Let’s start with what NOT to say to someone experiencing fertility struggles, or Infertility.
–Don’t say “Relax, and it will happen” or “Stop stressing and let nature take it’s course”, or anything remotely like either of those examples.
-Don’t say “Things happen for a reason” or “It will happen when (or if) it’s meant to happen” or any version of these.
-Don’t say “God, (or Jesus or Allah, or even the Universe) will bless you with a child when they see fit” or ANY version of this rhetoric. Even for people of faith, this can be insensitive and worsen religious and/or spiritual struggles they may be experiencing due to infertility.
-Don’t say “Why don’t you just use a surrogate, egg or sperm donor, or adopt”, or ANY other alternative family building suggestion. Trust me, they are already aware of these, may not be ready to consider other options, and may not have the financial means to pursue those options even if they want to.
-Don’t give examples of someone you know who tried “X, Y, or Z” and got pregnant. Everyone is different, and you probably don’t know what they have and haven’t tried, and you probably aren’t qualified to give advice on this.
-Don’t assume the reasons why they are experiencing fertility challenges. In heterosexual couples, sometimes it’s male factor, sometimes female, sometimes both, and often it’s “unexplained infertility” which means even the experts don’t know so don’t assume you do.
-Don’t assume everyone is heterosexual. Same sex couples, trans and nonbinary folks go through fertility challenges too, and there is a lot of stigma facing them already. Don’t pile on.
So what CAN you say without fear of stepping on a grenade?
-You CAN say “I’m sorry you’re going through this. It must be so difficult.”
-You CAN say “I don’t know the right words, but I’m here for you.”
-You CAN say “Tell me what you need, or how I can support you during this time?” (Keep in mind they may not know what they need, in which case, you can just hold space and be present.)
-You CAN say ” Do you want to tell me more about it? I don’t know much about it, but I can listen”
-Lastly, if it’s someone you’re close to, you CAN offer hugs, a shoulder to cry on, walks in nature, creative outlets, care packages, comfort objects (like blankets or stuffed animals), “thinking of you” cards, flowers, anything that might lift their spirits. People going through infertility experience stress levels similar to people going through cancer treatment due to the frequency of medical appointments, invasive tests, procedures, and overall ups and downs, and uncertainties; not to mention the impact of hormones, and side effects of many of the medications they may be taking. Over time, fertility struggles have a cumulative effect and can lead to anxiety and clinical depression without adequate support.
The Comfort Hearts (copyright https://www.rainacowanarttherapist.com/image is of a project I designed, done in conjunction with Elizabeth Walker and Maria Novotny of the Art of Infertility at the exhibit entitled: Challenging Conception (OSP, Evanston, Oct/Nov 2018) http://bit.ly/artofif-chicago2018
This project featuring an antique baby carriage full of handmade fabric hearts was designed to be interactive, so that anyone impacted by fertility challenges could choose a heart to keep. Comfort objects (in this case fabric hearts) are a way to acknowledge the silent struggles of infertility, and raise awareness about the stigma people face when dealing with these particular challenges.