Even if you have good intentions, certain comments about pregnancy, miscarriage or IVF can be hurtful — especially this time of year.
The holidays are approaching and soon family and friends will be gathering together and catching up. This means updates on people’s jobs, latest vacations and life milestones. For couples struggling with fertility, this can be extra challenging.
Research shows that infertility affects an estimated 15% of couples across the globe, which equates to 4.5 million couples. That’s a lot of people having to face holiday gatherings and potentially hurtful comments ― even if they’re spoken with good intentions.
Before weighing in on someone’s fertility journey, take note. Here are a few things not to say to couples struggling with trying to conceive this holiday season.
‘We’re waiting for a grandchild.’
If someone in your family hasn’t had a child yet, there may be a reason why. “You never know what struggles anyone might be facing trying to get pregnant,” said Georgia Witkin, a clinical psychologist and head of patient services development at Progyny.
The conception process can be a very emotionally and physically draining journey.
“It is also worth remembering that one in four pregnancies also end in a miscarriage, which is something that many people tend to keep private, especially when it occurs before they tell friends and family about the pregnancy,” Witkin said.
Try to avoid suggestive phrases like this, even if they’re intended to be a joke. People who have suffered such losses may be dealing with related post-traumatic stress disorder, and invasive questions could be detrimental to their mental health.
‘I can’t wait until you get pregnant.’
“While your intention is to provide positivity to your loved one, assuring them of something that you have no knowledge or control over can actually feel quite triggering to the individual or couple,” said Jessica January Behr, a licensed psychologist and founder of Behr Psychology in New York City. “They may feel as if they are not only experiencing disappointment themselves, but that they are disappointing others/you as well.”
This statement brings the focus onto you, she said, when instead you can focus on providing positivity in a way that may be better received. Instead, she said to try: “I am wishing only the best for you during this process.”
‘My friend’s daughter got pregnant after six years of IVF!’
You may know someone who has had luck with in vitro fertilization, intrauterine insemination or a surrogate after years and years of trying. But your loved one struggling with fertility does not necessarily need to hear about it at length.
“One of the worst things about the holidays ― aside from still not being pregnant ― was hearing miracle stories,” said Amy Klein, author of “The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind.” “I guess they were just trying to give me hope, but these stories just made me feel like even more of a failure, like I wasn’t persistent enough or lucky enough, like the person who got pregnant.”
‘Have you tried this doctor/treatment/clinic/acupuncturist?’
During her three years of infertility, with 10 doctors and four miscarriages, Klein researched and tried almost everything that could help her get pregnant.
“I ate pineapple cores. I gave up gluten. I visited a Reiki healer, two rabbis, one ritual bath, and wrote letters to my future child,” she said.
“Most people going through infertility belong to a dozen Facebook groups and follow all the Instagram/TikTok influencers,” Klein added. “So we probably don’t need any suggestions from friends and family ― just a hug and warm wishes.”
‘It’s been hard on us all.’
“Please don’t ever make anyone’s fertility struggles, pregnancy loss or trauma about you,” said Heather, a 37-year-old public relations director in New York City who struggled with pregnancy loss and a premature delivery.
“I promise you whatever you feel about not having a grandchild or niece and nephew is incomparable to the pain and agony of the hopeful parent,” said Heather, who wished to withhold her last name to talk about her health.
‘You’re drinking a glass of wine? Aren’t you guys trying to have a baby?’
“This is an ignorant question because you have no idea what stage of trying to conceive that the person is in,” explained Deze Oh, an infertility and lifestyle blogger suffering with endometriosis, recurrent pregnancy loss and infertility. “Frankly, it’s not your business and it puts them and their fertility situation in some much unwanted limelight.”
Oh said you should operate under the assumption that a couple trying to conceive is doing the best they can to take care of their body and mind. “So, if they are having a drink, let them,” she said.
‘At least you can get pregnant.’
Saying this to someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss may seem like a cheerleading statement, but has the polar-opposite effect.
“It’s insensitive because it minimizes the grief that the bereaved parents are going through,” Oh said. “Would you say ‘At least you grew up with a mother’ to someone whose mother has passed away? No. Saying this suggests that they should be happy that they conceived and lost the pregnancy.”
‘Why hasn’t IVF worked?’
“While going through IVF, friends or family would ask ― especially during the holidays ― ‘So, when are you going to have a baby? What’s happening with IVF? Why hasn’t it worked?’” said Kristin Marquet Chester, a 42-year-old business owner in New York.
This, she said, was unnecessary and unnerving. “I would ignore those questions because they were intrusive and insensitive.”
Her suggestion to others is to refrain from probing, since you don’t know what others are going through or how they internalize those comments. They may not even have the answers themselves, which may make them feel worse.
‘You’re not getting any younger, better hurry up.’
“For those who’ve never experienced fertility issues, they think they are being comedic, but it is hurtful and dismissive,” said Monique Farook, a 38-year-old woman diagnosed with infertility at 29. She called these statements “a constant reminder that my body isn’t performing the way God or Source created it to.”
Instead, Farook recommended being an ear to those struggling to conceive. And refrain from making comments or suggestions that weren’t asked of you.
‘Why don’t you just adopt?’
“By telling someone this, you are choosing to ignore the fertility protocol, they are currently putting all of their emotional energy into trying,” said Erin Paterson, author of “All Good Things: A Memoir About Genetic Testing, Infertility and One Woman’s Relentless Search for Happiness.”
And for someone going through treatments like IVF, considering the next step can be daunting, let alone thinking several steps ahead.
“Saying this to someone is like telling them that their biological connection to their child doesn’t matter,” Paterson added. “The comment is flippant and uninformed because the process of adoption is a whole other challenge involving parenting classes, home-study interviews … and oftentimes a huge financial expense. It is not as easy as such an offhand comment suggests.”
‘Just relax and it will happen.’
“One of the most frustrating things people can say is to ‘just relax and it will happen,’ which is the furthest from the truth, and not just for me, but for a lot of people,” said Katie Seller, a 35-year-old from Henderson, Nevada, who is pregnant following IVF. “When people say this, it makes me feel inadequate because I have stress, from the normal stressors to running my own business ― not to mention a uterus that likely wouldn’t have let it happen without intervention from science, like IVF.”
This statement also places blame on the person trying, as if they’re the reason they’re not getting pregnant. “When someone is going through infertility, blame is the last thing they need, because we already place it on ourselves,” Seller said.
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