By Sarah Hamaker, Crosswalk.com
I was blessed to have four biological children with relatively easy pregnancies from conception through delivery. I never took that for granted, as friends, relatives, and others I knew struggled with getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term.
For couples experiencing infertility, many phrases or questions can be triggering. Family, friends, and even strangers often have well-meaning intentions. Still, to a woman struggling to conceive or a husband wondering if they’ll ever have a baby of their own, some phrases come across as insensitive at best and downright mean at worst. These couples are already experiencing an emotional rollercoaster because infertility affects the body and mind, as well as one’s spiritual life, hormones, relationships, finances, and overall health, not to mention the trauma of specific medical conditions or issues preventing a viable pregnancy.
Here are eight things not to say to couples struggling with infertility. While you might think these phrases aren’t hurtful, they can be to those who are hoping with all their might to have a biological child.
1. Quoting Genesis 1:28 as if it’s a Personal Mandate
The language of this verse is a beautiful promise: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (ESV). But the reality is, telling a woman who’s trying to get pregnant that God says she should have babies is both painful and tone-deaf.
2. Just Relax
“This is one of the most frustrating phrases to say to a couple trying to get pregnant,” said Betsy Herman, author of When Infertility Books Are Not Enough: Embracing Hope Through Infertility, where she talks about her own struggles with infertility. “We don’t tell people to ‘relax’ as a solution to other medical issues,” so why do we tell those trying to get pregnant to relax?
3. Just Adopt
As a foster mother myself, I get the heart behind this sentiment. Adoption and foster care are wonderful callings, but not every couple trying for a child of their own will be called to adopt. Many couples struggling with infertility do adopt, but not as a “cure” for infertility. These women and men still long to experience pregnancy and birth. Also, please don’t say the old chestnut, “As soon as you adopt, you’ll get pregnant.” While this happens to some women, many more adopt but never have biological children despite trying to get pregnant.
4. Implying God Is Only Good When a Baby Is Conceived
“I personally don’t like when people use the phrase ‘God is so good!’ in reference to a person having a baby after infertility because I know that God is still good during infertility and pregnancy loss,” Herman pointed out. “God’s character doesn’t change: He doesn’t become more ‘good’ when a baby is born.”
5. Why Can’t You Get Pregnant?
Just as asking women if they are expecting is rude, quizzing someone about why they don’t have a baby bump is as well. It’s akin to asking someone suffering from cancer why they’re not getting better. It’s a very intrusive question because you’re asking someone to divulge their reproductive health and the reproductive health of their partner. Even if you would be comfortable sharing such personal details, don’t expect someone else to feel the same.
6. Try Fertility Treatments
Fertility treatments can be complex, from hormone replacement to in vitro fertilization (IFV). Stay far away from asking if the couple has tried IFV or other fertility treatments unless they bring it up themselves. IFV and other similar treatments are very personal and expensive, given that most insurance plans don’t cover the procedures.
“Also when it comes to fertility treatment, Christians often take these steps prayerfully,” Herman said. “IFV can involve the discarding of human embryos, or creating too many embryos and therefore the sanctity of life ethics must be considered. Don’t pressure loved ones to pursue fertility treatment if they aren’t comfortable with it or can’t afford it.”
7. Being a Mom Is Hard
To someone who can’t conceive, telling them parenthood isn’t a bed of roses doesn’t make them feel any better. It’s always tempting to point out the hardships of raising kids to someone who doesn’t have any, but since you don’t know the why behind their childless state, joking about how difficult it is to be a mother can be tasteless and hurtful.
8. You’ll Have a Baby One Day
This sounds comforting, but you can’t promise something like that to anyone. Refrain from this and similar platitudes to avoid glossing over the infertile woman or man’s hurt (and yes, men can have infertility and feel the same longing for a child of their own as women can).
What should you say or do for someone going through infertility?
I’m Praying for You
When you pray, don’t only focus on their infertility but expand to include comforting their heavy hearts and helping them walk in faith. Pray for a child for them, but also pray they can accept whatever the Lord brings into their lives.
For close friends or family, offer to listen if they want to talk about their infertility struggles, but keep your opinions and advice to yourself unless specifically asked by the person. Be okay with silence too. Don’t bombard them with questions, but provide a nonjudgmental listening ear.
Don’t exclude them automatically from events that involve babies or kids, but give them a choice on whether to attend, such as asking before inviting them to a baby shower. Recognize some days will be harder than others and extend grace whenever possible as emotions might spill over because of hormone treatments or an unexpected loss.
Cards, flowers, texts, and calls are all ways we can encourage those struggling with infertility. “Send a word of encouragement in a text or a card on difficult days like Mother’s Day,” Herman said.
Above all, remember God has the best life mapped out for each of us. Sometimes that includes bio children of our own, and sometimes, it doesn’t. Not getting our hearts’ desires can be painful, especially when we long for a biological child. Let’s all remember God’s ultimate goodness, and how he blesses us often surprises us.
Sarah Hamaker is a national speaker and award-winning author who loves writing romantic suspense books “where the hero and heroine fall in love while running for their lives.” She’s also a wife, mother of four teenagers, a therapeutic foster mom, a UMFS Foster Parent Ambassador, and podcaster (The Romantic Side of Suspense podcast). She coaches writers, speakers, and parents with an encouraging and commonsense approach. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.