10 Things You Should Never Say to Parents through IVF

Dawn Davenport


What should you not say to parents who conceived via Fertility treatment

I am p_ssed. I mean really really really mad and hurt. I was tooling around on the Creating a Family [Facebook] group and it struck me that you’d understand. I am a 43 year old mom of 10 month old twins through donor egg/ICSI IVF. (Which is why I’m not posting this myself.) A used-to-be friend asked me this weekend: “Are they yours?” I couldn’t believe it! I really couldn’t believe she would ask me this! I was for once speechless and finally just walked away and will never speak to her again. A long time ago I read your blog on Stupid Things People Say to Adoptive Parents, so I thought you’d understand. How about a blog on stupid things people say to moms through infertility treatment? Please.

OK, your request is my demand. Below are the top ten stupid things parents hear and some possible responses you can make. Or, you can just start and walk off like you did with your ex-friend. That’s pretty effective as well.

Ten Stupid Things People Should Never Say to Parents through Infertility Treatment

1. Are They Yours?

  • Well, um since I’m the one diapering, carrying, burping, and worrying over them, I sure hope they are mine? Oh, wait, surely you are not fishing to find out if we used donor eggs to help us conceive them since clearly that would be rude, and clearly none of your business?
  • Duh, of course they are mine? Honestly, sometimes I worry about you. Great dress by the way. Makes you look 10 pounds lighter (and heaven only knows, you could use the help.)
  • Why would you ask a question like that??? (And if the other person responds that they wondered if you used donor eggs…) Why would you ask such a personal question to anyone? Is this Suspend Common Courtesy Day?? Surely your mother taught you better than that.

2. I would never do that (use infertility treatment to conceive). I don’t believe in playing God.

  • Oh, I know exactly what you mean. I’m so glad I didn’t have to play God and could let Him shine in all His Glory by orchestrating the thousands, probably millions, of things that went into the conception of this child. Think of all the tiny medical discoveries, all those years of study, all those research dollars landing in exactly the right hands. You are so right that this child is one of His greatest miracles. Do you know that there are actually people who don’t get that?!?
  • I don’t believe in playing God either, but I sure don’t mind being the beneficiary of God’s blessings in developing this treatment.
  • Boy, I sure hope no one you love ever gets cancer and you have to make the decision of using medical science to save their life!

3. Are they real-(referring to twins and triplets)?

  • {Touching the nearest child} Well, they sure feel real to me. Hey, great weather we’re having isn’t it (you dufus).
  • When they are tired or hungry, they sure sound real.

4. Did you use drugs to get them (referring to twins and triplets)?

  • I don’t know about you, but the details of how you conceived your kids feels a little too personal to share in this setting.
  • Boundaries, anyone?!?!?!

5. Is he a test tube baby?

  • The term “test tube baby” was coined in 1978 and went out of common usage in 1980. Did you mean to ask if we used in vitro fertilization? (Then choose one of the following.)
    1. Yes, we were fortunate to benefit from the wonderful advances in medical science that allowed treatment of the devastating disease of infertility.
    2. As a general rule, I find it uncomfortable to discuss conception specifics with people I don’t know well. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to share the details of how you conceived with me either. Crab dip anyone?

6. If God had wanted you to have kids, you would have them naturally.

  • Well, I’m not blessed with the ability to see exactly what God had in mind, but I am absolutely sure He had a hand in the creation of this beautiful child.
  • Did you ever think that maybe God helped develop the techniques used to treat my disease?

7. All that technology stuff feels too risky to me. Aren’t you worried about the long term health risks for you and the baby? Or the possibility that there could be a mix up and it is really someone else’s child?

  • a.In vitro fertilization has been around in humans for over 30 years and in animals since 1934. So far, so good.
  • Why yes, of course, I worry about that. But the real question is why you would be so cruel to bring it up?
  • Since you know me pretty well, you already know that I am a worrier, so you already know that I do worry about stuff like this. It’s so good to have friends like you to remind me of what I need to worry about.

8. Oh man, you could have been the next Octomom!

  • No actually, I couldn’t since we did not transfer eight embryos.
  • Not likely since I am not mentally unstable, and I used an ethical doctor.

9. Why would you pay to have a baby?

  • Unless you stiffed your doctor and the hospital, you also paid to have a baby. You were just lucky enough to have insurance cover the cost.
  • Because that’s the only way I could have this precious human in my life.

10. Well, you got what you asked for so stop complaining. [Said when a parent is fried because of the demands of parenting.]

  • Thanks so much for your support. It means the world to me.
  • No matter how we get to be a parent, we are real parents and real parents get frustrated.
  • Even when I want to pull my hair out, I still recognize the blessing I’ve been given, just like I recognize the blessing of friendship (or family) even when they are being unsupportive. I have faith in the temporariness of both frustrations.

Of course, there is the perennial favorite — Why Not Just Adopt — which I’ve answered before. And in case you’re having trouble believing that someone would say any of the above comments, keep in mind that most of these came from our Facebook and Twitter community of real life parents through infertility treatment. Feel free to add your own responses or comments that you’ve received.

Have we missed any?

Image credit: Mateus Lunardi Dutra
First published in 2012. Updated in 2015.

09/09/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 40 Comments

40 Responses to 10 Things You Should Never Say to Parents through IVF

  1. Avatar Sarah says:

    Ive been through 4 grueling rounds of IVF, travelling internationally because of the cost, spent my life savings, and the process still isnt over. To say that I’m mentally tourtured by this is an understatement. But it’s also not shameful or secret, and I am open about it.

    Responding to questions from people who know nothing about IVF with rudeness, secrecy, and snark does nothing to help foster understanding about a procedure which is still a complete mystery to most people, and which large swaths of the population oppose due to their blatant ignorance.
    I’m a biology student, IVF fascinates me as a procedure, and I have no problem answering most people’s questions if they are not overtly mean, and by fostering open dialogue I have indirectly convinced a few more couples to seek fertility treatment.

    We will never have IVF respected or go mainstream or get covered by insurance if everyone keeps it secret and treats it like something no one can discuss.

  2. Avatar phani says:

    Thanks for your valuable posting, and it was very informative. (edited)

  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the useful article. You have given very good information.

  4. Avatar Dimple Sharma says:

    Useful tips, Thank you so much for post this nice blog.

    • Avatar Emily says:

      My husband and I started going through the insane amount of tests and procedures/surgeries 7 years ago to diagnose our infertility. It was extremely stressful and painful emotionally and physically, and we chose to talk about it with our immediate family. They know that my husband has azoospermia and that we decided to use a sperm donor. We have a beautiful 10 month old daughter and another on the way from the same sperm donor. My mother in law has recently been making comments IN PUBLIC about the sperm donor, asking at a church bonfire if we were planning on using the same sperm donor. When we announced we were pregnant with our second baby, she immediately asked if it was with the same donor. Why couldn’t her response have been more “normal”… like “congratulations, I’m so happy for you!”. I just feel she has had a really hard time treating our daughter and the baby on the way like her own granddaughter. She’s also been saying comments to our daughter (which I know she doesn’t understand yet-but will soon), regarding her genetics. For instance, I made a comment how the baby loves Mexican food and her response was, “well maybe she has Mexican in her”. I honestly don’t feel like she is saying these comments to be hurtful or vindictive, but they are really upsetting me and I am truly regretting ever having told our family about our decision to use a donor. The last thing I want is for my daughter and the new baby to be treated any differently by their own grandma. My husband is hurt by it as well and is planning on talking to her privately about not making comments about the donor anymore. Has anyone ever dealt with this?? Please only respond if you have gone through this and have constructive advise. Thank you 🙂

      • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

        Emily, first let me say congratulations to you on your daughter and on the new one coming along. So glad to hear that you have family around you to support you and do this parenting journey with you. But therein lies the rub, right? Inviting folks into the journey increases the odds of awkward and frustrating conversations. Especially when it’s around a topic that they might not fully understand. I think your husband’s idea to talk with his parents is spot on, particularly if he addresses it as a “we” issue rather than a “you” issue. (My mother always gave me that advice – my husband to do the hard talks with his folks, I do the tough stuff with mine. She had fantastic relationships with her in-laws so I take her advice with respect!)

        I suspect that you are right, their questions and comments likely don’t come from a place of negative intention. In light of that assumption, and in addition to asking them to pull back on the topics of donors, he might also consider sharing some educational resources with them about the issues surrounding children conceived by donors. Creating a Family has some great information that might be helpful to you guys, to prepare him to share with them.

        Here’s three links to help the two of you to “get on the same page” for that time when he does share your feelings with his parents.

        Resources on Sperm Donation, Talking with Family about Sperm Donation, and finally, Talking with Kids about Conception might also be helpful. Best wishes as you educate yourselves and your family. I know it can be hard!

  5. Avatar bob says:

    your so rong

  6. Avatar Jayesh Jani says:

    Nice Blog !
    Thank you for sharing this post.

  7. Avatar marilynn says:

    Now wait a second. If you have a friend in her forties who told you that a miracle fertility treatment was how she was able to bring home a beautiful new baby without having to adopt one – you’d be like who is this broad trying to fool, that’s not her kid. The scene is no different than a friend showing up in a Rolls Royce when last month they could barely pay the rent or keep their job at Wallmart – Is that your car? Is that your baby? Lots of people will think it and never ask for fear it might be perceived as rude, but a really close friend would feel kind of offended if their friend did not level with them and wanted them to just act like that was really her friends kid and that the miracle fertility treatment helped her friend have her very own baby.

    You know people make a very big deal these days about telling the kid the truth pointedly because saying nothing at all is lying by omission and lets them believe a biological relationship exists between them and the people raising them when it does not. Well of course the kid has a right to know the truth and so do all of their maternal and paternal relatives because who the kid is to them shapes and informs their identity as a brother or aunt etc. Also how will it make the kid feel growing up if the woman raising them tells them the truth but goes around being flippant or vague and coy w whenever someone presses her about whether or not she’s raising her own child or someone else’s? If she’s 40 years older than the kid she’s raising her relationship to the kid probably is not biological and it will come up and if she’s honest with the kid but not the world what does that say about how she feels about the kid? It says I only love this person if I can pretend to the world they are my biological child – this person cannot just be themselves and please me at the same time. I want them to pretend I am their one and only mother even though I privately told them the truth.

    She’s mad? And you are encouraging her to be flippant about it so that nobody ever knows who the person she’s raising really is.

    Wouldn’t it be healthier for her and the kid if she learned to respond ti questions about their relatedness honestly and calmly. So the kid never had to witness her being petty? She could respond to her inquisitive friend by saying “Come on you did not really think I had my own baby at 43? It’s obvious that I’m not her biological mother but I love her more than words can express. I’m not trying to fool her or you or anyone else. I’m really sorry if you thought I was hiding something from you. I figured everyone just knew.”

    • Avatar Dhtott says:

      Based on your post, you are misinformed regarding fertility treatments. You should do much more ‘homework’ before posting on a page and site such as this. IVF doesn’t automatically equal nonbiological children, even for women in their forties. I found your post extremely insensitive, which is the topic of this article…I’m presuming this irony is lost on you… =(

      • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

        Nope, not entirely lost. 🙂

      • Avatar D says:

        I was seriously about to school this clearly uneducated woman, but you’ve done a great job! And by damn I’m 40, and have the eggs to use so I’m using them!!! But if I didn’t, it certainly wouldn’t be anybody’s f-ing business!

  8. Avatar rich says:

    First, WOW! I have heard some comments over the past 15 years (that is when I started working on having a family,) but some of these are just gross! I thought id share a few, I am a gay Dad via INTL Adoption (Guatemala,) INTL Surrogacy (India,) Domestic Surrogacy (Altruistic.) I am also an embryo donor (India would not allow us to remove the emrbyo’s, so we donated them to other families.)
    1. “Wow, he must look just like his Mommy!” (home from Guatemala approx 24 hrs, my son is strapped to my chest in a carrier, he is 3 months old, I am tall, blond, blue, he is not… ) *Oh, and she touched his nose while saying that.
    2. “How much where they?” (this is a question I have heard EVERY time I have become a parent – meaning new baby joined our family… Regardless of time, place etc…)
    3. “Now, which one of you is the real father?” (our youngest happens to look like both of us – born via surrogacy, even we have asked ourselves this question, bc we do not know… BUT, we are the parents….
    I have a few more, but they are more “stories” like when I was searching for a male Cabbage Patch Kid that resembled my son and when the woman at TRU wanted me to buy a Chinese girl, and I said “my SON is from Guatemala” she informed me I needed to be open-minded? (seriously?)

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Rich, the comment about being open minded about buying a Chinese doll made me laugh out loud! Thanks for adding more examples to the list.

  9. Avatar Christine Rhyner says:

    Wow. Definitely not a sensitive, appropriate thing to say! But I do think people are quite curious and the ways in which they express that curiosity can come across as ignorant, mean and rude.
    I once had a friend quite confused when my husband and me were undergoing fertility interventions while pursuing an adoption. An adoption option just presented itself as something that could happen in as little as six weeks, so we decided to move forward with it. My friend asked if I was praying that the fertility treatments wouldn’t work since we were adopting. I told her no. She then asked if we were praying that the adoption would fall through and the treatments would work. As sure as I’m sitting here now, the thought of that little baby boy whose referral photo I’d already received and was already madly in love with being lost to me was unbearable. I gave her an emphatic no. She then asked, “So what do you want?” I told her “To be a mom.”
    People who haven’t endured the intense grief and misery that goes along with infertility and the enormous desire to parent can’t understand. If both worked out, we would be doubly blessed. But the baby whose picture I already had, whose name I knew, whose face I had studied for hours, that baby was one I was already expecting–like a pregnancy in a way.
    My sister had triplet boys through IVF. One of her sons doesn’t look like anyone in the family. One day she went to a park and saw a woman with a young daughter, same age as her son who was the spitting image of her boy. They got to talking and it turns out that they both went to the same fertility doctor. It did make her wonder for a moment. But she said she would never think of having her son tested to see if he was genetically related to both she and her husband. She says, “He’s mine now.”
    No matter the journeys we take to become parents, our children are ours–not our possessions, but our blessings to love, nurture, raise, teach, enjoy.
    I have to wonder sometimes if I hadn’t gone through such heartache and longing for a child would I be guilty of some of the same terminology as those who don’t get it? Would I say stupid things out of curiosity? I very well might. I think it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt, use situations like this to educate or enlighten. I wouldn’t toss a friend away because she made a dumb comment or I would have barely a friend left who hadn’t adopted or suffered through infertility! If we don’t forgive people we can build resentments, become overly protective of our kids, withdraw from people…it’s so not worth it. Do I grow weary of dumb comments and questions? Yes, as we all do. But I give people a lot of grace and practice a lot of forgiving.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Christine, you’re one wise woman.

    • Avatar marilynn says:

      But you said she would not test to see if the child she’s raising is related to her and her husband because “he’s mine now” then in the very same breath said children are not posessions! What if he’s someone else’s kid? Some other person’s kid who was struggling with infertility and had their eggs, sperm or embryo misappropriated or mishandled? What if that kid is really a member of someone else’s family and he’ll be denied the ability to be raised by them or at the very least to know them all because she views him as a possession that she earned through her efforts raising him and giving birth to him? What if his parents are denied the ability to know their child because she feels she’s earned the right to keep him all to herself? “he’s mine now”. Do you believe that children are not possessions or not?

      • Avatar D says:

        Wow, you are one daft person. I seriously pitty you. Quit trolling on subjects you know nothing about and clearly have no intentions of learning about!

  10. Avatar Shannon says:

    I’d like to share this to another board Dawn. Is there a way I can do that?

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Absolutely, just copy the link and then other can see the pic and read the first couple of lines, then click on the link to read the full blog.

  11. Avatar Vivian says:

    I haven’t even gotten past the snceod paragraph (I promise I’ll go back and finish!) and I’m shocked at the similiarities – we too started TTC when we were 26 and we just turned 30. However, we’re in the midst of IVF #1 right now and it’s probably going to convert to frozen embryos and FET later this summer. We also have a plan for every letter of the alphabet if this doesn’t work but we’re still thinking positively. Okay, I’ll go back and read now!

  12. Lori Nelson Stenger Lori Nelson Stenger says:

    Speaking from personal experience – I am still in the process of dealing with infertility and treatment – the waiting is number one on my list of the hardest part. I have the normal IF pet peeves, but I like to think I have pretty thick skin. I have just about all of the idiotic things you can think of said to me on a pretty regular basis. People who are not dealing directly (or have dealt with it in the past) are just ignorant. Most are not directly mean or ugly. They just don’t know that it hurts, and I can’t live life with my heart on my sleeve. It isn’t realistic or healthy. I know that I am going to be hurt by some things and I just try to avoid them. I try to view my infertility as some sort of advocacy for others that will come after me because it is important that the message get out. My pg friends know that I will be avoid them while they are pg and that I love them, but I can’t deal, and they understand because they know what I have been through (am still going through). I liken the pain that infertility brings to the emotional pain of divorce in some regards, at least on a personal level. It is super difficult, but as with all else it does get better. It is the waiting that hurts the most. I can’t say how this journey will end, but I can’t turn off the maternal instinct that is within. I just know that in the end I will be a parent whether it is via IVF (egg donation & sperm donation) or adoption. That is the hope that keeps me going.

  13. Kathleen Nolde-Martin Kathleen Nolde-Martin says:

    Again I am theorizing but maybe they see how much pain we are in and genuinely are trying to help. I can remember during the waiting for adoption, after I had given up on trying to get pregnant when even talking to a close friend who was successfully pregnant through IVF would make me cry and wonder if I was doing the right thing. Nothing is easy or simply when you are waiting.

  14. Kathleen Nolde-Martin Kathleen Nolde-Martin says:

    I’m not sure there is anything appropriate anyone can say during the waiting time (before pregnancy or placement). It is so emotionally taxing anything other than a hug or a hand squeeze seemed intrusive and wrong. I wonder if part of that wasn’t that I was parsing everyone’s words in an effort to gain some sense of control where there was none…hmmmm.

  15. Leilani Writer Leilani Writer says:

    For some reason with infertility people seem to think it’s their business to have an opinion. That’s so amazing since it’s something that people who have not gone through infertility really don’t know much about.

  16. Lindsey Wahl Vandrovec Lindsey Wahl Vandrovec says:

    It shouldn’t have been shocking to read, but it was. I think the people who ask me as an adoptive parent why I didn’t choose IVF should get in a room with the people who ask parents and someday parents through IVF why they don’t just adopt and duke it out. It would give the rest of us a break 🙂

    • Avatar Aimee says:

      Extremely well put. We are in our first trimester of pregnancy after our 4th round of DEIVF while simultaneously in the process of international adoption (we knew the latter would take a long time…we had no idea the former would take over a year and a half and 6 treatments if you include IUI!). Both adoption and IV are equally emotionally and physically the most exhausting processes I’ve gone through. Our adoption waiting period has now been pushed out 2 more years (minimum) and $15K into it, we hope the program doesn’t close like so many are these days. Neither IVF nor adoption are a sure thing, that’s what no one understands.

  17. Avatar geochick says:

    Great list! It’s interesting how infertility and adoption bring out the worst in our “friends”. No. 10 is why I’m no longer friends with someone. And there were a couple of others I dropped along the way for other reasons related to infertility and adoption. It’s difficult, but I decided to focus on the people who truly make an effort to either be empathetic, sympathetic, orgenuinely curious rather than obviously fishing for info.

  18. Lindsey, LOL. And why exactly is it anyone else’s business how you or I choose to build our family?!?!?!?!?!?

  19. In so many areas of family building I am always amazed when people weigh in with their opinions. Both infertility treatment and adoption are complex specialized areas that few people who aren’t in the midst of it know much about. Why in the world would anyone want to offer advice on a life altering decision when they know so little?

  20. Avatar Carolyn says:

    You may be right. I don’t have a child yet, so I have not yet experienced those protective feelings. I know that I am not informed in certain areas and have found my patient friends’ insight and corrections to be helpful in areas of pregnancy and manners. I have made mistakes and would be very hurt of someone cut me off without giving me the opportunity to learn, listen and make it right.

  21. Avatar Carolyn says:

    Ouch, I’m trying to imagine these scenarios. I’m in the process of IVF and may go to known donor eggs. I have many friends who have adopted from China. I always get the question about trying to adopt, which has put me on the defensive emotionally. I enjoy talking about donor eggs and IVF to my 35 to 40 something girlfriends, almost like a public service announcement. My 33 year old sister is now looking into freezing her eggs. Not many people have heard of this technology, especially frozen donor eggs and embryo adoption/donation. Some people are just saying what comes to mind. Others however may be intentionally gossipy and harsh. I try to not have those kind of people in my sphere of influence. However, most people are probably not being spiteful. I just come from a place of confidence and enthusiasm when answering them. Your answers may help a friend of a friend do something she never thought was possible, because she didn’t know until your example!

  22. Avatar Amber says:

    I too have a baby through donor eggs. I have told a lot of people about it, but not everyone. I had a friend say, “I can see your hubby, but I can’t find you” I still didn’t say donor eggs. Don’t know why…I’m not embarrassed by it. Maybe I thought she wouldn’t accept me or the baby. But having said that, we did get a good match. My mother doesn’t know that we used donor eggs, either (she’s schizophrenic and it took her 6 mo to accept that I was pregnant via IVF…I’m certain she wouldn’t accept that we used donor eggs) and she believes that the baby looks just like me when I was a baby…

    congratulations on your little miracles–don’t let some idiot bring you down. <3 🙂

  23. Leilani, please feel free to share!

  24. Lori and Kathleen, I appreciate both of your attitudes so much. I agree that most often people don’t mean to offend, they simply don’t know they are being insensitive or crossing a personal boundary. Keep in mind however, that the “stupid things” I wrote about were said after the child was born. I think it is sometimes harder to be tough skinned then b/c you feel protective of your child. But keeping in mind that seldom is hurt intended goes a long way to taming the mama bear protective instinct.

    • Avatar marilynn says:

      Dawn can I ask you what you mean when you say “trying to protect your child”? That statement does not read as very honest to me. How does being related to their biological mother and maternal family hurt them? How does you accepting them for who they are and talking about that openly hurt them? How does getting to be themselves around the world they interact with hurt them? What horrible thing do they need to be protected from? People may treat them differently? Differently than if they were biologically related to you? But they are not biologically related to you and so then whatever treatment they are receiving is at least based on an understanding of who they actually are rather than who you might present them to be. If people would be rude to them because of who their maternal family is that’s horrible but it’s also really unlikely. People don’t care all that much when its all out in the open. Worried kids might tease them and say they are not really your child? Well they’re not and they can answer the teasing by saying “I know that what’s your point?” I mean really do you want to ever send the message that being who they really are is so bad that you need to hide who they are in order to protect them from some horrible public wrath against their true identity?
      I think anger at the questions is to protect themselves from having to be who they really are in relationship to the kid – they want it to be just normal and it’s not its going to be different if they have biological parents in the world who are not raising them – its not just them and their kids they are part of another family too.
      The guy who made the comment above about how rude it was for someone to say the child must look just like mom because the child did not look like him. Why not say his mother is stunning and he does look just like her?

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