Would you tell a friend with cancer to just relax and his/her cancer would go away? Of course not. Infertility is a disease just like cancer or heart disease or arthritis. It's a tricky subject, and one that warrants a lot of care and sensitivity.
Here are the top ten things you should NEVER say to a woman experiencing infertility.
1. "Just relax and you will conceive"
Telling someone to just relax and their illness will go away blames the patient. And it's wrong. The vast majority of infertility cases have a biological cause, like blocked tubes, or abnormal ovulation, or poor sperm production. You can relax for years and it won't unblock tubes or increase sperm production.
2. "Just adopt and it will happen"
Once again, wrong. Adoption doesn't lead to conception any more than relaxing does. There have been numerous studies and there is no relationship between adoption and conception. The fact is, some people who have experienced infertility and have given up trying or receiving treatment still have a chance of conceiving on their own, whether or not they adopt. But when someone adopts and then gets pregnant, it is newsworthy. Adopting and not getting pregnant is not.
3. "It's God's will for it not to happen"
I don't think any of us know what God has planned for other people. And for someone desperately trying to have a baby, to imply that God doesn't want them to succeed can be intrusive and painful. When prior infertility patients do get pregnant or adopt or are happily living child-free, perhaps then they will realize that was God's plan. But it's not for you to say so now.
4. "Your doctor must not be good enough. You should see a different one."
Although I am a big believer in chemistry with one's physician and the option of second opinions, even the most gifted infertility specialist is not going to have a 100% pregnancy rate. But once again, it is up to the person experiencing infertility to decide if/when they want to consult another specialist, not you. It is OK to simply say that you have heard wonderful things about a local infertility doctor and you would be happy to provide contact information if it was wanted.
5. "You are not taking good enough care of yourself."
This often goes along with these other suggestions: "You should gain/lose weight, stop exercising, drink less caffeine, and stop drinking alcohol."
Although there is data to support the negative impact of certain lifestyle behaviors on fertility in both men and women, this is for the person's physician or nurse to educate them about. The fact is, most people who are obese or underweight, exercise a lot, drink coffee and/or alcohol, conceive easily. So lifestyle behaviors normally don't cause infertility per se.
6. "Touch my pregnant belly or hold my baby so my fertility will rub off on you."
Being around pregnant women or babies can actually be incredibly painful for those struggling with infertility. Women who have never been envious a day in their lives suddenly find themselves crying when others announce their pregnancies, avoiding baby showers like the plague, and coming up with excuses to skip social events where babies or small children will be present. And you know what? This is entirely normal. Please don't encourage someone to do something which is causing them so much pain.
7. "I get pregnant at the drop of a hat and have such easy pregnancies. I can be your surrogate."
Although this is an incredibly lovely and generous gesture, in most cases of infertility, the uterus is not the issue. Egg and sperm issues constitute most diagnoses, so using a surrogate often won't fix the problem. However, if you are serious, you can drop a hint, such as, "If you find that carrying a pregnancy is the issue, I would be more than happy to be a surrogate for you." But don't say it unless you mean it.
8. "You are working too hard."
Most people who work hard get pregnant when they want. Having a challenging job does not for the most part cause infertility. However, stress can have strong effects on the body. And specifically, there is a relationship between stress and infertility. Recent data shows that the more stressed the woman, the longer it can take her to get pregnant. And other research has shown that infertile women who learn stress-reducing strategies do have higher pregnancy rates. But instead of accusing someone of causing their problem, offer to go for a walk together, give a massage gift card, or suggest taking a meditation or yoga class together.
9. "You want kids so much? Take mine."
Although this may sound funny to you, it won't to a person who in fact would pretty much cut off their right arm to conceive a healthy baby. Having children is one of the most challenging things we do in our lives, but when it is all you want, you are only going to see the good parts, not the tough ones. Some people experiencing infertility take solace in forging relationships with nieces, nephews, and the children of friends and neighbors. But wait for them to show an interest in your children.
10. "You waited too long."
Although it is factually correct that age is associated with decreased fertility in both men and women, the impact of age has been overemphasized. There are many people in their early 40s who conceive healthy children, and there are also many people in their 20s who experience infertility. And telling a 40 year old woman that she is too old to get pregnant isn't supporting her at all.
DO be supportive and offer words of educated encouragement (check out Resolve.org for ideas for friends and family). Most people who experience infertility do end up as parents. We all want that happy ending.