The Art of Giving Advice to Your Infertile Friend-DON’T!

Dawn Davenport


5 things you shouldn't say to an infertile friend

The Art of Giving Advice to Your Infertile Friend-DON’T!

May I offer a gentle suggestion to the friends of those who suffer from infertility—they really really don’t want to hear your words of wisdom. It’s not that the infertile are arrogant jerks who know it all; it’s just that if they have been trying to conceive for more than a year, they probably know light years more about conception than you could even imagine. The ability to get pregnant does not make you an expert on conception; it simply makes you lucky.

1.  Don’t Tell Them about What Position Worked for You.

Sexual position doesn’t really help much with conception, and unless discussing sexual techniques is something you routinely do together, at its best it’s awkward; at it’s worst, it downright weird. Elevating your legs after intercourse may help a little, but trust me, they’ve tried that.

2.  Don’t Tell Them They Can Always Adopt.

It is impossible to be infertile and not at least have thought about adoption. Chances are pretty good they know a whole lot more about adoption than you do. Unless they tell you they are adopting, you can safely assume that for now they have decided to continue with infertility treatment.

3.  Don’t Tell Them That Kids Aren’t all They are Cracked up to Be.

That’s like eating a chocolate sundae while telling the person who is sitting across from you with an empty plate that your sundae is really too rich.  This is wrong on so many different levels, not the least of which is that it is not helpful and borderline mean.

4.  Don’t Tell Them to Relax.

For the love of God, don’t tell them to relax or any synonym for relax such as “avoid stress”, “go on a vacation”, “buy a bottle of wine”, or “try meditation”. Rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t say it to a person suffering from the disease of cancer, don’t say it to a person suffering from the disease of infertility.

5.  Don’t Tell Them Not to Worry.

That’s just plain stupid and makes them feel all the more alone.

What to Say to an Infertile Friend

Simply say you are sorry this is happening to them. Ask them what you can do to lighten their pain or make their life just a smidgen easier. Call on treatment day? Bring dinner that night? Give them a hug?

What is something you wish the fertility blessed folks in your life would not say to you? What is the single kindest thing someone has said or done?

P.S. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, please let your friends and family know what they should and should not say to others who suffer from the disease of infertility. Sometime what seems rude to us, is actually just ignorance. Share these suggestions.


Image Credit: San Diego Shooter

24/04/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 38 Comments

38 Responses to The Art of Giving Advice to Your Infertile Friend-DON’T!

  1. Avatar feitcanwrite says:

    The best thing a fertile person can say to an infertile person:

    Absolutely, positively nothing. Seriously. Just shut it and appreciate how lucky you are that you were able to conceive your little rug rat without shots, hormones, unsexy sex, and a team of doctors and nurses.

    If you really must say something, start with “I’m so sorry. That must be very rough for you”. Then shut up and listen.

  2. Avatar Joanna says:

    I love this Dawn Davenport. I was actually laughing at this because I did share some reproductive tips with a friend of mine (they’d been trying to conceive for several months)…and they got pregnant the next month! I’m always telling friends I probably know more then their OBGYN. As for what not to say, I had a co-worker gripe and complain horribly to me nearly every day about how much she hated being pregnant. We’d just lost our second child (which she didn’t know). I had another co-worker run interference for me so I could avoid her as much as possible. Never complain about your pregnancy to a woman who doesn’t have children. I also highly recommend enlisting a close friend or sister to run interference for you at baby showers and family events…you know, when people start asking, “Do you have kids?”, etc.

  3. Avatar Kathleen says:

    You know its interesting, I don’t think there is much anyone can say ever when you are deep into your journey for a child. I remember reconnecting with my college roommate after we had decided to stop infertility treatments and solely pursue adoption. She on the other hand did 7 rounds of IVF and lots of stuff in between to finally have her 2 boys. While she was pregnant with her second we were waiting for something, no referrals, just hope and after talking with my friend I would just cry. Doubt jumped in and eventhough the decsion was made I would wonder if we gave up too soon, blah blah blah. I cannot imagine anything anyone could have said to me during the “dark time” that I would have found comfort in. Ugh, I’m going to kiss my son now 🙂

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Kathleen, I think you are absolutely right. I wish there was a good way to remind ourselves of this fact when we are deep in the wallowing!

  4. Sue Taylor Sue Taylor says:

    Dawn, I loved this: “The ability to get pregnant does not make you an expert on conception; it simply makes you lucky.” 😉

  5. Leilani Writer Leilani Writer says:

    Absolutely. I think people have always been well meaning towards my situation..but as the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I may over share my infertility sometimes and be too much of an open book, but it’s in an effort to educate. I still remember three years ago when we were just starting to get to the point of knowing that we were going to have a problem, my best friend came over and decided that mother’s day was the right day to tell me that she was pregnant. Sadly, while we still speak, my heart was never able to move past this (that and her telling me throughout the pregnancy that she’d do anything to change places with me). People need to realize that whether it’s IF or something else, we truly cannot get what someone else is going through and trying to minimize their pain only serves to make it worse.

  6. Dawn, I wrote extensively about this topic in my book. Infertility is so frustrating, so heartbreaking. I took 65 negative pregnancy tests and heard all the above. My cousin even told me to scream, “Devil, get out of my life!” (Which, I did.)

    I think friends and relatives should educate themselves privately so they don’t come across as insensitive or ignorant. I’m giving a talk to a MOPS group (Mothers of Preschoolers) and plan to deliver such a message.


  7. I talk a bit about this in my upcoming book on infertility/adoption, How Much Did You Pay for Her?
    Lots of things like those posted.
    Especially hurtful was the comment from more than one person that I didn’t have enough faith in God to get me pregnant. That felt like being hit by a brick with a note attached to it that read “condemnation.”

  8. Avatar Jessica says:

    I have heard every single one of these, especially the children post adoption, from my mom. She even said it to my sister who had one baby through IVF after two blocked tubes. The frustrating part is, if you react at all, even to pull away, I have found that people claim it is our problem, not realizing how hurtful they are. My brother has given me trouble about it repeatedly, telling me he really understood when it took him 2 months to conceive the first (and first try on the second). My question is: is there a response that is not rude but will let people know that they are hurting you?

  9. Avatar Colleen says:

    The one I hate is God gives u as many children as he sees fit!! Ugh yeah I’m sure God had that number all planned out for me. Also hate after u adopt ull get pregnant and go on vacation too. But I think the best advice to tell friends not to say to someone struggling w infertility is- ur lucky I didn’t want or plan on three!! Aaaghhh!

  10. Carolyn, I’m always looking for the silver lining of getting older. I’ll take any I can get. {smile}

  11. Avatar Carolyn says:

    Ladies, I have to say, it does get less bad (I didn’t say BETTER!!!) The dynamics change as you approach (peri)menopause. People stop pulling the “well, you’re still young” (perhaps because I look 50, IDK…) and when you are in your late 30s or older, many women are out of helicopter parenting mode and beginning to reclaim their identity beyond “mom”…. some are becoming grandparents due to their teens having a baby, or their children are starting to make life choices that hurt their parents.

    YMMV. This has been my experience. It was WAY worse when I was 36 (because “you’re still young”) and starting the IF journey after the stillbirth of a natural conception than at 40 when that IF journey ended with s/b #2. After 40 I heard the platitudes mentioned here a lot less!!!!

  12. Avatar Camille says:

    Another thing I hated is when people “friends” who didn’t believe in ART would tell me that we shouldn’t be trying to have a child like that and that was probably why “God wouldn’t give us a baby”. Then when we decided to adopt another “friend” said “good, that’s what you should have done to begin with.
    Both of these friends were male and each had two children less than a year apart in age. Very insensitive.

  13. Avatar Leilani says:

    I passed this one on Dawn Davenport! So important. I still remember the time someone I worked with told me she knew what I was going through because her husband insisted on having a vasectomy after baby #5 and she had wanted more…um…yeah..sure

  14. Avatar Whole Child says:

    I have an old friend who I’ve known since Jr. High who tells everyone that her parents were able to get pregnant with her because they adopted her older sister and could finally relax and stop trying…my sister in law also had a bio child after adopting three infants…but it was 10 yrs after the last adoption…the human body can’t just “relax and conceive a child.” Being anxious to have a baby does not cause infertility! That is as crazy as the argument that women don’t get pregnant from rape b/c their bodies “know the difference.” It is not scientific or logical, and it is a myth that “relaxing” can help you get pregnant if you are infertile.

  15. Avatar Whole Child says:

    Love this one…perfect…reposting!

  16. Avatar Gemma says:

    I think Suzy’s comment is the one I hate the most (and heard while holding my beautiful perfect daughter), that and why don’t you go on vacation.

  17. Thanks Leilani, I really appreciate that. It’s like the person who says they totally get the pain of infertility because it took them 4 months to get pregnant. On some level, I get that they are trying to empathize and that is a kind thing to do. On the other hand, it somehow minimizes what the “truly infertile” are going through.

  18. Avatar Suzy says:

    All of that plus- as soon as you adopt, you’ll get pregnant. And “Trust in God. He promised you children.” Really? Where?

  19. Avatar Deborah says:

    I struggle with this one. I did have some trouble conceiving both of my kids, but nowhere near what many others have gone through. Sometimes I want to tell other infertiles that I know what they feel, but then I wonder if they’ll be insulted because it only took me a year and a half, only took 3 IUI’s etc. I try to preface it by saying that I might know a little of how they feel, even though I haven’t been in their exact situation. So far, people seem to be receptive. It is hard to know the right thing to say.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Deborah, I hear you and you raise a fabulous point which I try to keep in the forefront–Pain is Pain, and my pain is not worse than yours. You have experienced the fear of not being able to have children. You have cried over the pregnancy test. You have experienced infertility. Period. That you found success sooner than some others does not make you illegible to express your thoughts. Thank you so much for reminding us of that fact. I think the way you phrased it sounds perfect.

  20. Avatar Anon AP says:

    Can we add not to tell them about the friend/relative/etc. who just took a supplement or changed their diet and got pregnant? I’m so happy for them. Probably investigated that route already during the year of trying and months of medical workups and consultations. If we ain’t expecting, then either it don’t work for us or the data are so spurious and/or thin that we ain’t wasting our time on it.

    In fairness though, some of these comments result from well-meaning people faced with a situation they aren’t familiar with or, alternatively, with one they are too familiar with because of over-sharing (guilty). Previously you’ve posted about sharing too much about an adoptee’s history with people who don’t need to know, and one similar guideline may apply here: if you don’t want people to comment on your situation, don’t share it. Conversation is largely based on hearing about something and then responding to it by adding more information. If that added information is weak…well, people will still try to provide it. We on the infertile side of life need to also be mindful that we can’t always ask people to just listen and be blandly supportive. Sometimes we need to vent, and sometimes we need to be aware of the tolerance limits of our friends and family. We also should probably avoid launching into lecture mode if someone gives us goofball advice unless there’s a genuine interest in learning more. We were probably the ones who opened the door. Not very nice to slam it on the people who tripped while walking through it, though a gentle nudge to close it (e.g., “oh, um. yes, thanks. How ’bout those Cubs?”) is sometimes a sanity saver for everyone.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Anon AP, I’m giving you a standing ovation! Especially, this part: [We on the infertile side of life need to also be mindful that we can’t always ask people to just listen and be blandly supportive. Sometimes we need to vent, and sometimes we need to be aware of the tolerance limits of our friends and family. We also should probably avoid launching into lecture mode if someone gives us goofball advice unless there’s a genuine interest in learning more. We were probably the ones who opened the door. Not very nice to slam it on the people who tripped while walking through it,]. The only thing I’d add is that I think it is often helpful to share what you are going through because if you don’t you won’t ever be able to receive support. Perhaps the best advice is to not be too judgmental of others when trying to give their support. Of course, now I feel a little hypocritical since that flies in the face of this blog. 🙂

  21. Whole Child, thanks so much for sharing. That helps us more than you know! As a nonprofit, we don’t have an advertising budget (altho we’re trying out FB ads right now), so we depend on you guys to spread the word. Thanks for doing that!

  22. Avatar Whole Child says:

    Good point, Anon AP. I will never have the support of my extended family when it comes to my feelings about infertility b/c the very things I am asking them to be sensitive to (like not making the big pregnancy announcement during the Christmas family gathering, but giving me time to accept the news privately) are things that they have done in the past…now they feel they need to justify their actions of the past in spite of my hurt feelings…I will never win the argument with them that family and friends should be sensitive to infertile people like me b/c they don’t want to think about how they have unintentionally hurt me and their other infertile friends in the past. Even my husband will “take their side” in this argument and stick up for their right to their feelings.

  23. Avatar Vera says:

    love this!

  24. Avatar Tatiana says:

    People do say horrible things sometimes. After years of infertility and finally finishing the adoption paperwork, I got breast cancer over a year ago. Upon explaining the treatment to a “friend”, she compared my summer of chemo followed by the surgery with her third trimester pregnancy and her birth around the time of my surgery and telling me we are doing similar stuff around the same time (being tired during the summer and the hospital early fall). It got me so mad and now I am always on edge around her. I always expect her to say mean stuff. The sad part is that I don’t think she realized how hurtful it was even with me telling her so. I still see her but I don’t much stuff when I do.

  25. Avatar Leilani says:

    Emily, that’s the worst. Always made me so angry

  26. Avatar Emily says:

    I hate it when parents “offer” me their children. “You can have mine. Haha.” NOT funny.

  27. Avatar Cyndi says:

    I heard this advice. I was also told to pray. People offered me their children (“Oh, you want kids? You can take mine.”) I was told countless stories about people who adopted and THEN got pregnant. My absolute favorite(s) is a tie between “maybe its not meant to be” and “maybe its not in God’s plan.” I agree with your comment about luck. I never thought of my infertility as a punishment or part of some grand master plan. We just had bad luck. However, it was our determination and stubbornness despite all of the hassles and setbacks that allowed us to bring home a little girl nearly 10 months ago. Resolve and strength trumps luck!

  28. Avatar Katherine A says:

    I think one of the single kindest things a friend said to me when I told them that I was struggling with infertility was simply: “I’m so sorry.” And then, instead of giving platitudes or bad advice, she admitted something to the effect of “I don’t know what to say. I want to help, and I don’t want to upset or hurt you.”

    Her being willing to admit that allowed me the gift of being able to express what it was that I needed from her (which in my case was that I just needed to talk about what had happened to me and that I was distressed by it).

    Sometimes how I react to stuff people say to me about infertility really varies. I’m more willing to be charitable even if people say the “wrong” thing if I can tell that it’s said not to be dismissive, but in genuine concern because the individual didn’t know what else to say…then I’m much more okay with it (and gently educating them so that they have some better things to say in the future when possible). If it’s dismissive, though, that’s infuriating to me. It can also depend on a person’s history. What sounds dismissive from a fertile person can be okay from a fellow infertile at times, depending on the situation, relationship, and history there.

  29. Avatar Carolyn says:

    It’s up to the listener to react to what you are saying. People get butthurty about lots of things. I can’t control someone’s reaction….. Just tell yourself that the difference between genius and stupidity is only one can be measured…. =P

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑

Content created by Creating a Family. And remember, there are no guarantees in adoption or infertility treatment. The information provided or referenced on this website should be used only as part of an overall plan to help educate you about the joys and challenges of adopting a child or dealing with infertility. Although the following seems obvious, our attorney insists that we tell you specifically that the information provided on this site may not be appropriate or applicable to you, and despite our best efforts, it may contain errors or important omissions. You should rely only upon the professionals you employ to assist you directly with your individual circumstances. CREATING A FAMILY DOES NOT WARRANT THE INFORMATION OR MATERIALS contained or referenced on this website. CREATING A FAMILY EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS LIABILITY FOR ERRORS or omissions in this information and materials and PROVIDES NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, implied, express or statutory. IN NO EVENT WILL CREATING A FAMILY BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES, including without limitation direct or indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages, losses or expenses arising out of or in connection with the use of the information or materials, EVEN IF CREATING A FAMILY OR ITS AGENTS ARE NEGLIGENT AND/OR ARE ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.