Infertility Etiquette: What to Say, and What Not to Say

woman comforting friend

Infertility is an often sensitive and difficult subject for women to discuss. In our society, young girls are frequently brought up with the belief that they are made to bear children, so finding out as a woman that they are unable to conceive naturally can be heartbreaking, especially when they are surrounded by other women who are starting families.

Many women dealing with infertility keep it between themselves, their partner, and their physician. The feeling can be lonely, despite there being more than 7 million couples in the U.S. who are struggling with infertility issues. If someone you know is unable to conceive, saying the wrong thing can compound their pain. Take care to handle their feelings with sensitivity and grace. Here are some tips on how you can achieve this:

What Not to Say

Saying nothing, or saying the wrong thing, when someone in your life shares their battles with fertility will not only be hurtful, but can harm your friendship. Don't try and relate. Don't say things like "I know how you feel," or "I get it." Unless you've had the exact same issues, you can't relate and trying to won't help. Avoid bringing any of your own stories into the mix, which may make her feel like you're comparing your struggles to hers.

Don't offer advice to people struggling with infertility. They've already gotten medical advice from their doctors and don't need tips, tricks, insight, or your brand of wisdom. If you're going through a season of joy, especially with a pregnancy, don't expect your friend to join in. Be very sensitive about sharing pregnancy news.

woman talking on the phone

Some phrases to avoid:

"Have you ever thought about trying…?"

"Would you like to hold my baby?"

"It'll all happen in God's timing."

"There are other ways to have children."

"Try taking a step back from it all."

What to Say

While you may not know what she is going through, empathy is a good way to express your support. Empathy is your expression of care when you have no idea what the other person is experiencing. Allow your friend to speak openly. She may say things out of anger, or express things that paint a bleak picture of her life, but avoid trying to change her mind.

woman comforting friend

A simple "I'm so sorry you're going through this" is a great place to start.

Some ideas for what to say:

"I’m here for you if you want to talk, or cry."

"I support your decisions to pursue a family in whatever manner you choose."

"If there's anything I can do to help, I will do it."

"I'm praying for/thinking about you in this difficult time."

"Take all the time you need."

When in doubt, treat your friend like you would treat someone who had lost a family member. The grief comes from the same place. Don't try and fix or solve the problem. Your friends need to navigate their infertility in their own time, in their own way. The best thing you can do is be there—whenever they need you or are ready to talk.