Part of “reConceiving” the way we view infertility is recognizing that no pathway toward parenthood is the same. Some people are very open about their “baby making” plans, while others prefer to keep the intimate details of their family-building journey private. For those facing challenges, assumptions and invasive questions can lead to discomfort or pain. You may mean well and would never want to offend, but it’s hard to be automatically mindful of what others could be going through.
If you are someone who wants to support a loved one struggling with infertility or family-building, but you just don’t know the right thing to say — here are some ideas for all of us about what NOT to say, and expand each question for why and what you can say instead.
You may be curious when someone will have a child (or more children) and about why they are waiting. It’s just an innocent question, but it’s painful if they want children or more children and are struggling with family-building.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “Tell me about your family.”
You may think someone could be pregnant because of their weight or perceived weight gain. Never assume someone is pregnant or comment in any way about them looking pregnant. The person could have gained weight from medication, miscarriage or could be facing other health issues. Or maybe their body didn’t change at all. If you know someone is trying to conceive — with fertility treatments or not — let them decide what updates to share and when.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “How are you? What’s new with you?”
Saying things like, "Take my kids! Enjoy the freedom of not being responsible for a child!" may be jokes, but they are not funny. The person you are speaking to might be going through incredibly difficult medical procedures to create a family. Complaining about yours doesn’t make them feel better. Most people who are trying have already decided they want to be parents.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I think you would make a wonderful parent.”
If you know someone who is looking into family-building options, you may mean well when you tell them to relax. But they have probably tried relaxing, taking vacation and any miracle cure you’ve heard of. While some stress-reduction interventions may increase the likelihood of conception, infertility is a medical condition that can’t be fixed by a vacation.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I’m sure this is a frustrating time for you. Is there anything I can do to help?”
If someone you know is dealing with a recent pregnancy loss, they are likely very sad about their miscarriage and lack of children, so don’t pretend to be G-d or ascribe meaning to the person's suffering.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “It’s so hard waiting for the next stage of life. Life can be so unfair.”
If you know someone who is struggling with infertility in their 20s and 30s, their age does not make their struggle any easier. Almost half the women doing IVF are under 35. Being young and infertile is very painful too, as age is not likely the cause of the issue, and that means they may end up spending more time and more money trying. (Money which they might not have.)
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I hope it happens for you soon!”
There is no “right time” to have children and hinting that the clock is ticking can feel shaming. The comment is also sexist because it’s often directed to women. The person may have other reasons for not having children earlier, like wanting to be in a relationship or having financial security.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “How are things at work?” Or, if you know they are working to build a family, “I’m so excited for you and hope you’ll be a parent soon.”
People do not want to discuss intimate details of their medical history or their partner's. Infertility is not about fault, and can be caused by female factors, male factors or both!
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I’m here to listen. What can I do to help?”
If you are speaking with someone who is trying to build a family while single or in a same-sex relationship, you may be curious about the methods they are considering. Most people don’t want to discuss the intimate details of conception, regardless of the logistics. For LGBTQ couples and people choosing to be single parents, the process is complex, but that doesn’t give others permission to ask extra questions.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: If they mention trying to build a family, it may be okay to ask, “What family-building options are you considering?”
If someone you know will likely require third-party reproduction to have children, you might want to know more details. There are a variety of situations that could require the use of donated eggs, sperm or even embryos. Be mindful that suggesting donors are mothers, fathers or parents can minimize what it truly means to be a parent.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I’m sure it must be so hard to navigate all these family-building logistics.”
Secondary infertility — when you already have children and have trouble having more — is equally painful as primary infertility. It's okay to want more children. Many people do!
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “Families come in different shapes and sizes, but I understand it’s nice to have siblings. I understand why this is important to you and I support you in wanting to continue growing your family.”
If someone is sharing their frustrations about infertility treatments or tackling new family-building challenges, you may mean well by suggesting adoption. But adoption isn’t necessarily easier, quicker or less expensive than infertility treatments or other pathways to parenthood. Every pathway is valid, and not every path is for everyone.
WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “What family-building options are you considering?”
If you are speaking with someone going through infertility or family-building challenges, we encourage you to mention reConceiving Infertility and the resources Hadassah provides.
This resource was created in collaboration with Amy Klein, author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind and ambassador for reConceiving Infertility, Hadassah’s initiative to destigmatize infertility and advocate for change.
Read about Hadassah’s advocacy at the state and federal levels, research from Hadassah’s hospitals and featured testimonials from those affected by infertility. You will surely be moved by the stories that destigmatize infertility, tackle what to say — and what not to say — to support those struggling, and empower others to speak out and effect change.