When someone you love can’t get pregnant. . . .

Consider this a public service announcement.   Whether you realize it or not, you most likely know someone who is dealing with infertility.  It can be hard to know what to say, especially since you really don’t know much about it unless you’ve been through it yourself.

I’m going to start with what not to say.   I’ve heard every one of these.  They don’t help.  They hurt.   Please don’t say these things to people you care about.

1).   Just relax.  Or stop trying so hard. Or stop thinking about it and it will happen when you least expect it.

Infertility is a medical condition.   My inability to get pregnant is not because I’m “trying to hard.”   This implies that it’s something I’m doing that is keeping me from being pregnant.  Would you tell someone with cancer to stop thinking about it and it will go away?   Don’t tell me that it’s somehow my fault I’m not pregnant or that just ignoring a medical problem will fix it.

2). You’re still young, you have time.

Infertility isn’t limited to a specific age.  Some women lose their fertility in their 20s or 30s.   Don’t tell me you know anything about the state of my ovaries.  The calendar may say my body is a certain age, that doesn’t mean my ovaries got the message.   We don’t know why some women’s ovaries age at different rates but they do.   Infertility doesn’t start at a specific age.   And no one is too young to be infertile.

3). Don’t tell me the story of the person you know of “who was in my situation and this is what worked for them.”

You don’t know what my diagnosis is.   You don’t know what I’ve tried.   This implies that I’m an idiot and I need someone who is not a medical doctor and really only knows anecdotes to tell me how to fix my problem.   I know you’re trying to give me hope, but this doesn’t do it.   Chances are that if your suggestion has any validity, I’ve looked into it and either tried it unsuccessfully or rejected it based on my actual diagnosis.   This is really a lot like looking at someone and telling them how your friend cured their high blood pressure when they really have diabetes.

4). Why don’t you just do IVF (in vitro fertilization)?

When I’m asked this question, I know the person I’m talking to has absolutely no clue what they are talking about.   You don’t just “do IVF” and take home a baby.  First, it’s expensive.  IVF runs anywhere from about $10,000 to $35,000 depending on what drugs you need and whether or not you need a donated egg or sperm.   Secondly, it’s not a sure thing.   In my best case scenario, I was looking at only a 60% chance of taking a baby home from the hospital.  Thirdly, it’s not an easy or comfortable procedure.   It starts with lots of blood being drawn, like every other day during parts of the cycle.  It included daily or twice daily shots that you give yourself in your stomach, and possibly shots in your bottom daily depending on your situation.  The egg retrieval is not comfortable.   The IVF can fail before retrieval if you ovulate in spite of the drugs (happened on my first IVF), or if your eggs don’t grow properly.   If everything goes as planned, the eggs will be fertilized and they will divide.  Here’s the next place your IVF can fail, if your eggs don’t divide properly after fertilization and get to a certain stage of development by day 5, they won’t be placed in you.   Let’s say that works, and they transfer the embryo to your uterus.   Now it has to implant.   After 10 days, you’ll have more blood drawn for a pregnancy test.  This is where my second IVF with a donated egg failed. I’ll tell you, it feels like a miscarriage.  I have an ultrasound photo of that embryo in my uterus.   The emotional toil of all of this is huge.   It’s not a simple thing.   Don’t minimize the pain, the money or the effort it takes to do this.

5) Don’t use the “look on the bright side” approach, or offer me your kids, or tell me how lucky I am for whatever thing you can’t do now that you have kids, or be grateful for what you have, or things could be worse.

All of these things are so hurtful and insulting.  The bright side approach is like telling someone after their house has burned down, “Hey at least you don’t have a heating bill.”    And believe me, someone going through infertility knows that it can be worse, we don’t need to be told.

6)  Why don’t you just adopt? Or I know someone who after years of trying adopted and got pregnant.

I think everyone must know these same 6 people.   First of all, anecdotes are not statistics.  Realistically, only 6 – 8% of people who adopt later get pregnant.  That means that over 90% don’t.   This is not hope.  This is once again implying that it’s something we’re doing that is preventing us from getting pregnant.    Secondly, no one “just adopts.”  It’s a long hard expensive and invasive process.   Regardless of whether or not you are adopting domestically or internationally, your life will be dissected to determine whether another person thinks you are fit to be a parent.   They look at your medical history, your finances, your criminal background, whether or not 911 was called to your house for a domestic dispute 5 years ago,  they’ll talk at length about your childhood, how you plan to discipline your child, your thoughts on anything about family and home life.   They’ll tell you how you can and can’t raise the child you are adopting.   Once you get past these hurtles, then for a domestic adoption, the birth mom has to choose you.    Then she has to give birth and not change her mind.  20% of the time the birth mom changes her mind and decides to parent her baby.   This is not a journey for the faint hearted and it’s not a consolation prize for those who can’t get pregnant.

7)  It’s not God’s plan.  Maybe it’s just not meant to be.

Really?  You’re telling me you think it’s more God’s plan for a baby to be born to a crack addict addicted to cocaine than for me to get pregnant?   You think he’d rather children be born into abusive homes than into my loving home?  Or do you think that I’d be a horrible mother?   I know that people who are saying these things think they’re being supportive.   I guess it’s supposed to comfort me that I’m not pregnant because it’s not God’s plan for me.  It doesn’t comfort me.  It doesn’t give me hope.  It insults me.   I’d like to think that if God is intervening in this way that he spend his time preventing pregnancies that end in abortion rather than preventing me from getting pregnant.

I know it can be hard to know what to do or say.   Here’s my advice on that.

1)       Just listen and be supportive.  Don’t judge, don’t offer advice.   You can say I’m so sorry you’re going through that.   You can say I’ll pray for you.    Let me know you care.

2)      Support my decision to stop treatment when I get to that point.  Don’t rush me to move on to adoption.  Let me grieve and move at my own pace.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this.  I’ve had every one of these things said to me during my journey.   I hope that by sharing them here, someone else won’t have to hear these things and feel extra unnecessary pain caused by insensitivity.   We’ve stopped infertility treatments about a year and half ago but if you have questions that will help you understand infertility and how to support someone you love, I’ll be happy to answer them.



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7 Responses to When someone you love can’t get pregnant. . . .

  1. jonny says:

    I am looking for any literature on what a husband can do/say to comfort his wife when having difficulties getting pregnant. my wife and I have been trying for only 2 months or so and she gets upset and feels it is not going to happen. I know 2 months is not a long time, and please do not get mad at us for being scared when we have not put in a lot of time. it is hard for me to connect with her fear, because i believe it is going to happen, but I am looking for the right words to say to comfort her. I have found a few articles, but they are mostly about what ‘not’ to say, and are directed at friends of the woman (not the spouse). Any books or article that you know to help me would be greatly appreciated.

  2. jonny says:

    Thank you

    • Josh says:

      Did you get a good reply? I’m struggling with the same thing

      • Dawnmarie says:

        Thanks for commenting Josh. I’ll share the reply here in case it helps someone else. Trying to get pregnant is such a hard thing and everyone reacts differently. As a society, we’ve gotten used to thinking everything should happen quickly. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Don’t worry, I’m not going to judge you’re wife’s reaction. I don’t know anything about the situation or why she’s scared. She may have a very good reason for being nervous. I’ll probably be a little long winded here and tell you more than you asked. But these are the things that helped me through the process. Maybe they’ll help both of you.

        If you haven’t already, do some research on how the process works. For example, ovulation is not always on the 14th day for all women. It could be on the 10th day and if you’re proceeding as though it happened on the 14th, you’ll miss it every time and never get pregnant.

        I’m not sure what your wife’s personality is, so this may not work for her. For me, facts always help control my emotions. I knew that at my age, I was likely to have issues. So I learned everything I could about the process. For instance, did you know that even if you do everything right, you have sex within hours of ovulation, the eggs are in great shape and the sperm count is as it should be, you only have a 20% chance of getting pregnant in any given month? That’s why the drs want you to try correctly for 6 months first. Our instruction was to start having sex every other day about 4 days before we expected ovulation and continue until 2 days after.

        Also, in infertility, about a third of the time, the cause is with the woman, about a third of the time it’s with the man, and the other third, well, they just don’t know what’s causing it.

        So, for my friends that are nervous, I tell them, get the ovulation tests and use them. Be prepared to go through 10 that first month. Start testing way earlier than you think you’re going to ovulate so that you don’t miss it. Then continue to use the ovulation tests each month. Your ovulation day may shift some so don’t count on the result from the first month to be the same each time. Also, keep track of which day you ovulated and which day your period started, and which days you had sex. If in 6 months, you still aren’t pregnant, the doctor will want this information to help decide why it’s not working. You’ll get to move ahead to try different things if you’ve already done this step.

        While we were going through infertility and our adoption journey, my husband was incredibly supportive. The hard part is you want to fix the problem, in this case her pain and fear. You can’t. Sometimes, he just held me while I cried and didn’t say a word other than he loved me and we’d get through this. As we entered fertility treatments and procedures failed, he’d say, we’re going to have a family someday, I don’t know how it will happen, but we will. Mainly, he was a shoulder to cry on, a steady calm that I could lean on when I just knew it was hopeless. Often he didn’t have any words. I think that’s the best message I can give you. Start with the knowledge of the process and how it works, then realize it’s okay if you don’t have the right words. Do whatever you normally do for her when she’s having a hard time. For us, it was taking extra time to spend with me, maybe calling me during the day when my period started just to let me know he was thinking of me, it was long hugs while I cried, it was an acceptance that this was hard for me and that he couldn’t fix it.

        Good luck to you both. I hope this helped some.

      • Dawnmarie Oyler says:

        Josh, Thank you for commenting. I’ve added my previous reply to Jonny on the blog in case others find it helpful. Let me know if that’s helpful to you or if there’s something else I can share.

  3. Diana says:

    I would like to thank you for your advice. My older sister was borne without a uterus so she cannot carry her own child. She tried a arrogate 2 times both unsuccessful. She’s taking about giving up trying anymore. I’m greatful I read your Advice so I can be there for her. I was wondering If you could help me
    With one more thing… I’m 3 years younger than her and am turning 31… I’m finally ready to get pregnant and plan on trying very soon. How should I prepare her for this? Is it better to forewarn her or tell her when it happens? How should I break it to her. (Pre story- she has already told me of all the people she knows that are getting pregnant I will be the hardest on her).

    • Dawnmarie says:

      Diana, I don’t think there’s anything you can do to prepare her. She’s the only one who can deal with her grief over this loss. Everyone is different, so I’d suggest relying on your knowledge of her and her personality to decide when to tell her. Remember there’s no guarantee that you’ll get pregnant quickly. I’d be tempted to wait. See what happens. If you end up having a struggle to get pregnant, she’ll understand what you’re going through and that would be potentially a good time to start the conversation. On the other hand, if you are one of the lucky ones who gets pregnant quickly, you don’t have to share how long you’ve been trying. You can spare her knowing that it was easy for you. You getting pregnant is going to be different than any of her friends. It may hurt worse, it may actually hurt less. She’ll probably be torn between being happy for you and feeling her own loss. Let her have whatever feelings come natural to her. They don’t reflect her love for you. Any sadness she feels is her own grief and only she can work through it. Make sure you don’t take it personal, that you don’t demand she be happy for you(even subtley). By all means, make sure she hears it directly from you and not through the grapevine. I have many friends who have personally called me to tell me they were pregnant before they made a public announcement. Those calls, even though they were happy, showed me they cared about me and how I would react to the news. They were always excited and happy when they shared the news. They didn’t share as though they were worried I was about to cry. And honestly, I responded with happiness and enthusiasm for them. I cried later. So, with your sister, when the time comes, share it from a place of joy, she’ll probably respond in kind. Then let her dictate her involvement in your pregnancy. She just may surprise you. Good luck.

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