What People Say
People say the strangest things, especially when
they are uncomfortable, confused or embarrassed. Unfortunately,
this includes rude, insensitive, and thoughtless comments. This
is true in any situation.
Many people are embarrassed about your infertility,
especially if they are not infertile themselves. Wanting to
dismiss the topic to get back to more comfortable ground, they
end up making a flippant or a dismissive remark, or a joke.
Many do not consider your infertility a serious,
permanent, or life-changing problem. If you told them you had
cancer, that you were dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s,
or that your child was spaced out on drugs, their response would
often be much more serious. They would still be uncomfortable,
but in all likelihood would make a more fervent attempt to say
something compassionate before trying to change the subject.
Even if they do give your infertility some credence,
many joke about it. Unlike disease, death, or similar tragedies,
there are no pat responses to the revelation that you are infertile.
Emotions are close together. People may laugh at funerals meaning
to cry. Thus, you may get an uncomfortable joking response even
from someone who truly cares.
In most cases when insensitive remarks are made,
the best course of action is to ignore them as much as possible.
Any repartee will usually be taken negatively. As a result,
you will probably end up being seen as oversensitive or rude
yourself, even if you are totally justified in your reply. People
who make these kinds of remarks usually do so without thinking.
Thus, they will probably not think through your reply either,
so your response won’t do any good.
It’s hard not to release your wrath, given you
have heard the same remark from others time and again. Here
are some of them; we’re pretty sure you’ve heard them all.
“Just relax, you’ll get pregnant!”
This is probably the most popular, often well-meant,
but infuriating statement made to someone trying to get pregnant.
It implies that you are doing something wrong. You not only
can’t get pregnant, but you’re stressed out about it. Being
stressed is the real reason you aren’t pregnant.
Why do some people believe this? Well, usually,
they had no trouble getting pregnant themselves. Their pregnancy
may have resulted suddenly without warning. In other words,
it happened “just like that”, during a time when they were not
worrying about it. So, for many people, pregnancy occurs when
one is not thinking about it, making it very easy to
pass on this feeling to someone who is obviously worrying “overmuch”
about pregnancy. If you’d just quit worrying about it so much,
it would happen.
This response totally dismisses (and probably
never even considers) medical conditions such as hormonal issues,
male sterility, infrequent ovulation, inability to carry to
term, and the myriad other reasons one cannot get pregnant.
This statement is the equivalent of, “Hey, just
relax, and the cancer will go away!” But since no one believes
that cancer will go away, no one makes such a remark. People
do believe, however, that infertility is a thing that will just
go away. It went away for them when they became pregnant, right?
Belief in this statement is infuriating because
these “true believers” are not only saying that your problem
is within you by not relaxing, but that your real medical problem
is not the primary issue, so you are doubly wrong in how you
are acting in trying to get pregnant.
My number one comeback to these people (no, in
our society, you aren’t allowed to punch them in the nose …)
is to disarm them by agreeing with them on one point. My response
is usually, “Ok, you’re right. There is one way that stress
prevents a couple from getting pregnant. If stress causes a
couple to have less sex, then the likelihood of them getting
pregnant is less.”
This statement still dismisses the complex facts
that probably surround any infertile couple. Many can’t get
pregnant by “just having sex”, and many end up increasing their
stress by having to time when they have sex. But the response
usually casually disarms insistent well wishers who stick to
their insulting, but often well-meant belief.
One final take on this: For a small minority of
couples, the statement is actually true. Stress does cause strange
problems, and infertility just might be one result. But for
the vast majority where it is not true, the statement just does
not hold, and should not be made.
“If you adopt, you’ll get pregnant.
It happens all the time.”
In one sense, this statement is a direct corollary
to “Just relax, you’ll get pregnant.” Since you don’t seem to
be able to relax and get pregnant, all you need to do is adopt.
Since you have a kid, you’ll stop worrying about getting pregnant
and boom, you’ll get pregnant because you finally stopped
worrying about it.
This belief is adhered to by even more people
than the “just relax” statement because they have documented
evidence to prove it.
Their cousin’s friend adopted, and then got pregnant.
So did their lawyer’s daughter. And unlike urban legends for
which you can never find the documented proof, they can walk
you right up to the lawyer’s daughter who will proudly announce
that “Yes indeed we did” adopt, and then later got pregnant.
Case closed. Go out; adopt a child, and suddenly
your infertility worries will be over.
In reality, the probability that you will get
pregnant after adopting is the same as getting pregnant before
adopting. But when someone with infertility problems adopts
and then gets pregnant, it is news. News changes people’s perception
of probability. Planes seem to crash all the time if you watch
the headlines. The headlines don’t announce how many times all
of the other planes landed safely.
So, although people can indeed point out friends
who adopted and then got pregnant, you could find the same percentage
of people who didn’t adopt and then got pregnant. Unfortunately,
the former group is much more visible, because everyone talks
“You can have mine!”
A joke! How funny. They’re trying to dismiss your
problem by pretending that having children is an awful experience.
Of course they are not really willing to give up their children,
nor would you take them. The statement ends up being infuriating
because all it does is emphasize the fact that they have children
when you do not.
“Oh, I am fertile Myrtle!”
Why do people think that by showing how they are
the opposite of you they are helping you out?
“If you’d only … do whatever
is popular at the moment … you’d get pregnant.”
This is an attempt to give advice and be sympathetic,
but it ends up coming across as an authoritative statement.
It implies that you aren’t giving your situation enough thought.
“You’ll get pregnant next month
This is another dismissive statement. The person
wants to move away from the topic by implying the problem will
go away soon.
“Take a vacation and you’ll
This is a variant on the “Just relax” response.
It would be nice if it were true.
“You’re lucky. Look at all
the freedom and extra money you have!”
This is an attempt to turn your “problem” into
an advantage. It is not only dismissive; it denies you have
a problem. It further implies that you are blessed rather than
in pain. It is extremely insulting.
Unfortunately, it is often the people who come
close to understanding your problem who make it. They have thought
about your situation and are trying to be optimistic and positive.
Unfortunately, their conclusion is often totally erroneous.
They haven’t seen your tight medical schedule or your sky-rocketing
“Kids are such a pain!”
At least the people making this remark aren’t
offering you their own. This is another dismissive statement
implying that you are better off not even pursuing pregnancy.
And so on …
I’m sure you can think of many more remarks of
this kind. The bottom line is that you will hear many. We recommend
that your response be to remain silent and move on; which is
what the people making these ill-considered statements should
have done in the first place:
What Is the Correct Thing to
Now that we’ve dealt with all of the insensitive
things that people may say, well-meaning or otherwise, let’s
remember that not everyone makes such remarks. Many people do
think the issue through and respond appropriately and sensitively.
A friend of mine is the mother of several children.
She had no problems getting pregnant, but her heart went out
to us because we could not share the same joys. She asked me,
“What do you say to a couple who are having problems having
children?” I told her that she had already taken the proper
first step, and that “the best thing you can do is to simply
acknowledge our pain and loss. Don’t feel pity for us, but realize
that we hurt and that we have a right to hurt. We have been
denied something that is a vital part of our being, the right
to bear children. Initially, I never questioned whether I had
control over my fertility, so realizing that I didn’t came
as a shock.”
“You’ve accepted that I am struggling without
being uncomfortable or embarrassed by my struggling. You allow
me to feel my loss. You agree I have lost something, but you
don’t pity me. You don’t flaunt your healthy children or make
me feel guilty by saying that I would have children if I had
done things differently.”
“You don’t discount my feelings by saying things
like ‘you can have mine’. You are willing to share your children,
but you don’t apologize for being able to have children. You
realize you are blessed with children, but you don’t take them
for granted. You don’t make me feel different for not having
“You don’t feel sorry for me, but you provide
sympathy. You accept that I am worth something even if I haven’t
been able to give birth and raise children of my own.”
“Some people make me feel worthless since I can’t
produce children. You make it clear that my worth is not based
on how many children I have. My worth is in my actions and deeds,
not in my childbearing ability.”
“When I am depressed about not having children,
I can talk with you and you listen without being judgmental.
You lovingly accept my hurt and help me through the healing
process. You didn’t laugh when I told you I was going to try
to write a book on infertility. You encouraged me even when
my first attempts at writing weren’t very polished.”
“You realize I am grieving for something that
can not be seen or touched. You support me as I go through medical
treatments. You understand I am seeking a new purpose in life,
because I thought my purpose was to have and raise children.
You offer me a shoulder to cry on as I begin to explore the
what-ifs of never having children or the what-ifs of adoption.”
“You know that even if I have a child, a lot of
my innocence will still have been lost and the pain of the effort
to have that child will still be there.”
“To be succinct, you are my friend.”
Understanding friends have helped us through trying
emotional times by allowing us to grieve. When she brought over
a list asking for critique, I asked if we could use it in this
section of our book. She was pleased.