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

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.


4. “Have you tried acupuncture, an all-green diet or praying to fertility gods?”

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT: Unless asked, don’t offer unsolicited advice backed up by information gleaned from some website. If you have personally encountered infertility and have a tried-and-tested get-knocked-up hack, then, by all means, share it. Otherwise, keep your trap shut. You don’t know what lengths this couple has gone through in an effort to have a baby. Most couples keep such information private, especially when they finally conceive after undergoing fertility treatment.
SAY THIS INSTEAD: “Let me know if I can help in any way.” Short, simple, supportive yet not intrusive ― this is the way it should be.

5. “Don’t worry so much about it. Stress only worsens it”

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT: Here’s a couple who wants nothing more than to have a baby, and for reasons unknown, isn’t able to. What’s worse ― they know why they can’t conceive but there might not be a treatment for it. Telling them to not worry or feel stressed is not only unhelpful and insensitive, but also futile. Hearing you say that might just make their blood pressure rise further!
SAY THIS INSTEAD: “Shall we take up yoga together?” or “Let’s meet for regular weeknight walks or even better, lets got for a massage ― my treat!”. Want to help alleviate your friend’s stress level? Get up and do something about it.

Sometimes, a hug says a million things you’re unable to verbally. Oh, and if you have nothing helpful to say, do everyone a favour and zip it up.

6. “It will happen as soon as you stop trying”

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT: Because you don’t know that for a fact. Unless you do, then please share your magic crystal ball with the rest of the world. Otherwise, don’t make definitive statements you cannot back up like, “I promise” and “It will definitely happen”. It’s patronising and you’re not taking their pain seriously. By the way, there are plenty of couples who end up childless because they’ve literally exhausted all their options.
SAY THIS INSTEAD: “I hope it happens for you, otherwise, I hope you find peace in whatever decision you make.”

7. “Why don’t you just adopt?”

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT: It sure does make sense, plus it’s very honourable. Some infertile couples do go on to adopt children, but for others, they are determined to have a child that shares their DNA. Who are we to judge their choices?
SAY THIS INSTEAD: “Struggling to get pregnant must take its toll on you and your spouse. I’m here if you ever need someone to vent to.” Sometimes, all they need is a sympathetic ear, not well-meaning suggestions on how they can solve their problems.

8. “Count your lucky stars that you don’t have kids. They are hard work!”

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT: Once we become parents, we realise we have our work cut out for us. Adorable as they are, kids rob us of our sleep, time and disposable income. But this doesn’t mean couples who are struggling to make a baby should be grateful that they aren’t raising a child. Ask any infertile couple and they’d tell you that they’ll gladly swap places with any parent in a heartbeat. That’s how badly they want to have a child, so don’t make it sound like their infertility is doing them a favour.
SAY THIS INSTEAD: “Parenting is tough, but rewarding. I hope you get to experience it in some form someday.” Or “We would love for you to be our baby’s godma/godpa.” Until they have their own offspring, why not share yours with them?

9. “Maybe you weren’t meant to be a mum/dad”

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT: To imply that someone is not fated to become a parent and that it’s “God’s will” is just plain cruel. Imagine how devastated the person on the receiving end of this comment would feel? Way to go, kicking a dog while it’s down. #slowclap
SAY THIS INSTEAD: Give them hope or offer gentle words of encouragement. Sometimes, a hug says a million things you’re unable to verbally. Oh, if you have nothing helpful to say, do everyone a favour and zip it up.

Photos: iStock

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