Monday, October 11, 2010

How to talk to a "subfertile" woman

I recently read an interesting book called The Conception Chronicles, penned by three best friends who had all gone through varying degrees of fertility and infertility drama.  The book was humorous, and enjoyable, but also full of deeply honest, thoughtful, and useful information.  I bring it up, because of slightly embarrassing incident which happened this evening, during an otherwise normal conversation with my husband...

The Setting: our apartment's uncomfortably small galley kitchen
The Hour: just before dinner

Enter Dear Husband (DH), home from a tiring day at school and a visit with the student health office.  Finally, after much coercion, I had convinced DH to see the doctor for a much overdue physical exam.  I asked him to discuss my fertility concerns with the doctor, and what would be covered by our lousy student health insurance plan.  There was good news, his blood pressure - perfect, tests - covered, joyous news indeed.  This however, was when the trouble started.

With a cheerful grin, DH announced to me that the doctor had informed him not to be overly worried about our poor luck so far in reproducing, and that we should "just have patience, and it will happen."  This may seem to the outsider as a perfectly normal, possibly responsible remark on the doctor's part, but to me, this was the end of my pleasant mood, and an invitation for a tongue lashing, and possibly tears.  Recognizing the ridiculousness of my sudden rise in temper, and not feeling much like picking a fight with unsuspecting DH, I kept as quiet as possible, and let the horrible feelings subside - though I may have quickly spit out some quick remark about the doctor knowing nothing of my medical history, and maybe keeping those opinions to herself...

When I read about this kind of over-reaction in The Conception Chronicles, I may have laughed at it, agreed to some of the sentiment (as I am regularly told this very thing by my loved ones who are just trying to help), but overall I don't think I took the issue too much to heart.  Now, after many more months of trying to conceive, and of navigating the emotional ups and downs of each new cycle, and the pain of feeling like a failure in what should be the most natural thing in the world for any "normal" woman, etc., I understand the truth of what those women were saying.

For a woman trying to get pregnant, especially for one considered "subfertile," comments such as, "just be patient, it will happen," should never be uttered.  Such a statement feels less like a mild platitude, and more like an actual slap in the face; adding guilt to an already troubled mind, and further fueling her feelings of inadequacy as a woman, a wife, etc.

I realize it can seem difficult to know the right thing to say in such a situation, so I've decided to put together a little list of other comments which you should avoid uttering to friends and family alike, if you know or suspect that they are worried about their chances of conceiving.

Never say:
1) Just have lots of sex/get drunk and have lots of sex
2) It will happen when you least expect it
3) It will happen when it is meant to happen
4) Just stop worrying/stressing so much, and it will happen in no time
5) Why do you bother with all those ovulation tests and stuff, just let it happen and it will
6) I wish I had that problem, my husband just looks at me and I get pregnant
7) I just went off the pill, and the next month I was pregnant
8) Just relax

If you are thinking, okay, great, so what do I say then...well here goes.  Why not try keeping it simple and just being honest?

1) I'm here for you/I'm here with you
2) It will happen, and if for some reason it doesn't, we will make it through this, and we will figure it out
3) I love you
4) You aren't doing anything wrong, this isn't your fault

Trust me when I say that the woman in question is most likely feeling guilty, broken, sad, drained, discouraged, frustrated, scared, and alone, and that these are feelings you should be trying to address rather than making blanket statements about the power of positive thinking.  Comments, like, "Don't worry, once you stop stressing it will happen in no time," will most likely just make things worse.


  1. So true! Good luck in 2011 and I hope you can avoid any more 'helpful' relax comments like the ones above. x

  2. I think this is a common experience to all of us.

    When we finally told my MIL, she responded retelling us her story of uber-fertility. Very helpful. :-/

    (Arrived here from the Crème de la Crème list.)

  3. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing this with the CdlC. It is a really well written post, one that I've wanted to write for a long time. I think that most people want to say the right thing, but just don't know any better. I do my best to try and let people know what I need to hear from them, but other comments invariably slip thru the cracks too often.

    Much luck to you in 2011! love - Foxy

  4. Thanks for the comments and well-wishings ladies. Hope 2011 treats us all kindly.

  5. I also found you via Creme de la Creme. This is a wonderful post, I want to print it and give copies to all of my "well-meaning" friends and family!

  6. Thanks for the comment Anonymity, and welcome!

  7. Here from STFU. I have heard all those comments from near and dear ones. I get it that its just their lack of understanding of IF, but I wish they would just give me a hug rather than useless advice.
    Is there any way for these basic things to be told to all fertiles in this world?

  8. This is a fantastic post! I was nodding my head in agreement through the whole thing.

  9. Great post. It should be required reading for everyone.

    (here from creme)