What not to say to someone who is having difficulty getting pregnant

Thanks to author Tracey Buchanan for her article in The Telegraph on what not to say to people who can’t get pregnant – the more other people understand that telling us we can “always adopt” or that we’d get pregnant if we went on holiday isn’t a great idea, the better.

I was particularly horrified by the fact that the suggestion that fertility problems were “God’s way” came from an NHS consultant – whoever it was shouldn’t be let loose in a fertility clinic ever again…

I was interested in Tracey’s take on pregnancies though as she says her happiness for others outweighed her own feelings of sadness. I think she’s actually quite unusual on this one.  Of course, most of us would hate not to be told about pregnancies – there’s nothing worse than suspecting that someone is pregnant and is putting off telling you because they know you’re struggling to conceive – but at the same time I don’t really think my feelings of joy for friends who were pregnant ever did outweigh my sadness. People looking at me with pity when they made pregnancy announcements didn’t just “sting a little” – I absolutely hated it and I’d often go home and cry with anger and frustration as well as sadness. They may not be pleasant emotions, but I know I’m far from alone in feeling that way.


Going back to the article though, I like the fact that Tracey has given the Telegraph’s readers some suggestions of more helpful alternatives to what they might say to friends with fertility problems.  Most of the time people are trying to be kind, even if it doesn’t feel that way, and it’s always useful to have some direction when you want to be helpful but aren’t quite sure what best to say…

The right thing to say

I went to talk to a group of volunteer counsellors about infertility at the weekend – they wanted to learn more in order to help the people they see who are having difficulty conceiving.  These weren’t BICA fertility counsellors, but volunteers who offer service through a charity in Sussex. Our discussion covered everything from the biological clock to the postcode lottery for IVF treatment, but one thing they particularly wanted to know more about was what not to say to people who had fertility problems.

We ran through all those cliches that set your teeth on edge – “why don’t you try to relax?”, “have you thought about adoption?”, “not everyone can be blessed with a baby”, “maybe if you went on holiday/bought a dog/stopped trying…” and covered the couple who everyone knows who got found themselves pregnant the moment they’d adopted/given up on treatment/gone to live in Outer Mongolia. I know you’ve all been there…

Anyway, I realised we’d done that bit quite successfully, but then one of them asked what they should say, and it struck me how much more difficult a question that is.  It’s partly that everyone is different and what’s the right thing to say to one person isn’t always the right thing to say to another (wrong things tend to be more universal…), but I realised it’s also far harder to pin down the things that people say that make you feel better. I think for me – and this is what I suggested to them – in the end, it’s empathy that counts. And empathy not sympathy as there’s nothing worse than other people’s pity when you can’t conceive.

The people who helped me on my journey were those who asked how things were, who didn’t studiously avoid the subject but who were understanding enough to stop probing when I didn’t want to talk, people who weren’t afraid to show their kindness or thoughtfulness. I think sometimes people can become so worried about saying the wrong thing that they stop saying anything at all. Of course, the people who can help and support you most along your journey are usually those who’ve been there themselves, but I’d love to know your thoughts on this.  Has anyone said anything that helped you along the way? What kinds of things have you found most supportive? And do you have any suggestions I could pass on to the volunteer counsellors that might help them in the future?