Throughout our infertility journey we’ve been surrounded by people who love and support us and who have been very sensitive to our challenges. I couldn’t have done this without their support. As a result I write this slightly nervously as I don’t want to offend anyone or to make anyone feel bad. But the more I speak to others who are on similar journeys, the more I feel I need to write it. Because quite frankly, we all say things out of ignorance that hurt others.

I get it, we want the best for those we love. We want to share our wisdom and our ideas. But let’s face it, we never really know what is going on in someone else’s life. Most people who struggle with infertility are nowhere near as open as I am!

One in six couples in Canada struggle with infertility, so there is a high chance that you know several people who are on that journey right now. This struggle also isn’t something that only couples face. Many singles long to have children and their dreams and desires are very real and, since they don’t have a partner to confide in, even more isolating. Many families with one child would love to have more but suffer from secondary infertility. This too is more painful and common than we might think.

Below are my top five phrases that I wish people would stop saying! I’m sure there are others and I’d love people to add these to the comments section.

“Enjoy trying!”

It was a normal conversation when getting to know someone. We had asked and answered the standard questions about what we did and where we lived, and then came the inevitable “Do you have children?” “Not yet, but we’re trying” was my response. I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for her next line which was “enjoy the trying!”

I’m sure I joked about this with friends when we were younger, but now that I’m in the middle of trying, I realize how hurtful that is. Without going into too much detail, sex when you’re trying desperately to conceive isn’t fun! There’s a small window of opportunity and you want to make the most of it each month. So far so good, but then add in the hormones, the pressure, the high emotions, and the time sensitiveness and you have a perfect storm!

A crying wife, isn’t the most romantic setting for making love. You get the picture.

“You’re not getting any younger.” 

When I was still single, a few people would generously point out that if I wanted children I had better hurry up and get married as “you’re not getting any younger!”  “Sure”, I wanted to reply, “I’ll just take my pick from the hundreds of men lining up to marry me.”

Newsflash – it isn’t always easy to meet your future spouse!

I’m also convinced that getting married just to have children isn’t such a good idea either! I didn’t meet my husband till I was 35 so I was already past the peak fertility age when we got married. I don’t need you to tell me that!

Slightly more surprising from my perspective is that friends in their 20s have also been told that. Really, that isn’t helpful. How do we know that they are not already trying? Maybe they’ve been trying for many years and are worrying about the ticking of their biological clock.

None of us are getting younger, we don’t need you to tell us that! Maybe a story as to why they are waiting to start a family is just that, a cover story for painful truth that they can’t conceive.

I also find it hard when people tell me that I’m still young, even though I know that it is meant as an encouragement. I want to point out all the evidence against that statement. It’s not encouraging, because it’s not true! I also don’t think it’s that encouraging for people in their 20s either, because then they start to wonder what is wrong with them.

At 39, each month I have about a 5% chance of conceiving. It might be higher than winning the lottery, but most people still wouldn’t bet on those odds! I also have a much higher chance of miscarriage. Simply put, my eggs are old.

The caveat to this is that, said in the right way, it can be encouraging. My Mum, who obviously knows how old I am and who knows all the medical stats, looked me in the eye and told me that I am still young and it is still possible. I think for it to be encouraging, you have to combine empathy with hope. Empathy that says it’s hard, but hope that it is possible.

“Just Relax:

It will happen when you least expect it.”

This is the one I hear the most. If only I were to relax and forget about the fact that I want children, then I would get pregnant, or so the story goes.

Newsflash – If you HAVE to relax, then it’s nigh impossible to relax!

I also expect it (or at least hope) every month! I have found it impossible to just relax and stop trying. I want to get pregnant so much, I don’t just forget that. I have become so in tune with my body that I know when I’m ovulating. I know when my period is about to start. You can’t pretend you don’t know that.

The other problem with this comment is it tends to imply that it’s my fault for not getting pregnant. I don’t need to hear that, and while I know you’re not trying to say that, it’s still what we hear! If only I relaxed I’d get pregnant … so I’m not pregnant because I haven’t relaxed? Great, now there is more pressure next month to make sure that I do relax. Thanks vicious cycle!

“A Baby Looks Good On You!”

Since opening up about our infertility I haven’t heard this one as much, but I used to, especially when I was carrying my nieces (who are super cute!)

Let’s be honest, a baby looks good on pretty much anyone. Babies are cute! We look at the baby and not the carrier. I know a baby looks cute on me, but that’s not the reason I want one!

So what are you actually trying to say? “A baby suits you: you should consider having one.” “You’re supposed to have children by now; why don’t you?” “I want you to have children. When will you get the hint?”

How do you want me to reply? Quite frankly I would love to be carrying my own baby. I’d love to have my own child and watch them grow up. I’m grieving all those firsts that I might never get to see or experience. I wonder what my children would have been like, would have grown up to become.

But if I open my mouth to say any of those things I will just start crying, so instead I just fake a smile and say “she’s adorable, isn’t she” and walk away.

Photo by Kyle Nieber on Unsplash

“You can always adopt.”

I think adoption is beautiful thing and I have friends who have been adopted and friends who have chosen to adopt. But before you mention it to childless couples then maybe think about these things first.

Adoption isn’t a way to get pregnant!

We all know someone who knows someone who got pregnant while waiting for adoption. As my friend says on her blog “but it’s like saying adopting is some magic way of falling pregnant in the end. Adoption is not a good deed you do in the hope of ending up preggers.” I think she makes the point very well!

Adoption could be a divisive topic.

Not everyone wants to adopt and you could be opening up a can of worms if one partner is really keen and the other is completely opposed. You don’t know how many arguments have happened or tears have been shed on this topic. Be sensitive!

You can still grieve your own infertility.

Even if we choose to adopt, we can still grieve these feelings of loss. Trust me they are very real and it’s OK and even necessary to grieve. As our friends, we often need your encouragement and permission to do this.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

We don’t need solutions, we need empathy, comfort and support. When the time is right we might want to discuss other options to have a family, but we also need to do that at our own pace.

A final word!

If you have said any of the above to me then please don’t feel the need to apologize. I have probably done the same to other people without realizing it. As I said, I have been incredibly supported and loved throughout our journey. My only hope is that all of us think before we speak and that this helps those who are struggling in silence. And please don’t forget singles or families with one child.

PS If you want to learn more about my journey then please click below to read my account.

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Louise · December 10, 2018 at 6:01 pm

When we were going through the tough part of our infertility journey I had all of those comments and more. Also lots of advice around things I could do to get pregnant… ultimately it drove me to being insensitively honest back at them. The assumption was always that the infertility issues were with my body. They were not. I got to the point of replying “but that won’t fix my husbands balls!” 🤭
I feel your pain, and am still healing despite having adopted a gorgeous baby who I love more than I could have imagined.

    Helen · January 12, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    Hi Louise and thank you for your encouragement. I have to say I laughed out loud when I read your reply! I am trying to imagine their reaction. So glad that you are a Mum and finding healing. If you haven’t already I’d encourage you to read my post on waves of grief as I’m sure you are experiencing them too. I doubt we ever “get over” infertility, but it shapes us and becomes as part of who we are. Sending love and encouragement in your direction too.

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