What Your Friends With Fertility Issues Actually Want You To Say

Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
This article was originally published on March 24, 2016. We're bringing it to your attention again in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week.
Baby-making is supposed to be a beautiful time in a woman’s life, full of emotional closeness, gleeful anticipation, and a lot of hot, unprotected boning. But if, like me, your ovaries haven’t gotten the message, it quickly becomes about as magical as a trip to the DMV — and at least at the DMV, they let you keep your pants on.
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Chances are, you know a woman like me: someone who’s always wanted children and knows she’d make a great mom, but whose baby-making regimen now consists of sterile fertility clinic visits and self-administered injections instead of knockin’ boots to Barry White. Not sure how to handle your friend who’s so pumped full of hormones that the mere sight of a stroller can send her into a five-hour crying jag? Who can blame you? That’s why I created this guide.
Ahead, eight things you really shouldn’t ever say to a woman who’s trying to get pregnant — and yes, I’ll explain why. But don’t cancel brunch plans just yet: I’ve also provided safe, comforting alternatives that won’t send us careening face-first into our French toast. Ready to navigate one of life’s most delicate social situations? Let’s go.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“I heard you’re trying to get pregnant!”
We get it, people gossip. If you’ve heard it through the grapevine (or even if we’ve personally told you about our course of treatment in excruciating medical detail), it’s natural to express your excitement and ask a few questions. But, please don’t.

Here’s why: Depending on where I am in my cycle, I’m either carefully cradling my hopes and dreams like a precarious basket full of recently-fertilized eggs, or I’ve just gotten my period and want nothing more than to chug pinot noir and break things. Unless you’re tracking my menses (which I hope you aren’t, because that would be creepy), you can’t really know where my head is at. For the sake of not having to watch me turn into a blubbering biomass in public, please don’t be the one to bring up baby-making.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Say this instead: “I heard you’re kicking ass at your job. How’s that going?”
Fortunately for you, pretty much anything other than the state of our wombs is fair game. Please feel free to remind us that we are otherwise successful, multidimensional women with a lot going for us. We appreciate it.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Or: “So how’s everything going?”
If we’ve clued you into our situation before, this lets us know you care but gives us an out if it’s feeling too raw. Also, use context clues: If we’re holding a glass of whiskey, things are not going well.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“You shouldn’t have waited so long.”
Yep, many of us wannabe-mommies are in our 30s or 40s — and yes, we’re aware that our fertility peaked when we were 22 and our ovarian reserve is rapidly going the way of California’s water supply. Chances are, we’re hyper-aware because we spend half our waking hours reading fertility statistics and biting our nails.

Unfortunately, a lot of us were really busy in our 20s doing things like building a career, paying off college debt, or searching for a life partner who wasn’t polyamorous or vegan. This is particularly true in cities like New York and San Francisco, where we spend so much on rent and sushi that we can’t afford a hamster, let alone a kid, until we’re 35.

So yes, we agree that our chances of getting knocked up would have been better if we’d moved to Duluth, MN and gone off the pill the second we graduated college. But until you invent a time machine to make that happen, please leave our age alone.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Say this instead: “My cousin’s dog walker’s wife got pregnant at 42 and has a beautiful daughter.”
Nothing makes us happier than a success story. Hearing about other women finally achieving the dream of parenthood makes me feel better about what I’m going through. It gives me hope. So please, tell me all about your cousin’s dog walker’s wife and the healthy cherub she had well into her 40s. Hell, I’ll even take her number so she can tell me herself.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“Have you tried Reiki or praying to the Mesopotamian fertility gods or this all-apricot diet?”
Aside from the obvious, a lot of people have many different theories about what it takes for a woman to get pregnant. You may think you’re offering us something new, but here’s the thing: we have probably already tried it. We’ve read all the books, dabbled in all the diets, made pilgrimages to the sacred temples, and written our wishes on sacred parchment to burn under the full moon while whispering the name of the Aztec fertility goddess Xochitlicue.

Right now we just need to listen to our doctors, give ourselves injections, get up at 6 a.m. to have our blood drawn, and try to avoid playgrounds at all costs. Trust that when I want the number of your chakra-healer, I’ll ask.

(If you are a very close friend and have been through infertility yourself, and have something you truly wish someone had told you earlier in your process, it's potentially worth sharing. But at least start in with, "Do you mind if I make one suggestion? You might already know about this, but…")
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Say this instead: “I believe it will happen for you.”
Although we don’t really want your opinion or advice (unless you’re a licensed fertility doctor — then you can talk at us all you want), we do appreciate your vote of confidence. I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself that I can, in fact, get pregnant. It helps to hear you say it, too.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“You shouldn’t stress about it. Stress only makes it worse.”
The only thing more stressful than being stressed is obsessing about how stress can impact your fertility. This ouroboros of irony isn’t lost on us, but it’s also not helping us get to sleep any quicker at night.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Say this instead: “That sounds annoying and stressful. Let me treat you to a massage.”
We’d treat ourselves, but we already spent all our money on this all-apricot fertility diet...
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“It’ll happen as soon as you stop trying.”
This is a really cute thought, but the logic is about as sound as saying that the best way to get good at basketball is to sit on the couch eating Twinkies.

Alas, I once subscribed to this logic and “stopped trying” in the hopes that my lackadaisical attitude would remove the stress of trying to produce a tiny human. Not only did it not work, it also shaved valuable months off my rapidly dwindling fertile years: months when I could have been carefully timing my cycles and boning on all the right days.

Yes, there are people who spontaneously get knocked up after being told they’ll never conceive and either adopt 12 children or buy a white couch, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. (Also, their condition may not be as “spontaneous” as you think. A lot of people still keep their fertility treatments under wraps.)

But when you consider that the average couple with no fertility problems only has a 20% to 40% chance of conceiving in any given cycle, you start to realize how important it is to really try to get pregnant, whether by timing intercourse or seeking medical treatment. We’ll have plenty of time for spur-of-the-moment lovemaking once our ovaries are preserved in embalming fluid and placed in granny’s cabinet of curiosities.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Say this instead: “It sounds like you’re doing everything right.”
Sometimes we question whether we’re doing everything right. Whether or not you’re an expert on the subject, know that your reassurance makes us feel better.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“OMG, did you hear that Gwendolyn is pregnant?!?!”
Of course it’s inevitable that other women will get pregnant: some with alarming frequency. And you’re going to tell us about it, because we’re humans and that’s how conversations work. So, while we realize it’s unrealistic to ask you to never-ever-ever mention baby bumps, we also hope you won’t take it personally when we get very quiet, abruptly leave the room, or “accidentally” break a wine glass as soon as you break the news.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Say this instead: “OMG, did you hear that Stella is having an affair?!?!?!”
Anything that gets our minds out of our lady parts is welcome. That includes bitchy gossip, celebrity news (of the non-baby-bump variety), and cat videos.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“Why don’t you just adopt?”
Sometimes people will ask you this. They’ll say it like it’s as simple as going on Amazon.com for babies and ordering one up with free two-day shipping. Spoiler alert: It isn’t.

Adopting a child can take anywhere from one to five years, and costs roughly as much as buying a new midsized car. It involves a ton of research, an exhaustive home study, sourcing references from friends and family, crafting a profile and doing advertising and outreach to birth parents, receiving approval from an accredited agency, and hiring a good lawyer. It can also be just as heartbreaking as coping with infertility: The waiting and uncertainty are excruciating, and birth mothers can change their mind. Many people hoping to adopt go through one or more “failed” adoptions before bringing home the kid of their dreams.

The “you can just adopt!” mantra is not only not what we need to hear, it’s also disrespectful to the families who have sacrificed time, money, effort, and tears to adopt a child. Know that anyone struggling with infertility is aware that adoption exists. We may even have a book about it on our nightstands. Or two. Or five.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Say this instead: “You deserve a family.”
When you’re trying to get pregnant, you spend so much time beating yourself up, whether it’s for having an extra cup of coffee or not dropping everything to adopt every needy child in the world. Your reassurance helps remind us that we do deserve a family, no matter how we go about making it happen.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
“Enjoy this time while you can. Being a parent is really hard.”
Whining about dirty diapers and having to skip margarita night to your friend with fertility problems is like complaining about having too much money to someone who can’t pay the rent. I mean, sure, we know that having kids is tough. And you deserve sympathy, and also a massage, and probably a medal.

But here’s the thing: You don’t deserve it from us.

Because we’re going through hell right now trying to get to where you are. Because it’s really hard to “just enjoy life” when you spend half of it crying. Because we’re already foregoing margaritas in the hopes of preparing our bodies for pregnancy, without reaping any of the return. And because if you think that breastfeeding is rough, try coming to terms with the fact that you may never get to feel the unconditional love of a mother for her child.

So by all means, complain about parenthood. I know I’ll do the same if I ever get to be a mom. But do it with your mommy friends, or your partner, or really to anyone but me. If you wanted a child and now you have one, I have no sympathy for you right now.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Say this instead: “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. I’m here if you want to talk.”
Sometimes, I do want to talk. Other times, I just want to crawl under the covers and watch Orphan Black until my eyeballs bleed. Knowing that there are friends who will be there if I need them (and who will also understand if I change the subject) makes all of this a million times easier.

In the end, it’s all about being there: without advice, without judgment, without trying to find a solution. You probably can’t make us pregnant, but you can make us forget how much it sucks for a little while. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?
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