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Infertility Etiquette (for your friends and family)


a blog by Jay Pal

I’ve seen quite a few articles on what to say or not say to someone who is dealing with infertility. After reading many of them, I’m stunned at some of the things that were left off of the list and frankly, I disagreed with some that were on the list.

On the surface, because I’m me and can’t help but make jokes about it, my list would consist of things like:

  • All movies and TV shows must have a PG label: Warning storyline contains numerous pregnancy related topics.
  • Strollers should have bell so we know when they are coming and can turn the corner.
  • People addicted to crack should not be allowed to have their seventh child
  • The word Duggar shall never be uttered in our presence.
  • Never make a pity face when you talk to me.
  • Save the sonogram photos — don't post them in public
  • Understand if you're pregnant and I don't talk to you for awhile, it's nothing personal, I just hate your uterus.

However, that list is more for my fellow infertile women who can relate to my situation. In terms of what one can send to the outside world, I’ve composed my own version of what the etiquette should be when a fertile person is dealing with an infertile person. You’re more than welcome to cut and paste to your friends and family and, of course, if you have some suggestions as well, please put them in the comments section!

First and foremost, I know that whenever any of my friends or family tries to offer their words of wisdom of my struggles with fertility, they have my best interest at heart. I also know that everyone, no matter who they are, is trying to be helpful.

Dealing with infertility is a very sensitive issue. Your emotions can range from feeling like a failure, to worrying about the future, to being optimistic, to feeling hopeless. Also, quite often when you are friends with someone who is fertility challenged, on any given day, they could be worried about money and insurance bills, or they could even be in the process of a fertility treatment where emotions and hormones are running high. You just never know.

Therefore, since many of you might not be aware of what can be unintentionally hurtful when dealing with infertility, I have put together the below list to help out:

  • Please no anecdotes and no advice. Trust me. If you’re struggling with infertility, you’ve heard every anecdote you can hear; we know what so-and-so did with cough syrup or how what’s-her-face adopted and then got pregnant. We need to focus on ourselves and our own situation and ultimately, we have doctors to best advise us on our specific situation.
  • Please don’t suggest using donor sperm or donor eggs. I’ve heard more stories than I can count of my fellow infertile women being asked if they want to use their brother-in-law’s sperm or their sister’s eggs. What’s amazing to me is people make these suggestions even before the couple in question has exhausted all their options. Until it’s determined that that is even a factor, the only person who should be offering a woman sperm is her husband.
  • Please don’t suggest adoption or even giving up. Again, I’ve been shocked how many times people have asked me about adopting even before we did our first infertility treatment. Adoption is an option, but it’s one that is something for most couples down the road. The same goes for suggesting that they let go of trying to have kids. That’s a big decision, and many seem to suggest it way too early. In the end, both adoption and deciding not to have children is between the couple having fertility issues and their doctor. End of story.
  • Please don’t suggest a reason why this is happening. Whether you think it’s God’s will or fate or that there’s some reason the universe has decided an infertile couple should have these issues, kindly keep it to yourself. Trying to apply logic to an inexplicable or illogical situation is simply not helpful. I personally have been dealing with this long enough to know that some couples get lucky, and some don’t. Even the most religious infertile couples will tell you that sometimes things happen when you’re going through this journey that don’t make sense. You just have to do your best and accept the outcome. Plus, when someone struggles with infertility, they often blame themselves. You trying to provide a reason as to why it might be their fault, only makes it worse.
  • If you have children or are pregnant, please don’t talk about the downside. I know you’re trying to be comforting, but this can be the equivalent of telling a blind person they are lucky because you have to spend so much money on your eyeglasses.
  • Please DON’T acknowledge Mother’s Day/Father’s Day. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be very difficult for those who desperately want to be a parent but aren’t yet. Some recommend that you send someone struggling with infertility a card or somehow include them on the day’s events. I personally disagree. Although the gesture is sincerely appreciated, to me, it just highlights the situation. I would much rather focus on MY mom and how much I love her more than I would care to focus on how I'm still NOT a mom. I would just be respectful that it’s a tough holiday.
  • Please don’t mention celebrities who went through infertility. They have money and advantages that most don’t. They can adopt, do as many IVF cycles as they want, hire a surrogate or even rent a child if they so choose! The point is, whether they struggled with infertility or not, their situation is different from many women. Fertility treatments are very expensive, so telling someone all about how a celebrity got pregnant on her 20th IVF when most can barely afford the fertility medication isn’t wise.
  • If you find out your pregnant or you find out a mutual friend or relative is, please put it in an email and be sensitive about it. To be clear, it’s not that people who have fertility issues are incapable of being happy for those who are fertile. It’s more that they themselves feel like a failure. It’s one of those cases when you’re “happy for them but sad for me." An email will give the person dealing with infertility a moment to deal with their feelings privately.
  • Even if someone who is struggling with infertility confides in you about their issue, please don’t ask them about it constantly. Some days, it’s harder to talk about infertility than others so it’s best to let the person pick their moments to discuss how they are feeling.
  • Understand that there are some events that are difficult (baby showers being at the top of the list). Again, it’s nothing personal toward you. You never know where an infertile woman is either emotionally, psychologically or physically. Imagine finding out your IVF failed, and then the very next day going to a baby shower where they talk about pregnancy the whole time. Sometimes, the timing is off and the person just needs to protect their own feelings.

Here are a few key phrases that are good to say:

  • I’m sorry you’re going through this.
  • I can’t imagine how you must feel.
  • Hang in there.
  • I’m here for you.
  • I’m thinking of you.
  • Please let me know if you want to talk.

In general, the key is to be supportive. That’s one thing people struggling with infertility do for each other. If you post on a fertility-related chat board that you’re down, you get an endless amount of support. If you post that you’re about to start hormone shots, everyone will wish you luck. No one makes judgments or tries to make it all better: We just support and encourage each other, and that really is the most helpful thing a person can do.

Comments (27)

Summing it all up..."please walk on egg shells around me". Like one commenter said, everyone is struggling with something. Something that is just as important as this! Truth is "outsiders" can't win. Say something-you're insensitive. Say nothing-you don't care. Make up your minds please!

I went through infertility for two years, but I never once said to myself, "I wish someone sent me a facebook message to pity me on Mother's Day", if all you think about is yourself on Mother's Day that seems a bit immature. This whole article seemed as if someone going through infertility is depressed all the time and people should change their lives just for you. Unfortunately moms cannot all the sudden leave you alone and not talk to you because you are going through a hard time. And some of these apply to people having a hard time in general not just infertility. I'm just saying, there is worse in the world. I would rather adopt then be sad my whole life because I couldn't carry a child. Life goes on and you must look at the big picture.

But for many people this is the worst thing that can happen to them. I have been struggling for 5 years now and adoption isn't the same as Being able to carry a child and feel the baby grow within you. also adoption is often times just as or more.expensive than treatments and isn't always an option. Mother's day wasn't hard on me the first few years but as the years go by I dread mothers is easily one of the hardest days of the years, so no I feel it isn't immature to ask for some respect on why it is hard for us

My daughter has been struggling with infertility. It"s sometimes hard for someone close to you like a mother or best friend because we feel like no matter what we say, it's wrong. Someone mentioned the article was a tad immature. It kinda is. Every person struggles with something. You can't throw up a wall and distance yourself because this is the struggle in your life. Know we understand all the hormone changes that the infertility meds induce. Those close to you are tolerant of them because we love you and is what is required medically. We had 4 biological children and adopted one, totaling 5. I understand the desire to carry a child, to see what you and your spouses baby will look like, or to see what traits are passed on from Grandpa Jo. But remember the purpose is to love a child, be a family, and guide and train up a child. Carrying that child 9 months is not that important in the grand scheme of things. IN THE USA, IT DOESN'T COST MONEY TO ADOPT CHILDREN THAT ARE IN CPS!!! This is the best kept secret in town. You don't have to go to China, just your local Child Protection Agency and get started. It took us 6 months (through a private child placing agency; more time than what it takes with CPS) start, to having a child in our home. Ask your self what your purpose is. I can say with ALL truth, I love my adopted child the exact same as I love the biological children. I support my daughter !00% in her efforts to do what she can to make her biological family. But she knows that's just the beginning and if these efforts fail to move on with the non traditional way of having a family.

Are there "infertility doulas"? A friend of mine was asking about it. Also, I read this article to find out what not to say, because it's really hard to know whether my words (that I meant in kindness) were helpful or hurtful. I will keep this list in mind. Thank you.

This is pure brilliance. I wish I could get a copy for every family member and close friend. You're spot on with everything! After trying for a year and a half, my husband has been diagnosed with a condition that causes infertility and I can't agree more with this list!!!!! Thank you :)

I went through 7 years of infertility and a still birth. There are 2 things that people said to me that infuriated me. 1) "Look at Abraham and Sara (from the Bible). They were 100 and 90 years old before they were able to have Isaac."-----Seriously?!?!?!? 2) Someone actually asked me once while I was crying, "If we get you a baby doll, will that help?" -------Needless to say that did not help to stop the tears. Also, while I was infertile, I hated, I mean hated, Mother's Day!!! Yet another reminder that something was wrong with me and I was a failure.

Reading through this Blog just brought me face to face again with the rollercoaster ride of emotions and hormones of the last 6 and a half years... in 2007, my (then boyfriend) husband and I decided we'd "try to get pregnant". In 2009 we realised that perhaps we needed to actually see a specialist and in early 2010, on the first try of Insemination, found out I was pregnant, only to have an Ectopic pregnancy... Devasting... We then tried, later in 2010 In Vitro... nothing... The hormones wrecked havoc on my body and mood swings... Elation... Depretion... it is all there... Changing doctors and uncertainty... Last year, I was ready to give up... the highs and lows each month were just overwhelming... Every time we did a new test to see "maybe this is what's causing the infertility" and it would come back negative... it seemed like it was just worse... The never knowing - why am I this way? You want to put a name on it... to be able to know what your demon is called... Have some way of explaining "why is this happening to me?"... I'm one of 3 kids, my sister has 5... my cousins with "small families" have 2 kids... no one else seems to have any issues at all... So, last August, when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, it was a huge relief. It has nothing to do with my reproductive system... it's my auto-immune system and the body's way of ensuring survival. I was slowly starving to death, even though I had put on weight! So, since August I have been gluten free - check EVERY label at the supermarket - switched over to fresh fruit/vegetables/meats. Where possible, buy farmer's market and organic; buy hormone-free / free-range eggs... No more soda... no more junk food... have become a health junkie! And for me - that has worked! Today I had an ultrasound, and we're expecting a little girl! Five fingers on each hand! Five toes on each foot! But there is nothing that can erase those 5 1/2 years of feeling of futility and unknowing... of wondering "what is wrong with me". I know what caused my issues - but unfortunately there's no magic wand that fixes it for each woman out there. And there are woman that have suffered through this for much longer than I... Like you said - what do you say to that person? The only thing I wanted to hear "don't give up hope".

I actually had to attend a baby shower for one of my best friends the day I found out one of my IUI cycles failed. Talk about a living hell :(

Just my own opinion re: the Mother's Day bit - I wouldn't want any especial fuss or unecessary avoidance of the topic. However, it would have been nice, when looking through Facebook on Mother's Day, amongst all the cute and sentimental mother's day related posts up there, to have seen a private message to me from a friend just with a "I'm thinking of you" message. Simarly at church, when we pray for "all the parents" and "all the children" and "all the sick and suffering", to have prayed specifically those suffering infertility and longing to be parents.

I want to email this list to my family!!! I guess I am fertile in that I have no problem getting pregnant, but I am also infertile since I have not been able to carry any of my numerous pregnancies to term. I am a habitual aborter. When Mother's Day comes around, I can't bear to be wished HMD. It literally cracks my heart in half, because I feel like the worst mother ever and no one gets why.
To all of us on this side of the fence, this list is brilliant and may even seem like common sense. If only those on the other side would "get" it.
Thanks for sharing!

Great article--I will link to this from my blog. I also think that many of your suggestions are also applicable to supporting friends who have experienced pregnancy loss.


Thank you so much for writing this, it's useful and direct. I wrote and drew a comic book memoir called Good Eggs that deals with this very issue. Please check it out, I would love to hear what you think.

Phoebe Potts

The one I hear the most (and hate the most) is "Just quit trying and it will happen". Ummm, no. I have been trying for close to four years now. I am pretty sure that something is medically wrong, what with my husbands lowish sperm count and my erratic cycles. I don't think the problem will go away if I just ignore it. Plus, once you have started trying its REALLY hard to stop. I mean you have spent so long paying attention to EVERY LITTLE THING your body does, that its pretty hard to ignore an abundance of EWCM you know?

As a woman who has been married for 13 years and did 10 years of fertility without ever getting pregnant, I totally get all you are saying. I can tell you are still in the beginning of your journey. I have found that going through infertility is like going through the stages of grief. It sounds like you are in your ANGRY stage still. It's a hard stage and lasts a while. I pray that you will find peace and acceptance soon, but even when you do, the other stages will creep up on you at a moments notice. People can say stupid things to try to make you feel better. The best thing to do is laugh it off. Here are some of the stupid things people told me: "You do know how babies are conceived, right?" "Go adopt a baby from China, they have lots of babies", "Are you pregnant yet?", and of course, as you mentioned, I must have heard about 500 times about so and so who adopted and then got pregnant. Well, I have 2 adopted sons now, (13 months old and 21 months old) and I still have not been pregnant. Best of luck with your journey...the journey sucks, but in the end, I pray that you will one day learn that you have become a stronger woman than you ever thought possible, and you will find peace with the decisions you and your husband have made.

I think your article is spot on
I'm printing off your list and handing it out to my in-laws and some friends
Even though i am now pregnant after 4.5 years after many ICSI's and the loss of 4 babies, they still just don't understand what we've been through and hopefully by giving them this list it will stop them from being sooooooo insensitive to others
Best of luck to you x

Well said, Jay! All of it! Also, I can't even count the number of times I've been wished happy Mother's Day in the last seven infertile years of my life by people who know me well, intending the comment for me regarding my own (future?) children. When I remind them I'm not a mom (not that they need a reminder), the comments are usually something like, "Well, you should be. You'd make a great mom!" or, "I know, but I want this so badly for you!" Completely well-intended, but better said in another way on another day. You're right, Mother's Day is emotionally charged for infertiles as well as for people who had terrible mothers or whose mothers have passed away. I enjoy loving on my mom and sisters and celebrating them as mothers, but I personally would rather not have attention drawn to my lack of children in an inappropriate way on that particular day.

I love this post. It's the first list I've found that gets to the heart of the matter and covers such a broad spectrum. I'm sure it could go on and on ;-) Also, I love reading your work! Kudos! And thanks :-)

I LOVE this article! I feel like it's something I could have wrote. I have been struggling with infertility for 4 1/2 years and counting. One of the people who is hurting me the most lately is someone I am or use to be closest to, my mom. I just don't think she gets it at all. My sister got pregnant six months after stopping birth control and the only time my mom was supportive to me was the day I found out my sister was pregnant....which her son is 3 months now so it's been a while. I can only count "one" day that my mom has not talked to me about kids since I found out my sister was pregnant, just one. Everytime I talk to her she says, did you hear so and so is pregnant, or your cousin is getting married in June and she'll probably get pregnant right away because they want 5 kids......she tells me about family, to old friends, to the local new cast on tv being pregnant. This article really helps because I have yet to talk to her about it, maybe I can just let her read this....Thanks!

Hey there,

Thank you so much for your comments. I think everyone, if they made their own list, would have different things on them or not on them. This one was mine and I based it on my experiences as well as the experiences of some of my fellow fertility challenged friends.

To the poster who I think misunderstood what I was saying about Mother's Day/Father's Day, if you read the first thing I wrote as to what I would say to the fertile community at large, I said, "First and foremost, I know that whenever any of my friends or family tries to offer their words of wisdom of my struggles with fertility, they have my best interest at heart. I also know that everyone, no matter who they are, is trying to be helpful."

I honestly don't think there's one person who has ever tried to give me advice or offer me comfort that was trying to be mean. I genuinely think everyone wants to say the right things and in this list, I was attempting to provide insight as to what is helpful and what might be considered less so.

In no way did I mean you shouldn't celebrate Mother's Day or Father's Day. That's just silly (especially if you have parents as adorable and fabulous as mine). One of the reasons I wrote what I did was because at one Mother's Day brunch an infertile friend of mine was at last year, they were making a toast to all the mothers in the room. Realizing that my friend hasn't been able to have children yet, the person making the toast looked at her and said, "And to you as well who I know hopes to be a mom one day." Again, this was COMPLETELY well intentioned but my friend felt both singled out and like a failure.

There are also some articles that say you should send a card to an infertile on Mother's Day. This is very thoughtful but for me personally, again, I would much rather focus on MY mom and how much I love her more than I would care to focus on how I'm still NOT a mom. In general, that's what I meant and I'm sorry if that wasn't clear to you.

Thank you again for all the interesting comments and for reading the article! It's sincerely appreciated!



I love every thing about this article... especially your first list for your 'fellow infertiles'. I don't even like to put myself in the 'infertile' category but, after a year of trying and no luck, I guess I am. Thank you for making me laugh.

To the previous poster: I'm pretty sure it's not intended for people to not acknowledge Mothers/Fathers day at ALL, but rather not to the infertile person. ie: "Happy mothers day Sam! I know your not a mom yet, but someday!"

Maybe I'm wrong but that's how I took it, and I would agree. Also in the beginning nothing bothered me much, but after so long, trust me it will get to you, and most friends/family would rather know how to help, not fuel the fire, or hurt. Of course they aren't trying to offend, but if you don't tell them, and they have no idea, how will it ever change? I personally like the list! ;)

I am infertile as well and I must say your list seems a bit immature. I know people can be rude but there are those who are just trying to be well meaning. Either way, to ask people not to acknowledge Mother's Day and Father's Day? That's a little much. I do understand that you are going through a rough time, as am I, but having people walk on egg shells around you just doesn't seem right.

I think they meant not to post the "I know you are a good mama to your dogs so Happy Mothers day to you" on someones facebook page

Infertility can't be understood properly unless, unfortunately it is happening to you. However, how are people supposed to act ?, we really can't blame people for not being infertile, we can only try to remember that there is no way anyone can understand what you might be going through. As an infertile male I do understand what it's like not to be able to have to kids. I also agree with many of the ideas posted here today as well. Good luck to you all and thanks for sharing.

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