Since I started writing on this topic the weird comments and inquiring didn’t stop. I thought they would, but alas, people are still weird and just don’t know. So I reached out to the BIG GUNS, my friend Dusty , someone who I love and honor and who knows this subject from every angle. I asked her to write her take on INFERTILITY ETIQUETTE, and she of course wrote a beautiful breakdown!
Enjoy, Learn, and Pass on!
Unless you have experienced the heartbreaking, recurring grieving process of infertility, it can be really hard to know what to say to your loved one who is struggling to have a child. As someone who has dedicated her counseling practice to helping couples navigate fertility challenges, I’d love to share what I call Infertility Etiquette 101 to help us all grow in our ability to provide
Let’s start with understanding what hurting people need most from those around them…empathy. Most people do not truly understand what that word means in action. Brene Brown brought clarity during her viral TED talk when she explained empathy as “simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting and communicating that incredibility healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’” Google “Brene Brown empathy video.” It’s a 3 minute investment that has the power to change your relationships. So let’s take a look at some DO’s & DON’Ts of empathy when it comes to connecting with someone who is struggling with fertility.
-Don’t tell them to relax. The solution to infertility is so much more complex than simply relaxing or taking a vacation, and advice like this grossly minimizes the problem.
-Don’t say “At least…” or “Just enjoy being able to…” These statements offer zero comfort. Having the option of sleeping in late, spontaneous dates, more money, etc. do not even being to compensate for the incredible loss of not having the parenting experience.
-Don’t complain about your pregnancy or kids. I get it. Growing a child and parenting is not for the faint at heart! You need to have a space to vent. But doing this in front of someone struggling with fertility is insensitive. Let’s all focus on being grateful for what we have because there is a woman out there who would die for the chance to trade her sorrow for morning sickness and sleepless nights.
-Don’t give unsolicited advice (or start praying over someone) unless INVITED. If you have a word or prophesy from God or have REAL fertility knowledge (not just a story about your cousin’s friend,) please ask that person if they would like to hear it before you shoot off a text or corner them at church. You are trying to help, but please respect boundaries.
-Don’t say, “Why don’t you just adopt?” As someone who gets asked this all the time (because only being able to have one child is apparently a fate worse than death,) I can answer this question for you. Maybe God hasn’t called them to, just like God didn’t call you to adopt your 1st, 2nd or 3rd child. Adoption is insanely expensive and requires treacherous emotional vulnerability. Grieving the loss of having your own child takes a LONG time and it is not easy to “just adopt” and accept a stranger’s child as your own. Adoption is a beautiful, wonderful thing, but flippantly suggesting or pushing it on someone who is not ready or called is not a loving action.
-Don’t tell them God has a reason. Yes, God is in control, but this statement can be incredibly insensitive when applied at most seasons of a person’s grieving process and only the Holy Spirit knows when that person is ripe to receive that message.
So now you know what not to say, here are some good examples of what real empathy sounds like:
“I don’t even know what to say, other than I’m here.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I know you might need space from all the baby triggers right now. Take all the time you
need. We’ll be here for you when you’re ready.”
“You’re probably sick of explaining this stuff to people. What is a good resource I can
“This really sucks. How can I help?
“Even though I can’t fully understand how you feel, what’s the best way to support you?”
It’s also super supportive to remember them on Mother and Father’s Day. A short note letting
them know you haven’t forgotten them can really help on what is usually the most painful day(s)
of the year.
You got this! Now let’s all go love on someone who needs it.