I once called my brother the root of all evil. He must’ve done something to deserve it – like steal one of My Little Ponies or disregard my stage directions during one of the family skits I wrote, directed, and starred in. Regardless of his actions, it was a cruel thing to say, and I immediately regretted it as I saw how I’d wounded his sweet (albeit mischievous) little 6-year-old heart.
We all know words can hurt. We also know that we can be stupid at times, saying things we don’t mean out of anger or putting our foots in our mouths. It happens. We’re human.
Words can especially bring pain to someone who is grieving a loss, as when someone faces the possibility of not being able to get pregnant and/or carry a child. Any and every little thing can set them off, like that go-to conversation starter: “Do you have any kids?”; or the more invasive: “When are you going to start a family?” Innocent, everyday questions can shoot like stinging arrows, reminding you that your arms are empty and your heart is aching.
During my time in that miserable season I eventually learned I needed to be more thick-skinned and recognize that the vast majority of people weren’t meaning to shiv me in the ribs with their well-meaning yet insensitive comments. I also discovered it helped to tell others what NOT to say so I wouldn’t want to punch them in the face or de-friend them on Facebook.
So I thought it might be fun to put much of my social network on a guilt trip and share some statements and questions that are just not helpful to those who are dealing with infertility. Seriously, don’t feel too bad if you’ve said one or more of these things – remember, we all say stupid stuff, and there’s grace to go around, yada yada. Just take a glance through these 10 items and look forward to my next post on things you can say and do to encourage your loved ones who are trying to grow their families.
1) “You just need to relax.”
… or go on a vacation, get a massage, reduce stress, etc. This type of advice has the opposite effect and creates more stress, making your friend feel like she’s doing something wrong when there’s likely a physical problem – not emotional or psychological – preventing pregnancy. Relaxing never cured anyone of diabetes; neither can it cure a diagnosable medical problem like infertility.
2) “God has a purpose for your pain.”
This statement is true, but to your friend, who is dying to know when or if she will be a mother, it often comes across as a trite attempt to dismiss her sorrow. The pain of infertility is real and must be acknowledged and dealt with in healthy ways. Also, if your friend is a believer, she probably already knows God has a divine purpose for her struggles, and His timing is perfect, and His ways are higher than hers, but that might not be the message she needs to hear from you when she’s smack dab in the middle of that struggle.
3) Complain about pregnancy OR glorify pregnancy – “OMG I can’t stop eating, how am I gonna lose all this baby weight?” or “Feeling these little baby butterflies is uh-mazing #blessedtobeknockedup”
4) “Have you tried _______?”
… acupuncture, massage, meditation, Feng Shui, more exercise, less exercise, gluten-free diet, etc. Chances are, your friend knows how to use the Internet and thus has done a thorough job of researching the many methods people experiment with to get pregnant and doesn’t want or need your suggestions.
5) “Have you tried _______?”
[insert unsolicited, wildly inappropriate recommendations for sexual positions, techniques, or activities proposed by total strangers, or worse, your mom or MIL.]
6) Complain about your kids – “Are you sure you want kids? You can have mine.”
Yes, I’m sure I want kids. No, I don’t want yours; they’re brats, and you’re just as bad for saying that to brush off my disappointments.
7) Emphasize the perks of childlessness – “Enjoy getting to sleep in while you can.”
8) Act like you know what they’re going through when really you’ve got no clue – “I can totally relate to you because of my journey through _______.”
Grief is universal, but experienced in different ways by people in different situations. It’s better to admit that you can’t completely understand your friend’s anguish and that you’re saddened to see her hurting than to compare losses and thus downplay her unique struggles.
9) Quote Scripture out of context – “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11b)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Note this verse doesn’t say all Scripture is profitable for comforting hurting people through improper citations that are ill-timed and insensitive under the given circumstances. By all means, go to the Word for encouraging promises and stories of God’s faithfulness; just be careful determining which verses to highlight and when to share them.
10) “Why don’t you just adopt?” or “Just adopt; then you’ll get pregnant.”
As wonderful as adoption is (and I’m a huge advocate), your friend might not yet be ready to process all the emotions and practical issues involved with making the decision to pursue that option. This question also implies a load of negative and/or incorrect presumptions, including the likelihood that your friend has given up trying for a biological child, that adopting a child is inferior to conceiving a child, and that adoption is an easy alternative to biological baby-making. Furthermore, studies show adopting a child does not affect the rate for achieving pregnancy. Adoption isn’t a means to an end of getting pregnant; it’s another way to add a child to your family and a route a couple should pursue only when they’re ready.