9 things not to say to a fertility-challenged couple

Your words may sound sensible, even helpful, to you but to someone who’s facing infertility, they are downright hurtful.

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You could say that outspoken supermodel Chrissy Teigen, 31, is the opposite of media shy. Married to 38-year-old singer John Legend for four years, Teigen has been candid on social media about her struggles trying to start a family. 

Conceiving eventually with the help of in vitro fertilisation (IVF), Teigen gave birth to baby girl Luna Simone in 2016. However, the couple’s path to parenthood has not been without criticism. On announcing that they had chosen to implant the “girl” embryo during her IVF procedure, she was berated online for gender selection.

Recently, on sharing her plans to present a sibling for Luna with the remaining “boy” embryo that they have, a Twitter troll asked rudely, “Did you give it a minute to try naturally or are you avoiding ‘the act’?”

Not one to put up with insolence, the pan-Asian celebrity shot back, “Thanks for asking, you complete witch. I tried for about nine years. Anything else, let me know!”

Infertility is a deeply personal and heartbreaking journey for a couple. It’s especially hard for the woman as she’s struggling to make sense of an invisible loss ― missing someone she’s never met before. It’s an isolating experience, to say the least.

Watching someone carry that grief can be tough as well. Even if you’re not trying to be outrightly insensitive like Teigen’s trolls, you might say something you thought was helpful, but actually wasn’t.  

As one in six couples in Singapore are dealing with infertility, it’s likely that you know or know of someone going through this ordeal. If you’re trying to be supportive, refrain from making the following remarks. Take note of what you should be saying instead.

1. “When are you going to have a baby?”

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT: Not all married couples have babies ― some by choice, others by circumstance. The causes of infertility are very often not known, so it takes time ― sometimes months, even years — to figure out what’s going on and how to correct it. Fertility treatments are also done in stages over a period of time. Constantly bugging a couple about why they are not pregnant yet isn’t going to speed up the process. It’s will only leave them fraught with anxiety and battling feelings of hopelessness.

SAY THIS INSTEAD: “Have you guys been doing anything fun lately? Any travel plans in the books?” Focus the attention on anything but baby-making.

Infertility isn’t caused exclusively by age. You can also be young and have existing health issues, which causes roadblocks in your quest to be a parent.

2. “Have you tried doing it naturally?”

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT: Err, only like forever and in every sex position the Kama Sutra recommends. In case you didn’t know, if a woman is below 35 years, the couple needs to have regular intercourse for a year before being declared fertility-challenged by a medical professional. This time frame is shortened to six months if the woman is age 35 and above. So, yes, the couple have given it their all and probably already getting advice from a doctor.

SAY THIS INSTEAD: “Friends of mine just got pregnant via IVF, maybe you guys want to talk to them?”. If the couple takes you up on the offer, great. If they don’t, drop the matter and never re-visit it, unless they bring it up. In other words, be supportive and encouraging, not pushy.

3. “You shouldn’t have waited so long”

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT: Even if the couple tried to conceive on their wedding night, there’s no guarantee that they would have hit pay dirt. Infertility isn’t caused exclusively by age. You can also be young and have existing health issues, which causes roadblocks in your quest to be a parent. There’s also secondary infertility ― when a couple has a baby without any hitch, but has trouble conceiving subsequently. That said, plenty of couples in their 40s have conceived naturally.

SAY THIS INSTEAD: “This is not your fault and not something caused by what you did. It’s life and I hope you will realise your dreams of parenthood soon.” It’s important for the couple to hear that they are not the cause of their infertility. Playing the blame game or wondering about the coulda-woulda-shouldas is not going to help them get pregnant. 

Six more things you should never say to a fertility-challenged couple…