With infertility affecting about 1 in 6 women, it is likely that you know someone who is struggling, or has struggled, with infertility. The pain and distress of this experience is excruciating, often made worse by well-intentioned friends and family members who want to help but struggle to find words that land well and feel supportive.
If you know someone who is struggling with infertility, it might be hard to know how to provide support. And that makes sense. These kinds of skills historically haven’t been taught in school. So, unless you learned them from role models in your life, you might not have the tools to know how to help.
At the same time, you want to do something. You don’t want to avoid talking to your friend or family member’s struggle because you know that can increase their feelings of loneliness and isolation. So, that might leave you wondering, what should I say, and not say, if I want to be a supportive friend?
Here are 6 things not to say to someone struggling with infertility (and what to say instead).
1. At least…/It could be worse…
When someone is struggling, it’s tempting to want to point out why they should “look on the bright side” because “things could always be worse.” And there’s truth in that. In life, for all of us, things could always be worse.
But, think about it, when someone has said to you, did it make your struggle feel any less real? Or any less painful? Probably not.
Sure, it might provide some perspective and remind you that there are things to be grateful for, even in the midst of a difficult time, but it also can feel invalidating of what you are going through. Additionally, it might lead you to think that you “should” push down, ignore, or invalidate your very real feelings because “someone has it worse.”
Most likely, your friend already knows that life could be worse, but her current struggle is real and painful. She wants to feel seen in her feelings and for you to acknowledge that what she is going through is hard and that she has every right to feel disappointed, sad, frustrated, angry, or any other emotion that comes up.
What to say instead: I know how tough this is for you. It’s a lot to handle. You are doing a great job. Is there anything in particular I can do to support you?
2. Have you tried x?
It’s tempting to want to do something proactive to help your friend. And that’s not to say that you can’t. However, when someone is struggling with infertility, it’s best not to assume that they haven’t tried all the things.
Most women who are struggling with infertility feel exhausted by all the things they have done to try to get pregnant, and it could feel overwhelming to think about trying another thing. The process is exhausting and discouraging, and your friend might feel like she’s maximized her bandwidth on the topic.
What to say instead: Do you have all the resources you’d like? Would you like any help with additional resources?
3. My friend did x and she got pregnant!
Instilling hope can be a beautiful thing, and, for someone struggling with infertility, it can also be exceptionally difficult to hear a success story. While not impossible, connecting with another person’s joy in the midst of your own pain might feel really challenging.
In addition, hearing “the thing” that a friend did to “magically” get pregnant may also feel like you are unintentionally simplifying what has been a very complicated journey for your friend.
What to say instead: Watch for cues that your friend would be open to success stories, or, depending on the relationship, inquire gently if success stories help her. If they do, then you might say, “Would it be helpful for me to connect you with a friend of mine who has had a similar journey to become pregnant?”
4. You’re still going to our mutual friend’s upcoming baby shower, right?
Being around a pregnant friend can be a huge trigger for those coping with infertility. Even when the joy for the pregnant friend is still there, it also comes with a reminder of what your struggling friend doesn’t have and feels really painful.
It can help those dealing with infertility to minimize triggering situations and lean into empowering situations. There’s so much that feels out of her control when a woman is struggling with infertility so being able to control the environments that a woman puts herself in can be key for helping maintain her sanity.
What to say instead: If you need to skip our mutual friend’s baby shower, it’d be completely understandable. I understand, and she’ll understand. Do what’s best for you.
5. You must be feeling x.
Assumptions are the worst. It never feels good when someone assumes how you must be feeling especially when they are just plain wrong.
Humans aren’t mind readers, and your individual experiences shape the way that you see and view the world which means that how you might feel or cope in a given situation might be very different from how your friend might feel or cope.
Curiosity is your best friend when it comes to chatting with your friend about her infertility. When you use gentle curiosity instead of assumptions, you open the door for your friend to share her experience through her own lens without fear of being judged or misunderstood.
What to say instead: How are you feeling? What’s been going through your mind recently?
6. Just be patient; it’ll happen eventually.
Hope is wonderful, and yet this statement might not land well with someone struggling with infertility. Everyone’s journey is different, and it’s impossible to say what the future holds for anyone.
Being patient is one of the hardest parts of infertility, and it can be really difficult to sustain hope for months and years. Telling your friend to “just be patient” minimizes the challenges of waiting and hoping for something she really wants right now. And it can leave your friend feeling unseen in her lived experience.
What to say instead: The waiting and wondering is so hard! I know how much you want this. I’m here for you.
As you navigate this important supportive role, check in periodically with your friend to see how you can be there for her in the ways she needs. Do your best to provide the support she asks for and acknowledge and validate her feelings even as they may change day-to-day. The best kind of friend is the one who is there, with curiosity and an open heart, to listen and support without judgment.
What Not to Say Someone Struggling with Infertility
By Darcie Brown, LMFT
Author bio: Darcie Brown, LMFT, is a psychotherapist who specializes in perinatal women’s health. Darcie owns her own private practice and sees clients virtually throughout the states of California and South Carolina. She also has a certification in Integrative Mental Health and works with her clients to approach their mental health from a whole-self perspective. She is an avid writer who shares wellness content on her blog as well as on various other publications, including Bustle, Women’s Health, Thrive Global, and Better by Today. Darcie is also a wife and boy mom. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, pilates, reading, and traveling with her family.
Keywords: fertility, infertility, postpartum, mental health, grief, trauma, hormonal changes, support, trying to conceive, TTC, IVF, pregnancy, loss