriosis makes conceiving a child more and more difficult with each passing year. Six years is a long time to try to conceive. I'm not quite keen on adding more and more years to that just because you think that I'm "still young."

There must be unresolved sin in your life
Well thank you for implying that I am such a horrible person that God would punish me by not giving us children!! Nevermind the fact that there are people who are in such sinful lifestyles who are getting pregnant all the time. But no, apparently I'm the one who is too evil to have children.

And while the following comment is sweetly well intended and I never take offense to it, it's a comment that I have go in one ear and out the other:
We know it will happen for you (or other variations such as "I had a dream you'd get pregnant and my dreams always come true")
Wes and I were doing a devotional written for infertile couples when this type of comment came up. The author warned that trusting in these comments, rather than listening to God reveal His will for us, was like trusting in a psychic. Why would we think that God would reveal His will for our lives to other people, and yet play a hide & seek game with us? So I have learned that while I appreciate that people are trying to help us feel better, I will not rely on the word of man who doesn't ultimately know what God's plans for us are.

The following are comments that we truly love and appreciate. But because I get so embarrassed, I don't usually know what to say...but please know that if you're reading this and you have either done or said these things...we love you so much for it.
How are you?
Is there anything I can do? (not likely, but the fact you care enough to ask means the world)
Can I get you some tissues?
I'm here if you want to talk about it
We are praying for you/can we pray for you?
And the actions...
a hug
crying with us
a card in the mail
remembering that while I do not have a child in my arms, I AM a mother and my child is in heaven...and remembering that I am not less important or that Wes & I are not some sort of "lesser" family because we don't have a child with us.

Updated 4/28/13 - I am still receiving comments on this blog, which tells me this is speaking out to many in similar situations. I want to share that I am now a mother of two very beautiful children...a son born in February 2009, and a daughter born in April 2010. I continue to leave this up because people need to know just how much their words can affect people. Even though I am a mother now, I will never forget the emotional pain I went through...nor do I ever want to forget because I can continue to help others.

**I have noticed this particular blog entry has been referenced on several infertility sites, and even articles regarding infertility. I think it is fantastic that this is getting out there, so others can understand how words affect people. If you are interest in using this as a source, please let me know. I would love to see a link back to whatever you are working on that uses this entry!**


Anonymous said...

you are only partially correct on the persons revealing your destiny, remember that God will speak to us through those who are more in tuned to him than we are at times. which is why i will take what others say with a grain of salt, but ask the holy spirit to audit what was said, and to speak the truth to me through it, and if, faith holds, you will have a child. remember though, that what those said are said i faith, and that the faith should not be put into what they say, but into the holy spirit which *may* have said it through them.

good luck and God bless either way. :) remember, every child is a blessing from him, and he will not birth a child when he knows that it will not have a good chance of flourishing. In time it may come, but for now, God may see that you may not be in the time/place in your life/personal relationship with God/eachother.

sorry, making this longer then expected, just know, that if it is in his plan then you will have children, it is simply a matter of time, if not, then remember, that it is not you nor your husbands fault, but his doing.

Mary said...

While I see where you are coming from, I still have to disagree. Our not being "tuned into Him" is our own fault, but that does not mean God will play hide and seek with His will for us, while simultaneously revealing it to other people. God may use others to confirm His plan for our lives, but He will not keep us in the dark while enlightening others.

I appreciate your comments, I just ask that where I am coming from also be understood...for the infertile couple, everything I've posted is something we've all heard and quite frankly are sick of. I think sometimes it's hard for parents to relate to that, and hence we get the answers we do. I pray that this post has encouraged others who struggle with infertility to know they aren't alone.

Mary said...

Just to add, this is not a matter of being "partially correct"...it is a lesson that God taught me and my husband (and He has also taught to others struggling with infertility): to not trust in the word of man who has a "feeling" but rather trust in His leading alone....to tune out everyone else and listen ONLY to Him. This is why I say God won't play a game of hide & seek.

Mary said...

For the sake of those struggling with infertility (since this particular entry is linked on a few infertility support sites), I ask that any further comments made by anyone who happens across this entry be prayerfully considered. Trust me, we ALL know the answers of "children are a blessing", "it's all in His time", etc. Please also remember the Scripture that reminds us to weep with those who weep. These are hard struggles infertile ones face, and we need the listening ear to hear us vent and cry sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I have PCOS and DH and I have been TTC for just over 2 years now. These comments are a breath of fresh air! Glad I am not the only one who has to resort to sarcasm in my head with answers to silly questions. The amount of times we have to bite our toungs! I just have to add that I do not think there is ANYTHING anyone can say to an infertile that helps or comforts. Every comment seems annoying, irritating and stupid coming from anyone who is pregnant or has children or even the infertiles who are going through an optimistic phase! As a women, when you cannot control the one thing you want with all of your little heart and mighty soul: to create life inside you with the man you love, there is no word that will comfort. Not one. You feel like a man really! Except you have to pee sitting down! And reading your comments on God, well...I am trying to keep my faith, but infertility has made me rethink and read long and hard on topics that question the existence of God. As women we often ask 'why?' and 'Imust be doing/have done something wrong' I must be "bad" in some way. My God does not want me to feel guilty and forgives and loves. The only thing I have read which keeps me beleiving is the book of Samuel. If we are meant to pray and hang on God answering prayers, do we dare seek medical intervention in God's department?? Is this sinful? I do not think so. If it is succesful, is this God's work? Or mans success? I just think we have to learn patience and then fight harder in life. Wether that message is from God or my own thought, that's what I have learnt through this f@#$ed-up journey! (And that I can be angrier and more upset than I ever imagined i could be.) I do not know what is worse, losing a child or never being able to have one. Sorry, am having a terribly pessimistic day. My final comment from my heart is good-luck baby-making, try harder and when you feel that you can't try anymore, try even harder. Fight for what you deserve as any human does.

Susan said...


I thought your article was excellent and well done! I also think that "anonymous" person was very insensitive and that persons comment was uncalled for and only added fuel to the fire. Don't you just love it when you pour your heart out on a blog, and some religious know-it-all corrects you?

I agree with your responses to her and I would have not been so nice. lol. I am also have been struggling with my own infertility journey so I understand completely! Hugs!

Jeepgirl24 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen said...

Hi Mary,

I read your blog; as my Sister made a facebook comment reguarding her own struggles with what not to say to infurtiles.
This is her Comment;

"can ONLY think about the next transfer - If I will survive the mental fatigue leading up to it! Oh and if you don't know what to say to an 'infertile' or someone going through IVF GOGGLE 'what not to say to an infertile' ignorance is not acceptable!!!! :) OK I have destressed for just now!!! I think I need a nap!! :)"

My name is Steve, and I did a google search and found your blog. I really appriacate your honesty. I have a sister who is in the same boat as you and your husband, with her husband. I am just learning how to be a good brother to her. Your blog has helped me to understand a little more. I guess the only thing we have to hold onto in all things is Gods "grace". Yet nomatter what it's only Gods grace that gets us through each day.

I don't agree with what "Anonymous" said; Most people who comment on Gods behalf about our own future usually do this to make themselves look more holy (or should I say self rightuos)then you, and most of the time they are insensitive to our own needs or pain. I guess thats ok as long as they feel, and look good as they acclaim to be Gods messenger to everyone who is going through hard times.

I pray that God comforts you through the "Holy Spirit" in your time of need as I pray that He helps me to be the Brother that my sister needs in her time of need.

God Bless you both in all things


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mary said...

I realize that the comment made by anonymous can be considered hurtful to those who have or still struggle with infertility. It is an ignorant comment. However, I find myself concerned with them emails I'm getting that have been on the attack of this person and now I've deleted a comment containing cursing. Brothers and sisters, this is a completely inappropriate way to help people understand the struggles infertile couples go through. This blog entry existed for me to vent, but also to allow myself to heal. While not all will understand the struggles I have had, I do NOT condone acting in a low manner to get a point across. Let's remember to act in a manner that edifies each other and brings glory to God. I would hate to begin moderating comments when this has been reaching out to people. Thank you.

Alena said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Anonymous said...

Some people can really hurt your feelings. Or even anger you. Like in our case. I've been for numerous tests, scopes, scans, etc. Just to make sure. Everything is normal, healthy and on schedule. DH, however, has low sperm count and much lower motility and he's extremely close to forming a complexion about it. But instead of people asking how his varicocelectomy went and if the new medication is helping, I get the beatings about "how we should do it", what positions to try, that I should eat egg yolks (what the heck?), that I must just forget about it, you name it. My own housedoctor put me on 100mg of Clomid for 4 months and it wrecked pretty much every system in my body. It's so unfair. They KNOW where the problem is and they make me feel as being the problem! I'm not the problem! Whoever caused my husband to severe his spinal cord is the problem!

HF said...

Hi Mary,

Thanks for this blog. I've been struggling to cope with all the fertility issues, guilt feelings, feelings of failure, regret, worries about weather I am doing something wrong, etc. etc. etc. I think you all have a very good idea what I am talking about. I felt alienated from the fertile world especially since everyone else just seem to decide to have a baby and next thing they announce 'Its a healthy boy/girl!' As easy as buying a car or house.

Then the comments: Oh my word, people don't have a clue. Even my darling husband has said some of the no-go things to me. I've also had the:
'Just relax' (You never say 'Just relax' to someone who lost a child
"Forget about it"(you wont say that to someone who just lost an arm or leg)
and my favorite:
"What's wrong with you guys?" But said in a joking manner, almost as if to say 'You idiots, how could you get 'THAT' wrong?'
Ok, where should I start? I have PCOS, All stages Endometriosis, bicornate uterus, acidic CT, and hormones all over the place and I do not respond to fertility drugs, all that kind of makes it possible for me to fail at 'THAT'.
But I bite my lip and shut up, and then I get into the closest loo and cry my eyes out.

Ok, I need to end this comment. Something else I was also looking for is some advice on how you gals (and guys) cope. Survival tips. Things that help you stay sane, etc. Its been a year now TTC and it is taking its toll on me. Holidays makes no difference cause my cycle/last thereof goes on holiday with me and I am constantly aware of it. This is my SOS.

God bless

Shinta said...

Hi Mary. Thank you for posting this. We are also experiencing infertility. I had cancer when I was 21 (before I met my husband), and had to have hysterectomy. Knowing that we wouldn't be able to have kids even since before we decided to get married doesn't make it any easier now that we are married. A big hug to you!

Would you mind if I translate this post into Indonesian (I'm Indonesian and I own an Indonesian blog) for my readers since a lot of them have been asking me what kind of stuff I would like to hear (or not hear) when I talk about our struggles. Thanks! =)


Mary said...

Dear Shinta,
I'm so sorry for your personal struggles with this, especially with cancer added to the equation. And you're absolutely right...knowing ahead of time doesn't make it any easy. Having the knowledge of not being able to have children doesn't take away that internal desire.

By all means, please do translate it. It's my hope and prayer that even if people don't actually understand infertility through personal experience, they can at least be more sensitive with their words.

Many blessings to you!

HanShinta said...

Thank you soo much, Mary. =) Be blessed! =)

MINightOwl said...

Mary, I am so glad I found your blog through a Google search. I believe God led me to it.

My experience is a bit different: I am a recent widow at age 45 who is re-evaluating her priorities in life. I have wanted to be a mom since I was in my 20's, but went through a series of failed relationships, dates that went nowhere, and long dry spells of being alone. This lasted until I was 33 and began dating the man I eventually married. He was just like me in every way but one: I discovered he was adamantly against having children. By the time I knew this, I was in my late 30's and felt I had to choose between motherhood or companionship. I chose to have his companionship, being in love with him and not having any idea he would die of a sudden heart attack at 48. Now, the maternal instinct I suppressed for more than a decade has resurfaced in a big way as part of my grieving process. I am grieving both for the husband I lost and the family I sacrificed to be with him.

I am now considering single-parent adoption, knowing it will be an expensive, tremendous uphill battle. I'm hearing some of the same things you've heard while trying to conceive - in particular, the "I know it will happen" comment. There's also all kinds of unsolicited advice and opinions - everyone seems to want to weigh in on whether I should adopt domestically or internationally, older child or baby, same vs. different ethnic heritage, special needs or healthy, and the list goes on. I believe this is a matter that should be left between God and me; I think a simple "I'm praying for you and wish you the best, let me know if I can help" is the best thing to say.

I would like to add something to avoid saying to someone who is both childless and single (in particular, widowed): "Oh, you're still young, you'll remarry and your husband will probably have kids you can love!" Yes, I have heard this more than once over the 9 months since my husband died. There are two huge assumptions being made here: that I am 100% guaranteed to find another husband, and that having stepchildren will take away my desire to have a child of my very own.

I'm glad to know there are people on a similar path as me, if not the exact same path. It gives me a sense of comfort.

Anya said...

What a truthful and amazing post. I cried when I read your story because I was you three years ago. I have PCOS and suffered from infertility for seven years. Three different doctors told me I would most likely never have children. I suffered several early miscarriages and one late miscarriage with no answers for years.
I pray that what I am about to share gives you hope...where I sit now I am watching my three beautiful daughters. The doctors were wrong and I am the proud mother of two year old twins and a brand new baby girl. Miracles can happen and God hears your pain. The only thing that truly helped me was knowing that God was crying with me. I will be praying that you get your rainbow soon. Don't give up hope.

Anya said...

What a truthful and amazing post. I cried when I read your story because I was you three years ago. I have PCOS and suffered from infertility for seven years. Three different doctors told me I would most likely never have children. I suffered several early miscarriages and one late miscarriage with no answers for years.
I pray that what I am about to share gives you hope...where I sit now I am watching my three beautiful daughters. The doctors were wrong and I am the proud mother of two year old twins and a brand new baby girl. Miracles can happen and God hears your pain. The only thing that truly helped me was knowing that God was crying with me. I will be praying that you get your rainbow soon. Don't give up hope.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this insightful blog. I am a nurse working with couples trying to get pregnant naturally and we have had success with a number of couples. With your endometriosis it is good to seek medical advice. I would highly suggest a NaPro technology medical provider. They are specially trained to help couples overcome infertility using everything science and technology have to offer, but they do not use in vitro or other ethically controversial means. They have actually had twice as much success than in vitro for people with endometriosis. A good website is www.fertilitycare.org. I realize this is a difficult cross to carry. I hope you continue to find support in good friends. God bless you and your husband.

Mary said...

Anya, thank you for your sweet words. I actually have two children now and they are indeed miracles. I am so happy you got your miracles also!!

Anonymous, I actually have two children now since I posted this. But there is something I thought would give more insight...when responding to people on infertility posts/forums, trust me when I say they know more than you realize when it comes to options, medical or otherwise. The whole "you should do this or that" when it comes to advice can strike a nerve with infertile couples, as though you're saying they aren't aware of the options. Medical advice is what led to my endo diagnosis to begin with. ;) I am not saying your advice is wrong, but I do think it's important to let an infertile couple decide on their own time when they should seek out medical treatment. This is a huge process/journey and the couple needs to take every step on their own time.