When someone is struggling to conceive a baby, everything is on the line: self-worth, self-esteem, coping mechanisms, anxiety, and depression. Of course, it’s difficult to know the extent of someone’s pain if you have never walked in their shoes.
To help us keep our foot out of our mouths, Miranda Murray, Fertility and Life Coach, shares the six things you should never say to someone struggling with fertility.
1. “At least you have…"
This could be any number of things someone wants to point out that you should be grateful for - eg. 'one child already, your health, the opportunity to sleep in every weekend, a beautiful house, lots of disposable income, international holidays, your toned figure still.'
“Whilst I am a great believer in the power of perspective and gratitude, this has to be on our terms”, Miranda says. “You telling us what we should be grateful for can intensify pain, even if we are in fact already feeling grateful on some level for said things. We need to be allowed the space to mourn the things that are making us sad and not feel guilty or selfish for it. The time will come when we will be in the right space to gain/maintain perspective on the other stuff.”
Instead: “That all sounds like it’s been a stressful time for you. Let me take you out for a pedicure this weekend and let’s get some pampering together”. It’s nice to be reminded of the other simple things that used to put a smile on our faces when sometimes our muddled minds can’t think of them ourselves.
2. “It’s OK, it will happen when it’s meant to. I just KNOW you’re going to be a Mum/Dad.”
Fertility journeys carry a great deal of uncertainty that lie at the heart of the anxiety we deal with. Unless you have a crystal ball, there is absolutely no way to know the future, so Miranda suggests not saying comments like these to someone struggling to conceive.
“You can’t be sure that your claim of us falling pregnant ‘when it’s meant to’ and said guarantee of us becoming parents, will come true. Whilst we know you mean well and your words are intended to comfort us, dismissing that uncertainty so freely, doesn’t help. As much as we're sure your intention comes from a good place, at the time it feels like you are completely invalidating our feelings, and that hurts.”
Instead: “I can’t imagine what you have been going through. I know it’s really personal so I won’t pry, but I want you to know that I’m here if you ever need to talk”.
3. “Oh god, I’ll give you one of my kids for the weekend and then you’ll realise YOU’RE the lucky one”.
While this is meant in jest and is trying to make light of the situation, offering some positivity and highlighting some of the benefits to not having kids, but when someone is in the midst of a struggle to create a family, comments like this, no matter how well-intended can cause pain.
Instead: Maybe send a quick text on Mothers Day/Fathers Day just letting us know you’re thinking of us and understand the day may be difficult for us this year and that you’re there to chat if we need it.
4. “Do you know if it’s your fault or your partner’s?”
This is highly personal and unless this information has been forthcoming from the couple in question, Miranda suggests removing the blame game from your dialogue.
“I honestly have lost count how many people asked this question during my own journey, ranging from friends, family members, shop assistants, the Financial Planner, to random people I met at networking events. Just NO! First of all, there’s enough angst and blame that comes with IVF treatment. Asking questions about who’s ‘fault’ it is is just not helpful. If we have dealt with the range of emotions and thoughts that any medical findings bring up, and feel comfortable sharing that information with you, then we will choose to tell you in our own time. If we haven’t mentioned it, we probably don’t want to discuss it with you.”
Instead: “I understand how tough certain times and events must be for you. Please know that if you ever don’t feel up to attending anything I’ve invited you to, I’ll completely understand, no explanations needed”.
5. “Just get really drunk! Do Acupuncture! Have sex upside down! Visit a Fertility Waterfall in the far north west! Have you tried X, Y, Z?”
Miranda says “Chances are we’ve most likely done all of our own extensive research and tried many things, so as much as you’re trying to help, we don’t need any more suggestions but thank you for trying to help. My personal favourite was when someone asked me if I knew that it was crucial for the woman to be sexually aroused so she has enough cervical fluid for the sperm to travel up the vaginal passage to the fallopian tubes! A) I did NOT want to be discussing my level of sexual arousal with this in-law and B) ALL of the romantic bizzo was taking place in a laboratory for us by that stage so the advice was not only unwarranted but it was also completely irrelevant.”
Instead: “So tell me about your job, last time we spoke you were totally nailing it!” With so much emphasis and focus on the fact we are yet to be successful baby-makers, it’s nice to be reminded of the other kick-ass things we have going on in our lives that make us the awesome whole person we are outside of the challenges in life.
6. “You just need to relax”
Unfortunately, if someone has been struggling to conceive for a while, there’s a very real chance that kicking back with our Bahamas Meditation app may not be enough to create new life. “And the fact is,” Miranda says, “when we realise we need to source some extra help such as an IVF specialist, that becomes stressful, let alone juggling doctors appointments, blood tests, ultrasounds, injections.... Sometimes, telling us not to stress when we’re already stressed leads to more stressing about not stressing… it’s a vicious cycle!”
Instead: “I know you have your own plan in place and I’m sure you’ve endless suggestions from people, but I have a really close friend who’s been through something similar and I just wanted to let you know that I’d be happy connect you both for a chat if you ever feel like you need some extra support from someone who gets it. The offer is there if you ever feel like it because I care about you”.
**If this post has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact the Lifeline 24 hour support line on 13 11 14. Alternatively, Miranda provides bespoke fertility coaching to women across Australia. Get in touch today for a complimentary 20 minute phone call.