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Janet L. Lazo-Davis

Dan T. Davis


Second Star Creations

Infertility’s Anguish

Everyone Else Is Pregnant, Why Not Us?

Exploring the Emotions of Infertility

by Jan & Dan Davis

What People Say

People say the strangest things, especially when they are uncomfortable, confused or embarrassed. Unfortunately, this includes rude, insensitive, and thoughtless comments. This is true in any situation.

Many people are embarrassed about your infertility, especially if they are not infertile themselves. Wanting to dismiss the topic to get back to more comfortable ground, they end up making a flippant or a dismissive remark, or a joke.

Many do not consider your infertility a serious, permanent, or life-changing problem. If you told them you had cancer, that you were dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s, or that your child was spaced out on drugs, their response would often be much more serious. They would still be uncomfortable, but in all likelihood would make a more fervent attempt to say something compassionate before trying to change the subject.

Even if they do give your infertility some credence, many joke about it. Unlike disease, death, or similar tragedies, there are no pat responses to the revelation that you are infertile. Emotions are close together. People may laugh at funerals meaning to cry. Thus, you may get an uncomfortable joking response even from someone who truly cares.

In most cases when insensitive remarks are made, the best course of action is to ignore them as much as possible. Any repartee will usually be taken negatively. As a result, you will probably end up being seen as oversensitive or rude yourself, even if you are totally justified in your reply. People who make these kinds of remarks usually do so without thinking. Thus, they will probably not think through your reply either, so your response won’t do any good.

It’s hard not to release your wrath, given you have heard the same remark from others time and again. Here are some of them; we’re pretty sure you’ve heard them all.

“Just relax, you’ll get pregnant!”

This is probably the most popular, often well-meant, but infuriating statement made to someone trying to get pregnant. It implies that you are doing something wrong. You not only can’t get pregnant, but you’re stressed out about it. Being stressed is the real reason you aren’t pregnant.

Why do some people believe this? Well, usually, they had no trouble getting pregnant themselves. Their pregnancy may have resulted suddenly without warning. In other words, it happened “just like that”, during a time when they were not worrying about it. So, for many people, pregnancy occurs when one is not thinking about it, making it very easy to pass on this feeling to someone who is obviously worrying “overmuch” about pregnancy. If you’d just quit worrying about it so much, it would happen.

This response totally dismisses (and probably never even considers) medical conditions such as hormonal issues, male sterility, infrequent ovulation, inability to carry to term, and the myriad other reasons one cannot get pregnant.

This statement is the equivalent of, “Hey, just relax, and the cancer will go away!” But since no one believes that cancer will go away, no one makes such a remark. People do believe, however, that infertility is a thing that will just go away. It went away for them when they became pregnant, right?

Belief in this statement is infuriating because these “true believers” are not only saying that your problem is within you by not relaxing, but that your real medical problem is not the primary issue, so you are doubly wrong in how you are acting in trying to get pregnant.

My number one comeback to these people (no, in our society, you aren’t allowed to punch them in the nose …) is to disarm them by agreeing with them on one point. My response is usually, “Ok, you’re right. There is one way that stress prevents a couple from getting pregnant. If stress causes a couple to have less sex, then the likelihood of them getting pregnant is less.”

This statement still dismisses the complex facts that probably surround any infertile couple. Many can’t get pregnant by “just having sex”, and many end up increasing their stress by having to time when they have sex. But the response usually casually disarms insistent well wishers who stick to their insulting, but often well-meant belief.

One final take on this: For a small minority of couples, the statement is actually true. Stress does cause strange problems, and infertility just might be one result. But for the vast majority where it is not true, the statement just does not hold, and should not be made.

“If you adopt, you’ll get pregnant. It happens all the time.”

In one sense, this statement is a direct corollary to “Just relax, you’ll get pregnant.” Since you don’t seem to be able to relax and get pregnant, all you need to do is adopt. Since you have a kid, you’ll stop worrying about getting pregnant and boom, you’ll get pregnant because you finally stopped worrying about it.

This belief is adhered to by even more people than the “just relax” statement because they have documented evidence to prove it.

Their cousin’s friend adopted, and then got pregnant. So did their lawyer’s daughter. And unlike urban legends for which you can never find the documented proof, they can walk you right up to the lawyer’s daughter who will proudly announce that “Yes indeed we did” adopt, and then later got pregnant.

Case closed. Go out; adopt a child, and suddenly your infertility worries will be over.

In reality, the probability that you will get pregnant after adopting is the same as getting pregnant before adopting. But when someone with infertility problems adopts and then gets pregnant, it is news. News changes people’s perception of probability. Planes seem to crash all the time if you watch the headlines. The headlines don’t announce how many times all of the other planes landed safely.

So, although people can indeed point out friends who adopted and then got pregnant, you could find the same percentage of people who didn’t adopt and then got pregnant. Unfortunately, the former group is much more visible, because everyone talks about it.

“You can have mine!”

A joke! How funny. They’re trying to dismiss your problem by pretending that having children is an awful experience. Of course they are not really willing to give up their children, nor would you take them. The statement ends up being infuriating because all it does is emphasize the fact that they have children when you do not.

“Oh, I am fertile Myrtle!”

Why do people think that by showing how they are the opposite of you they are helping you out?

“If you’d only … do whatever is popular at the moment … you’d get pregnant.”

This is an attempt to give advice and be sympathetic, but it ends up coming across as an authoritative statement. It implies that you aren’t giving your situation enough thought.

“You’ll get pregnant next month …”

This is another dismissive statement. The person wants to move away from the topic by implying the problem will go away soon.

“Take a vacation and you’ll get pregnant.”

This is a variant on the “Just relax” response. It would be nice if it were true.

“You’re lucky. Look at all the freedom and extra money you have!”

This is an attempt to turn your “problem” into an advantage. It is not only dismissive; it denies you have a problem. It further implies that you are blessed rather than in pain. It is extremely insulting.

Unfortunately, it is often the people who come close to understanding your problem who make it. They have thought about your situation and are trying to be optimistic and positive. Unfortunately, their conclusion is often totally erroneous. They haven’t seen your tight medical schedule or your sky-rocketing doctor’s bills.

“Kids are such a pain!”

At least the people making this remark aren’t offering you their own. This is another dismissive statement implying that you are better off not even pursuing pregnancy.

And so on …

I’m sure you can think of many more remarks of this kind. The bottom line is that you will hear many. We recommend that your response be to remain silent and move on; which is what the people making these ill-considered statements should have done in the first place:

What Is the Correct Thing to Say?

Now that we’ve dealt with all of the insensitive things that people may say, well-meaning or otherwise, let’s remember that not everyone makes such remarks. Many people do think the issue through and respond appropriately and sensitively.

A friend of mine is the mother of several children. She had no problems getting pregnant, but her heart went out to us because we could not share the same joys. She asked me, “What do you say to a couple who are having problems having children?” I told her that she had already taken the proper first step, and that “the best thing you can do is to simply acknowledge our pain and loss. Don’t feel pity for us, but realize that we hurt and that we have a right to hurt. We have been denied something that is a vital part of our being, the right to bear children. Initially, I never questioned whether I had control over my fertility, so realizing that I didn’t came as a shock.”

“You’ve accepted that I am struggling without being uncomfortable or embarrassed by my struggling. You allow me to feel my loss. You agree I have lost something, but you don’t pity me. You don’t flaunt your healthy children or make me feel guilty by saying that I would have children if I had done things differently.”

“You don’t discount my feelings by saying things like ‘you can have mine’. You are willing to share your children, but you don’t apologize for being able to have children. You realize you are blessed with children, but you don’t take them for granted. You don’t make me feel different for not having any.”

“You don’t feel sorry for me, but you provide sympathy. You accept that I am worth something even if I haven’t been able to give birth and raise children of my own.”

“Some people make me feel worthless since I can’t produce children. You make it clear that my worth is not based on how many children I have. My worth is in my actions and deeds, not in my childbearing ability.”

“When I am depressed about not having children, I can talk with you and you listen without being judgmental. You lovingly accept my hurt and help me through the healing process. You didn’t laugh when I told you I was going to try to write a book on infertility. You encouraged me even when my first attempts at writing weren’t very polished.”

“You realize I am grieving for something that can not be seen or touched. You support me as I go through medical treatments. You understand I am seeking a new purpose in life, because I thought my purpose was to have and raise children. You offer me a shoulder to cry on as I begin to explore the what-ifs of never having children or the what-ifs of adoption.”

“You know that even if I have a child, a lot of my innocence will still have been lost and the pain of the effort to have that child will still be there.”

“To be succinct, you are my friend.”

Understanding friends have helped us through trying emotional times by allowing us to grieve. When she brought over a list asking for critique, I asked if we could use it in this section of our book. She was pleased.

Here is her summary:

  1. Realize that the only consolation you can give is to be willing to listen.
  2. Listen without criticism and judgment. You may not agree with some of the choices they make or have made, but these burdens and decisions are not yours. You don’t have to live daily with the consequences of their decisions.
  3. Let them know they are loved and accepted for who they are. Their reproductive ability is not a measure of their worth.
  4. Acknowledge their pain and their loss.
  5. Allow them to grieve for the children they may never have or for those lost to miscarriage or early delivery.
  6. Only offer an opinion when it is asked for. Do not second guess their choice of treatment or doctor.
  7. Be as positive and uplifting as you can. However, do not say, “I just know you will get pregnant.” What will you say if they don’t get pregnant?
  8. Don’t be embarrassed by some of the things you hear. Fertility involves sex.
  9. Realize that the only real comfort to an infertile couple is succeeding in having a child of their own, whether through birth or adoption. Judgmental comments on either their efforts or final decision in this matter will not help.
  10. Realize that this is a difficult time in their life. Simply care about them. That goes a long way toward understanding their plight.



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Updated: October 24, 2003