Infertility is a touchy subject that sometimes leaves a cone of silence around the person dealing with fertility and those in their support group. It can also get a little silent when you’re slapped with an unsolicited comment. We reached out to etiquette expert and author Karen Cleveland to help us craft some polite and effective responses, as well as break down why these comments can really sting.
The Zing: [After suffering a miscarriage] “Well at least you know you can get pregnant.”
The Response: Here’s why that’s hurtful: For a woman who has just lost a pregnancy, it isn’t just about getting pregnant, it is about carrying a healthy pregnancy to full term and delivering a healthy baby. Instead, tell her you are so, so sorry for her loss and say you’re here for her if she ever wants to talk.
The Zing: “Well, you’re almost 37. When are you going to have a child?”
The Response: Here’s why that’s hurtful: Don’t ever ask a person when they are going to have a child. What’s worse, don’t throw their age into the mix. If anyone asks you this, don’t feel you have to reply to such a dumb question. Firmly change the subject to the weather and hope this person gets a clue.
The Zing: [After a loss] “Maybe you just need to stop trying.”
The Response: Here’s why that’s hurtful: Guess how babies are made? BY TRYING TO GET PREGNANT FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE. As well, when to ‘try or not to try’ is a discussion between them and their doctor. If you are on the receiving end of this question, shrug it off. Don’t encourage a conversation detailing when you’re ovulating not ovulating or having sex. That is none of anyone’s business.
The Zing: [After a loss] “Maybe it’s just God’s will.”
The Response: Here’s why that’s hurtful: No. Don’t say this to a person. Don’t even let it enter your thoughts. Maybe them not ever speaking to you again is also God’s will. Fancy that.
The Zing: “My friend “cured” her infertility with essential oils/meditation/positive thinking.”
The Response: Here’s why that is hurtful: What worked for your friend (and let’s pause here. Can they be totally sure whatever they did want the singular thing that “worked”?) might not work for her. Unless this suggestion comes from your doctor and they’re offering you some alternative therapies to help you conceive, reply with a lukewarm “cool, thanks”.
The Zing: [To a couple in a same-sex relationship looking for a surrogate]. “Maybe you should just hook up with a pair of your lesbian friends and share the baby.”
The Response: Aside from being completely tokensistic, this statement is just well, not helpful. If this is suggested to you, brush it off and change the subject.
The Zing: “At least you weren’t further along, you didn’t even know if it was a boy or girl yet!”
The Response: This ranks up there as one of the most horrible things you can say to a person who has just suffered a loss. If anyone says something to you of this nature, you absolutely do not owe that a response.
The Zing: [After a loss]. “Do you think maybe that this happening was a sign?”
The Response: A sign of what? There is no silver lining or insight to be gleaned from losing a pregnancy. If this is suggested to you, don’t indulge that line of conversation.
The Zing: “Maybe you should lose some weight. Your miscarriages are likely due to your weight issues.”
The Response: Not only is this callous on another level, it is stupid. Ask them where they got their medical degree.
The Zing: “Oh well. Now you know that you’re done [having kids].”
The Response: How do you know this is the case? Could they not add to their family through adoption or surrogacy? Don’t make assumptions about how this person could or could not grow their family.
The Zing: “Everything happens for a reason; I guess you just weren’t meant to be a mom.”
The Response: This also ranks up there as one of the worst things you can say to a person who has just suffered a loss. They get to decide what their life was meant for, not you. If you are hit with this heartless comment, treat it with silence.
So, we put it to Cleveland: what exactly is the best thing to say? Is there a best thing?
1. LISTEN IN: There is literally nothing that you can suggest that will fix how they feel. Instead, focus your energy on making them feel heard and supported. You can ask how they are feeling and how they are looking after themselves.
2. KNOW YOUR ROLE: Unless you are a doctor, do not offer treatment suggestions. Maybe acupuncture worked for you or your sister, it doesn’t make it a sure-bet for this person. If you feel appropriate (big “if” there), you could ask if they are exploring alternative therapies.
3. SPEAK UP: If you’ve been there, share. There is a secret sisterhood of sorts that a woman joins when she’s lost a pregnancy or faced infertility; we don’t talk about it enough. So if you’ve also struggled, share that you have and that you understand. There is strength in numbers.
Help knix the stigma by sharing your story. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #FacesofFertility and show your support with a custom-designed semi-permanent tattoo.