We spent 18 long months trying to conceive our first child. It was pretty hellish. I realize now,that in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a terribly long time, and that I was lucky that things worked out in the end.
When we were close to the 18th-month mark, we went to a reproductive endocrinologist and got all kinds of testing done. (All of the testing was super fun, but the one where they shot radiographic dye up my fallopian tubes had to be my all-time fave.)
It turned out my husband didn’t produce quite as many mini-mes as he needed to, and some simple lifestyle changes on his part was all it took to get me pregnant just a little while later.
Still, even though I can’t complain now, I remember those 18 months as an awful, stressful, jealously-inducing emotional rollercoaster. I had wanted to be a mom since I was 6 and became a big sister. (I seriously wanted to steal my sister and make her my own.) So when things weren’t happening fast enough, I was crushed.
It didn’t help that two of my closest friends were trying to conceive at the same time, got pregnant almost instantly, and gave birth when I was still empty-handed.
But maybe the most difficult part of the experience was all the unsolicited advice I’d get from just about everyone. From my mother’s best friend’s friend from Minnesota to strangers on the internet to the barista at Starbucks — everyone seemed to know why I wasn’t getting pregnant and had some fool-proof, cockamamie solution to make it happen.
I know it’s hard to know what to say to someone who is struggling with something like this, but a little bit of tactful discretion can go a long way. So if someone you love is having a tough time getting pregnant, here’s a cheat sheet of things you should definitely avoid saying:
1. Just relax.
This one is so well known, it’s almost cliché at this point. And yet, I can’t tell you the number of times it was said to me. The month that I did get pregnant, I was more stressed than ever because the doctor we were seeing had just told us that IVF might be our only shot if things didn’t change with my husband’s sperm count — and he wasn’t even sure if that would work.
2. Being pregnant sucks anyway.
Listen, having been pregnant twice now and not exactly loving it, I get it. But why would you say this to someone who wants to be pregnant more than anything? Pregnancy could be the most tortuous, sickening experience on earth (and it is for some), but someone who desperately wants a baby doesn’t care one teeny tiny bit. Bring on the nausea.
3. Maybe you’re just not meant to have a baby now.
This whole “everything happens for a reason” argument is extremely hurtful. No, sometimes biology just doesn’t work perfectly, but that doesn’t ever mean that someone isn’t meant to be a parent. Don’t go there, people.
4. This diet/food/essential oil/vitamin will make it happen.
Listen, I’m all for alternative approaches, and in some cases, they can help with fertility issues. Along with changing the temperature levels of his sperm factory (i.e., changing from tighty-whities to briefs), my husband added some sperm-friendly vitamins to his routine in the months before we conceived. But these things were done under the direction of a health professional and were specifically targeted to his issue. Random advice? Not needed.
5. Maybe you should stop trying.
This one goes right along with the “just relax” statement, and it can also go to hell right along with it. There is no evidence that “giving up” helps women get pregnant. So zip it.
6. I get pregnant anytime my partner breathes on me.
I swear, I had a couple of people say stuff like this to me. I think it was said in jest, but it still hurts. Your fertility goddess status doesn’t really need to be announced, thankyouverymuch.
7. You can always adopt.
Adoption is a wonderful thing and is the perfect answer for many infertile couples. But it’s also a deeply personal decision that needs to be made by the couple, at the right time and place. It’s not just something that should be thrown out to try to make someone feel better. You don’t know where the couple is on their journey, so keep your lips sealed, please.
Here’s the thing: People who are having fertility issues do want to talk. They want empathy. They want a shoulder to cry on. So let them spill it out because it’s a heavy load to carry. Be a good listener. Give them a giant hug. But, don’t give them half-assed advice or invalidate their pain.
You don’t always have to have a solution — in fact, it’s not really your place to come up with one, as most fertility issues are medical in nature and are handled best by the professionals.
And if you are in the middle of the struggle right now, please know that all the sorrow, disappointment, angst, and worry you feel is real. The whole thing fucking sucks, but remember that you are one brave, badass goddess, and whatever ends up happening in the end, you are going to be okay.