Fertility can be an overwhelming subject as it has many layers to it—female and male fertility, IVF, medications, procedures, surrogacy and so much more. When it’s not happening to you, it’s easy to forget that infertility can be a devastating, stressful, and expensive process that is emotionally and physically draining—and it’s easy to slip and forget what not to say to someone trying to get pregnant.
Instead of enjoying the excitement of planning for a baby, people might be propelled into a world of emotions that are difficult to navigate, with emotions ranging from frustration (the main one), anger, fatigue, sadness, guilt and others. More often than not, the infertility conversation is an uncomfortable topic—or it may just be that you’re forgetting the level of sensitivity to employ when talking to someone who is struggling. It’s ok if you’re at a loss for words—we can help.
Below is a list of phrases and comments of what not to say to someone trying to get pregnant, along with helpful things to say and do for people who are trying to conceive.
1. “When are you thinking of having kids?”
This is likely the top question those trying to conceive get asked—and they do not want to hear this. It’s a constant reminder that they have yet to conceive and thus, can make them feel like a failure. As soon as the parents-to-be know they are having a baby, they will share the great news with family and friends.
2. “Relax. You’ll get pregnant when the time is right.”
Sure, you feel relaxed within the first few months of trying. However, after months and even years of failed attempts, the anxiety and panic set in and relaxation goes right out the window. It’s important to remember that infertility is a medical diagnosis and often requires medical treatment. Telling someone to relax is not only medically inappropriate and ineffective advice, it also oversimplifies the fertility journey for many couples who may need more advanced medical treatments in order to conceive.
3. “Who is causing the issue? Him or her?”
Not only is this wildly inappropriate from both a conception and sexual standpoint, but it places blame and can pin one party against the other. There are often multiple reasons why a person or couple may be struggling to conceive, and the process is not about assigning blame, but more about helping that person find solutions. Refrain from blame-shifting comments such as this and simply show your support for their journey.
4. “Not everyone is meant to have a child.”
You might as well tell your toddler-aged niece or nephew that Santa Claus isn’t real. This phrase is a complete dream killer and could ultimately deter individuals from continuing to pursue their family planning goals. Be respectful, be supportive and allow parents-to-be to find their own path to parenthood… without outside commentary that it may never happen for them.
5. “We struggled to conceive at first, too.”
It’s understandable that close connections will want to empathize with the situation, but try to refrain from comparing experiences. Infertility is a complex journey where no two experiences are exactly the same. Instead of taking the focus off the individuals who are likely going through one of the most difficult times in their lives, listen intently to their experience without incorporating your fertility journey into their situation.
6. “You’re so young! You have plenty of time to have a baby.”
Infertility doesn’t discriminate, and being young doesn’t necessarily mean you’re immune to infertility. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have in their life. Fertility begins to decline as early as the late 20s and early 30s and decreases faster after age 35. Some women have other risk factors for infertility that are not related to age. It’s best to steer clear of making comments about age because you don’t know the medical history of anyone’s body.
7. “You can always just adopt.”
While adoption can be an amazing option for some families, it isn’t a universal fit and not a decision to be taken lightly. It may be a common suggestion, but many people forget the emotional and financial commitment of adoption. Adoption also doesn’t eliminate the pain of being unable to conceive naturally. In fact, the recommendation may even reinforce and solidify that couples can’t conceive on their own. Just remember that choosing adoption is an extremely personal decision and it should be approached with the utmost sensitivity.
Related: What I wish I knew before adopting
Conversations around infertility are challenging. You may not always know what to say, but it’s critical to be mindful of your words and actions when connecting with couples going through this strenuous time in their lives (and for a list of helpful things to say to someone dealing with infertility, go here). Everyone’s fertility journey is unique, and some people may not feel comfortable sharing their experience. Be respectful, be kind, be empathetic and most importantly be supportive of your others who may be going through a difficult time. Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry you are going through this” or “I’m here for you if you need me” goes a long way.
A version of this story was published January 5, 2022. It has been updated.