What to say and NOT say to someone living with infertility

So someone’s told you that they’re struggling with fertility. AKA they’re trying to get pregnant and it’s not happening. This can be such tricky territory to navigate – particularly if you’re a mum, or are expecting a baby soon yourself. What do you even say?!

Most people feel awkward and don’t know ‘the right thing’ to say when talking about infertility. It’s not just you. But how you respond, and how you treat a woman going through it, really matters.

So we’re gonna straight-up tell you what to say and NOT say to someone living with infertility. (And their partners… because those guys are affected by it too.) But first…

Get your facts straight about infertility

Google this: ‘what is infertility

Better yet – have a read through some of our resources about infertility.

You’ll learn that it’s when a couple isn’t falling pregnant, despite having frequent (often perfectly timed) sex. Typically the ‘I’ word is applied after 12 months of trying.

Don’t make assumptions about what causes infertility

It’s not always to do with the woman. (Actually, it’s just as likely to be due to male fertility problems, or something to do with both partners.) It’s not always to do with age, weight, or pre-existing health conditions. And it’s not always treatable. 

Infertility can be caused by:

  • Disorders of the uterus (e.g. endometriosis) or ovaries (e.g. polycystic ovary syndrome).
  • Problems with ovulation.
  • Blocked fallopian tubes.
  • Hormonal disorders in males or females (e.g. thyroid disease).
  • Blockages in the tubes that carry semen.
  • Certain types of cancers or cancer treatments (e.g. chemotherapy).
  • Issues with sperm production, function, or quality.
  • Lifestyle factors, or exposure to toxic substances.

And sometimes, what causes infertility can’t be explained at all.

Get versed on infertility lingo

When getting into the thick of talking about infertility, some new terms might come up that you don’t fully understand. Here are a few to look up (so you feel a little more versed in fertility-speak):

  • Assisted reproduction technologies – This refers to things like intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilisation (IVF). They’re ways to conceive with the help of medical intervention.

  • Fertility testing This is when couples get blood tests, a semen analysis, and additional forms of invasive poking and prodding, to see how fertile they are. There are also some at-home fertility test options available.

  • Donor sperm/donor eggs – Couples experiencing infertility may use donated sperm or eggs to help them conceive if their own are no good. Same-sex couples often rely on donations too.

  • Genetic testing – Couples can have a blood test to check if they carry certain genetic mutations that could lead to their baby having health conditions. There’s a whole science to this process, and genetic counsellors can get involved to advise on it too. The results of these genetic carrier screening tests can better inform infertility diagnosis, or prompt people to try and conceive in another way.

Bonus: Pregnancy acronyms that might come up too.

Read up on stories of infertility

With 10–15 per cent of couples of reproductive age experiencing infertility, it’s not hard to find some firsthand accounts. Doing some digging can help you better understand what your friend is going through.

For starters, take a look at personal stories on the Resolve website, operated by the National Infertility Association in the US.

Remember, talking about infertility isn’t taboo

Infertility doesn’t have to be swept under the rug, like a shameful thing. We can talk about it! And if someone has told you about their fertility challenges, they might want to talk about it.

That said, before you mentally refer to them as ‘that infertile person’, remember how exhausted they might be from constantly thinking about it and speaking to fertility doctors on the topic. They might benefit more from healthy distractions. (Have any good memes to share?)

The best way to find out if someone actually wants to talk about their infertility (and how much they want to share), is by asking them directly. Yeah, you’re allowed to do that!

Now, before you open your mouth AT ALL, please read on.

Things you should NOT say to someone living with infertility

We asked the Mumli community about the WORST people said to them while they were living with infertility. Results are in. Here are the sort of comments to avoid at all cost.

You can always adopt!

“Why don’t you adopt?” 

“There is always adoption. (Of course you know this!!)” 

Reality is, adoption isn’t very accessible in Australia. It’s hella pricey, and besides, people might not like it as an option.

Don’t stress

“Any form of ‘just relax’, ‘if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen’.”

“Maybe if you just relax it will happen.” 

“Try and stress less about it.” 

“You just need to be patient and relax.”

Oh, thanks. I’ll just stop stressing then.

At least you know you can get pregnant

“At least you know you can get pregnant (after 2 back to back miscarriages)” 

“At least you fell pregnant. (I’d just miscarried.)” 

Getting pregnant and losing the baby is not reassuring. It’s awful.

Have you tried ‘X’?

“My mam told me to go for a swim.”

“You’re not really serious about getting pregnant unless you’re having sex every other day.” 

“Anything involving praying for me.”

“Are you sure you’re having enough sex at the right time?” 

“My Aunty once told me to rub my belly on my pregnant cousin’s belly to help.” 

Keep your weird-a** wives’ tales to yourself, thank you. You may want to ‘fix it’ and provide solutions, but the thing is you can’t! And you don’t need to. Giving advice like this also suggests that the person isn’t not doing everything they can to get pregnant, and that infertility is their ‘fault’. Something that can be fixed easily. That’s not the case.

It’s not meant to be

“Maybe you weren’t meant to be a mother.” 

“Maybe it’s just not meant for you.” 

This hurts. The World Health Organization states that, “Infertility can negate the realisation of… essential human rights”. When someone is living with infertility, they’re being denied their right to become a parent. Everyone deserves it if they want it.

Stay positive

“You need to be more positive or you’ll never get pregnant.” 

We’re not about toxic gratitude around here. Statements like this fail to validate feelings. A woman can be upset about infertility if she wants!

And please for the love of god, don’t do these things:

  • Avoid talking about it (or worse – avoid THEM!)
  • Give advice (unless you are their fertility specialist).
  • Gossip about it or share their news.
  • Push them for details, or follow up after their appointments. (They’ll tell you when they’re ready.)
  • Try and sell them on kid-free life (i.e. kids are hard work anyway).

Those things suck.

Helpful things you could say to someone living with infertility

So here are the types of comments that mums report helped them feel better.

This sucks, how can I help you?

“It’s bloody hard. We’re here for you. Empathy vs sympathy.”

Validate. Their. Feelings. Show that you’re there for them. It’s as simple as that.

You’re on a journey, and you’re amazing right now.

“You are doing everything that you can right now.”

“You’re not merely waiting. You’re growing in your capacity.” 

We love the idea of using hardship as an opportunity to grow. Why not remind your friend how strong and amazing they are for going through all this? They might feel helpless, but they’re doing awesome.

I love you

“Random texts from friends that they are thinking about me, especially on appt days.” 

Simply checking up on your pal goes a long way. Remind them you’re there and you care.

And if words fail you, do these things:

  • Help them take their mind off it with nice distractions. (Chocolate.)
  • Help them with the mental load of it all. Run a few errands.
  • Offer to go to appointments with them.
  • Just listen.

A final note on talking about infertility

Different people will appreciate different things. Some want to talk about all the details. Some want to cry. Others want distraction. Suss out what your friend needs from you. And don’t be offended if they need space. If you’re pregnant or have kids, it might be hard for them to spend time with you. Give them time and let them know you’ll be there no matter what.

It’s always a good idea to encourage your friend to talk to a professional, too. And if you’re struggling with their news, you might benefit from chatting to a counsellor as well. Talking about infertility can be awkward, but it’s important. You’ve got this, girl.

Read next: A guide to understanding the diagnosis of unexplained fertility

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