What Not To Say to an Infertile Couple

One of the most common questions I am asked is, “What can I say to [insert name of infertile friend/relative here]?”  At first I struggled with the question, because there isn’t a magic formula of right words that will make that infertile person or couple in your life feel better.  But I’ve begun to realize it isn’t what you can say that’s so important.  It’s what *not* to say.  There are some things that your infertile friends and relatives never want to hear.

The first I am going to borrow from my friend Kim, who has a real way with words on this one:

1. “Never tell a woman struggling to be pregnant that it’s because she’s not eating organic food only (or fill in the gap with the food religion of choice).   Moms on crack, smoking and drinking diet Pepsi 24/7 get pregnant and have healthy babies.”

So, neither Kim nor I are advocating smoking crack as a fertility measure, but when Anna Nicole Smith could have healthy babies it’s a little hard to swallow that I’m not because I’m not organic or whole grain enough.  This also applies to home chemicals and environmental issues.  You might really believe that those things cause infertility, but don’t tell her that.  She doesn’t need to hear it.

2.  Never tell a couple struggling to conceive that children are a sign of God’s blessing.  You are implying that they aren’t having children because they aren’t faithful enough, or obedient enough, or holy enough.  Again, I refer you to Anna Nicole Smith, or Angelina Jolie.    Children, like money, safety, rain and sunshine happen to the just and the unjust because God is a gracious God.  The mere presence of fertility is not a sign of anything more than common grace.

3.  In the same light, never tell an infertile woman that motherhood is the highest calling of women.  It’s not true, and it just makes her feel like a second class citizen in God’s eyes.  Godliness is the highest calling of women, regardless of circumstance.  The single woman and the childless woman are called to the same pursuit of Godliness that is the mother of four, six, eight, or ten, and all must pursue it with vigor.

4.  Don’t tell your infertile friends that you don’t want your kids.  You might be joking, but it isn’t funny.  Most infertile couples understand the moments of “These kids are driving me wild!” but statements about giving away or selling children or abandoning them in a public place aren’t funny.  They hurt.

5.  Never ask a woman if she’s infertile because she once had an abortion.  This should seem like a no-brainer.  Apparently it isn’t.  Just don’t ask that question.  Seriously.

6.  And finally, if you have friends or relatives who have just gone through miscarriage (especially repeated miscarriages), don’t say, “Well at least you know you can get pregnant.”  You would never tell a woman who had a seven year old die from cancer or a car crash, “Oh well, at least you know you can have another one.”  Try to think of miscarriage in the same light as those deaths.  This is a real child who has really died and they are really grieving.  They aren’t thinking of another one.  They are thinking of the loss of this one.  Let them do that.  Love them through that, before you encourage them to move on to another pregnancy.

I hope that helps.  I hope it doesn’t sound like I have an axe to grind.   I think the best way we can help childless and single adults within the church is to focus more on the universal pursuits of loving God and enjoying Him forever.  If you can point your childless friends to the cross, and help them find their fulfillment in that, you have been a blessing to them.  That’s what they need you to be.

About Coralie

After 11 years of infertility, I am now a mother to three, a wife of a Presbyterian (ARP) preacher and a struggling homemaker. Welcome to my little corner of the net. Kick off your shoes, put your feet up and join the conversation. View all posts by Coralie

5 responses to “What Not To Say to an Infertile Couple

  • Marianne

    I know how blessed I am to have one healthy (if not INSANE) child, I really struggled when we were trying to get pregnant again. I know you know this, Coralie, because you comforted me so much! It felt like everyone around me was pregnant, which really seemed true… and then a bunch of my cousins, who are very young, unemployed, and unmarried, got pregnant and it just made me feel worse.

    Since I announced my pregnancy to my friends and family, I’ve had three pretty close friends who’ve had miscarriages. It’s strange to switch roles like that. I’ve been trying not to talk about my pregnancy much … but I’m not sure what else to do. I pray for them and love them… but I’m uncertain how tangible that is.

  • heather

    This is so good, Coralie!

  • Lollie

    I know some ladies who would say “here, here” to your post. And I do too, even though I have not suffered in this way. I’ve had my sweet sisters tell me that on occasion an insensitive soul or two has insinuated that their lack of fertility is due to sin and that is why God has closed their womb, and they will even use a verse to back it up!! I was appauled and assured my sweet friends that this was indeed an absolute lie! And although I did not have an answer as to why they were suffering this trial, I just prayed with them and for them, seeking the Lord’s truth in their lives.
    I am shocked sometimes at what “we” say to each other sometimes. This goes the other way too, when you have many children the comments are just as bad “You don’t know how that happens yet??” or “Don’t you think you have enough?” “Don’t you believe in birth control??”

    • suzanne

      Lollie, you are right. We have three young boys and we’re beginning to get those comments. In fact, someone once referred to three as an “absurd” (or some synonym of “absurd”) number of children. I don’t think it was intended to be a direct insult because it was said halfway in jest, but it was only halfway jest. Because our children are close together in age, I have felt the need (with #3, at least) to be quick to explain that we weren’t being “irresponsible,” which is ridiculous because he is completely a gift from God and I shouldn’t be apologizing for his existence.

      Coralie, I thanked you in person and I’ll thank you again for this post. Thank you!

  • Renae

    Thank you, Suzanne, for your facebook referral to this post. Having had 8 pregnancies that have resulted in 5 kids, I’ve had my fair share of remarks, from the 2 years of infertility that preceded said pregnancies … “You just need to relax,” “Aren’t you doing your *job*? (wink-wink),” “Maybe it’s not meant to be,” to the multi-kid comments … “You *do* know what causes this, don’t you?”, “Looks like you’re doing your *job* (wink-wink) a little too well,” “Are you in a baby-making cult?”, “Are you one of those no-birth-control people?”, or “I think these miscarriages are a sign that you shouldn’t have any more kids.”

    Sigh. And these are just the comments from *family*. Seriously. I think they’re still trying to figure out why we did that *seminary* thing, and did we maybe do something to cause our son’s autism. Seriously.

    On the other hand, my brother-in-law and his wife are childless primarily by choice. They are missionaries. And you know what? The evangelicals they run into throw every verse they can think of to tell them how/why they are steeped in sin for choosing childlessness.

    I don’t know who’s the tougher crowd, family or fellow Christians. Me? I’ll take the weird people in the grocery store who want to touch your belly, tell you the sex of your baby-in-utero, and say, “Wow, you really have your hands full.” Because they’re right, I do!

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