Top 15 Things Not to Say to the Fertility-Challenged

Fair warning: I wrote this in kind of a snarky, bitchy way that I sometimes find therapeutic. So if cursing and sarcasm aren’t your thing, you might want to skip this one.

Dammit, I’m pregnant again!

If your problem is that you’re pregnant again — for free, with your own egg and your husband’s sperm — for the love of God, go talk to someone else about it. Please don’t complain to me. My ability to be a good friend has its limits. This is one of them.

Also, if I’m ever starving and homeless, please don’t complain to me about how expensive money managers are these days and how you just can’t keep track of all your dividends. Even if you’re genuinely bummed about it.


(This only happened once, but… once was more than enough.)

Hey, at least you can get drunk and sleep in, heh heh.

I’ll remember that next time I refrain from not just alcohol but also caffeine and sugar and sometimes wheat and definitely dairy for months and years at a time or get up at the crack of dawn to have a needle stuck in my arm and a camera shoved up my lady bits at a clinic instead of, you know, feeding the baby I don’t have. Heh heh.

Listen dumbass: If I gave a shit about getting drunk and sleeping in, why in the hell would I be trying so hard to have a child?

Someone put it like this: If a person’s mother has just died, would you say: “Hey, at least you don’t have to worry about Mother’s Day cards anymore, heh heh!”

I very sincerely hope not.

You have plenty of time. It’ll happen!

I don’t know that, and you certainly don’t know that. So why are you saying it?

Sometimes it never happens. That’s a real — and for some people, terrifying — possibility. It might make you feel better to pretend away worst case scenarios. I don’t have that luxury.

Whose fault is it?

Er… it’s nobody’s fault. What kind of question is that?

If you want to know our personal medical information, well — crazy as it sounds — that’s kinda personal. Did I ask you about your latest pap smear?

If we want to volunteer our private medical information, we will. But as a general rule, don’t ask. Unless you’re going through something similar and genuinely looking for information and advice. Then ask away.

In general terms: about a third of the time, the woman is the limiting factor. About a third of the time, it’s the man. The rest of the time it’s both or no one knows.

For the record: I have endometriosis and I’ve had surgery on both ovaries. Things still look good — my endometriosis is well under control, and my ovaries healed beautifully and seem to work just fine, and Ahmed is healthy as a horse. We’re still not sure why it hasn’t worked for us yet. And yeah, that sucks.

Maybe it’s a sign.

Er… a sign of what? That unlike all those Sixteen and Pregnant girls, I’ve somehow found disfavor with God? That I would be a horrible mother? That the universe is a cruel, soulless place?

Or maybe that you’re a supercilious, unoriginal asshole? Yes, I may be seeing a sign of that!

Just relax!

In surveys across the nation, this is definitely the number one most hated piece of bullshit fertility advice of all time. (OK, I don’t know about any surveys, but it tops the list of most people I know.)

Right. Four years and thousands of dollars later, this is what we must have missed. It’s not the endometriosis, the adhesions, the cysts, the surgeries, possible autoimmune issues, bad luck, or some other factor we haven’t yet identified. I’m just uptight, that’s all!

Thanks, because I definitely wasn’t blaming myself for this enough until now.

Not to mention, learning to genuinely relax when you’re in the middle of surgeries and stress and hemorrhaging money and wondering and hurting and fear and travel and shots and hormones and drugs and disappointments and constantly evolving life plans is some serious Jedi-level ninja shit.

It’s like telling someone who’s sad to smile. Everyone wants to smile, right? And everyone wants to be relaxed. Everyone wants to be calm. But telling people, “Hey, just change your emotional state!” is condescending, insensitive, and fucking annoying.

And some people have real medical issues that can literally never be solved no matter how much they relax. Is that really a wound you want to rub salt into?

“Just go on vacation!” people say. “It’ll happen!”

We’ve been on a number of vacations in the past four years. One of them lasted a whole month.

Still no baby.

It could be worse. At least you don’t have cancer / aren’t getting a divorce / haven’t suffered through a nuclear holocaust.

Next time you have a car accident, or a spinal injury, or your house is broken into, or your phone is stolen, I’ll be sure to remind you of all the worse things that could have happened. I’m sure it’ll be just as helpful.

Look. It’s not news to anyone that whatever bad thing happens to them, it could have been worse. Like all humans, we strive to count our blessings and keep things in perspective. But what this sounds like is, “Whatever thing is traumatizing you right now is really no big deal!”

Just a general piece of life advice: Glibly brightsiding someone else’s pain, especially when it’s raw, is almost always a dick move.

Pain and suffering are not competitions.

Have you tried bee pollen / reverse cowgirl / shiatsu massage / lemon meringue pie? We did that the month we got pregnant!

I hate to tell you this, but it probably wasn’t the pollen or the pie.

You probably just got lucky.

And believe me, if you got pregnant quickly and you’ve heard of some fertility wonder cure, I’ve probably not only heard of it, I’ve done extensive research into double-blind placebo-controlled studies or, barring that, strong anecdotal evidence.

So feel free to offer suggestions. But 99% of the time, don’t be surprised if I look at you like LeBron James would if you casually offered him unsolicited advice about how to improve his jumpshot.

Have you heard about IVF?

I have a Master’s degree in IVF, bitch. And a lot of other motherfucking assisted reproductive acronyms you’ve never even heard of.

Pray you never do.

Have you thought about just adopting?

Actually, I’ve never heard of adoption until just right now! What is it, exactly? What does it involve? How long does it take? How invasive is it? How much does it cost?

Wait… you don’t know? You’ve never done it before and you have no idea what it involves? The closest you’ve come to it is picking up a rescue dog?

Then hey, have you considered fucking right off?

Sorry to be harsh. We know you mean well. But in the spirit of honesty — this is what we’re thinking when you say that so casually.

Adoption is a beautiful option for many people, and it may one day be for us. But it may not be, for many complicated and deeply personal reasons. It’s certainly not something you ‘just’ do, like moseying down to the nearest orphanage and picking one out on your way to the grocery store.

It costs tens of thousands of dollars, requires months or years of uncertainty and invasiveness, and can end in utter heartbreak if the birth mother changes her mind at the last minute — heartbreak almost on par with a stillbirth.

Closed adoption, open adoption, foster adoption, and international adoption all come with their own issues and pitfalls. Some people can’t even qualify for one or more types for a variety of reasons, or can’t afford them.

Again, I want to stress: It’s a wonderful option for many people.

But think about it: If you thought up this genius idea in zero point two seconds, do you really think it hasn’t occurred to us in the past four years?

As soon as my friend decided to adopt, she got pregnant!

Let’s go over this one more time: Deciding to adopt is not something you do lightly. You’re making a commitment for life, laying your personal life open to invasive agencies, and putting tens of thousands of dollars on the line. And for all that, shockingly enough, it’s still not actually a magical pregnancy tonic, no matter what happened on Grey’s Anatomy.

But since you believe coincidence is the same as causality, I’ll be happy to sell you a rock that keeps tigers away. I’ve had the rock for years and haven’t seen a tiger once!

Trust me, you don’t want kids. Mine drive me crazy! Ha ha!

For the record, this is like joking to a paraplegic, “Trust me, you don’t want legs. People make you take out the trash and shit. I’d rather just sit and play video games! Ha ha!”

Just… don’t.

Just get a dog!

Fuck you.

You’ll get pregnant the minute you stop trying!

Right. And I’m sure I’ll finish that novel as soon as I stop writing, and the house will be spotless the minute I stop cleaning!

Even if this were true — and statistically speaking, it’s not — how am I supposed to consciously tell myself to stop wanting the one thing I most dearly want, the thing I’ve been working toward for years? Honestly, how is that supposed to work?

Or am I condemned to childlessness until I genuinely give up?


Everything happens for a reason!


To be fair, maybe everything does happen for a reason. But neither of us really knows that. And it’s sure as hell not something I’d blithely say to someone who’s been in a car accident or who’s been diagnosed with a degenerative disease.

So why say it to people struggling to have a family?

There you have it. All the things you shouldn’t say. (Please don’t.)

What should you say?

Offer an ear. Offer a hug. Offer a word of genuine sympathy. Listen more than you talk. Ask questions rather than making hasty (and ill-informed) statements. Understand that while it is a big deal (to us), it’s not contagious, and you don’t have to make it better in the next thirty seconds.

Don’t be dismissive. Don’t minimize. Don’t make it more about your discomfort than our predicament. Just be there with us a little.

Also remember that we’re more than our current struggles. Talk to us about other things. Invite us do things or just hang out. Tell us you’re sending good thoughts our way and hoping for our success.

That’s it, basically. Be present. Be kind. Ask. Listen.

Good advice for being a better person, and a better friend, in general. 🙂


4 thoughts on “Top 15 Things Not to Say to the Fertility-Challenged

  1. I think I had to go through infertility to learn that hurting people or people with problems large or small don’t want advice, they want sympathy. I finally know if someone has an issue to just say I’m sorry to hear that and then be a listening ear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. Exactly. A great lesson to learn.

      (I actually learned it due to a death… that later turned out not to be a death. Very long story. But I thought a friend had died for weeks, and it was interesting seeing how people reacted to my grief, and how I realized I wished they would react. And it’s “funny” how the pain of fertility issues is right up there with death. It’s an emptiness that goes deep.)


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