Most couples’ struggles with infertility are very private, known only to a few trusted family members and friends, and their medical team. If someone opens up to you about infertility, it’s natural to want to say something that will reassure them.
Unfortunately, our first instinct in this situation is often to minimize—to make the problem of infertility seem less daunting than it might appear.
That’s a big mistake.
Unless you’ve struggled with infertility yourself, it’s easy to downplay the emotions that come from not being able to start the family you desperately want. Sadness, grief, guilt, low self-esteem, anger, relationship problems, and even depression can result from fertility issues. In this post, we cover five well-meaning but heartbreaking things couples hear too often.
- “Just relax”, “It’s all in your head”
The belief that infertility can be stress-related is a common one. You might assume that a couple is just being impatient, or that the real cause of their infertility is the stress caused by worrying about it.
In fact, infertility is not just in people’s heads, and it can’t be beaten with just a change of attitude.
Infertility is a medical issue. The Centers for Disease Control defines infertility as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex (6 months in the case of women over 35). The CDC estimates that about one in eight couples of childbearing age suffers from infertility.
Most people assume that its only women who have infertility issues however men suffer from it as well there are even Urologists who specialise in treating specific medical issues such as infertility. Advanced Urology is the medical area that specialises in the male reproductive organs. Male infertility can be corrected with a variety of different treatments. This is why its incredibly important when you’re trying to conceive to make sure that you’ve done your research and you know what kinds of treatments you can get.
Also, there is no proven relationship between stress and infertility. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine makes it clear: “It is not known whether high levels of stress can prevent pregnancy or affect a woman’s chance of conceiving.”
Putting an inability to conceive down to stress can make it feel like you’re casting blame. A sense of being blamed is stressful for the couple, at a time when they may already be feeling intense guilt and insecurity.
- “It’ll happen naturally”
Similarly, it can be easy to assume that pregnancy will happen in its own time. After all, many couples need a few attempts to conceive. And it sounds reassuring to tell a couple pregnancy will happen naturally. That’s what’s meant to happen, right?
But there is a big difference between a few months of trying and medically-defined infertility.
Unexpected pregnancies can and do surprise couples, but infertile couples generally aren’t so lucky—that’s why they often seek help to start a family. So far from being a reassurance, the advice that “it will happen eventually” can suggest that you don’t really understand what a couple is going through.
- “Maybe it’s just not meant to happen”
Another approach is to say that if it doesn’t happen, it’s not meant to happen.
But if the couple is still seeking fertility treatment, they haven’t given up on starting a family. Fertility treatments require a huge commitment of time and effort, as well as a deep emotional commitment. Couples who are determined to pursue fertility treatment are not going to want to hear fatalism about their chances.
There may come a time where that thought that ‘what will be, will be,’ is comforting to a couple struggling with infertility, but it’s not likely to be in the midst of the stresses of treatment.
- “But you have so much to be thankful for!”
Of course, most people have a great deal to be thankful for, no matter what they’re going through. But while this advice might be true, it’s not helpful.
As RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association explains, often couples trying and failing to conceive a child aren’t just experiencing disappointment. Often, they are experiencing intense feelings of grief and loss, and suffering a shattering of self-esteem:
As repeated attempts to get pregnant come to naught, there is a realization that this intensely strived-for goal has not been, and may never be, attained. As this failure becomes more and more evident, one’s self-image is assaulted. It is easy to move from procedures that have failed to the feeling that “I am a failure.”
People living with infertility issues are not just indulging feelings of disappointment and sadness. They are often working through intense grief, guilt, and anger. So asking them to put those difficult feelings in perspective won’t make them disappear. They have to be worked through.
- “Kids can be a nightmare”
You might complain about pregnancy or raising children, thinking that a friend or loved one will derive some comfort from remembering the downsides of starting a family, and be thankful for what he or she has.
That’s a mistake. For many couples dealing with infertility, even the mention of children can be extremely painful. Many couples find events where there will be children simply too difficult to attend. The holidays are especially hard—RESOLVE even advises couples to avoid holiday gatherings if they worry they might not be able to cope.
Be aware that children can be a sensitive subject—and don’t assume that hearing about the downsides of having kids will make infertility any easier to bear. A couple struggling with fertility wants to experience all the aspects of being a parent, the frustrations as well as the joys.
If you need further advice and resources on coping with infertility, RESOLVE’s website offers a trove of stories, facts, and support for people at all stages of the fertility journey. Our Patients and Family page also explains many of the experiences that couples with fertility issues go through.