What Not to Say to Someone Struggling with Fertility

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By News Team on April 21, 2022

For many couples, having a baby is the ultimate dream. It is usually associated with happiness and joy. But it can also be a tricky subject, especially for couples struggling to conceive. If you’re a friend or a loved one of someone trying to conceive, it can often be hard to navigate what to say and how to be supportive. Use and share these tips so you can avoid any uncomfortable moments in the future.

Don’t say: “Can’t you just do IVF?”

In vitro fertilization or IVF is the process of manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory and then transferring the embryo to the uterus.

“IVF is a complex series of treatments and not appropriate for every patient,” said Emily Evans-Hoeker, M.D., with Carilion Clinic Reproductive Medicine and Fertility. “It is definitely not the cure-all for every family.”

It is also very expensive and rarely covered by insurance, so for many couples it may not even be a realistic option.

Instead say: “Have you been in touch with a fertility specialist to discuss your options.”

It’s always good to direct a loved one back to a medical professional. There is a lot of information online, and it’s great to do online research, but it can also lead people to inaccurate information. Most couples who are having trouble conceiving are probably already talking with a specialist, but in the off chance they are not, this could be a good reminder.

Don’t say: “Just relax and then you’ll conceive.”

This type of statement can make your loved one feel like they are to blame.  Also remember, the “stress” they may be experiencing probably started after they realized they were having fertility issues, not before.

“The vast majority of couples who have trouble conceiving, are experiencing it not due to stress, but rather biological causes,” said Dr. Evans-Hoeker. “Blocked fallopian tubes, abnormal ovulation, or poor sperm production are examples of biological causes. Relaxation will not completely fix a majority of infertility diagnoses.”

Instead say: “I’m here for you if you want to talk about it or if not, let me treat you to ____ (something they’d enjoy doing).

Showing interest in your loved one’s situation can be the best support. Just know their boundaries on what they’d like to discuss and what they wouldn’t. Suggesting an activity they’d enjoy may help keep their spirits high and your bond strong.

Don’t say: “There’s always adoption.”

Adoption can be a wonderful option for some couples, but it’s not the right decision for everyone. There are often financial and emotional costs associated with adoption. Suggesting adoption in a flippant, casual way is an unrealistic solution to your loved one’s situation.

Instead say: “Have you looked at all of your options?”

Again, this shows you’re interested in their situation but not pushing any one idea. The couple needs to work through all of their options before they make any decision about family building.

Don’t say: “Who’s fault is it? His or Hers?”

“There could be many reasons why a couple is not conceiving right away,” said Dr. Evans-Hoeker. “Don’t make any assumptions that it’s one persons ‘fault’ or the other’s. We don’t like to think of it as anyone’s fault. These conditions are largely out of the patient’s control and not something they are doing intentionally. Also, just because someone is sharing that they may be having fertility issues, doesn’t mean they want to share every detail. Try to not overstep their boundaries.”

Instead say: “I’m sorry you’re having trouble conceiving, is there anything I can do to help support you?”

If your loved one or friend is already going through fertility treatments…

Don’t say: “Did the treatment work?” or “Are you pregnant?”

Remember, when they are ready to share their good news they will. It can feel really horrible to have to tell someone that “no, my treatment didn’t work” or “no, I’m not pregnant yet.”

Instead, remember…

Take their lead. Let your loved one decide how involved they want you to be, but make sure you let them know you're available to help however you can. 

If you have personal questions about fertility, talk to your primary care physician or OB/GYN, or schedule a conculation with our experts at Carilion Clinic Reproductive Medicine and Fertility.

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