Although women trying to conceive (or TTC for those in the know) share common experiences, it's important to remember that not every path to motherhood is the same. Unfortunately, not everyone has caught on that with this diversity of maternal experiences comes a new vocabulary to talk about motherhood. Medical professionals, friends, and family, either with good intentions or unactivated sensitivity chips might need a little reminder of things people who are struggling with infertility don't want to hear.
In our achievement-driven culture, when you're trying to do something — in this case, grow a human — there's the potential that you can fail. And for a woman TTC, the possibility of failing to conceive is running through her head 24/7 on bad days, and kept mildly at bay on good ones. Not to mention, medical terms like "defect," "hostile," or "weak" when used to describe fairly common fertility issues can really take a toll on a woman's self-esteem. In her book Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler, noted that "the phrases reflect an antiquated medical system that is often insensitive to women and out with their needs." Any woman who's had a meltdown in Whole Foods buying a laundry list of items intended to up your chances of conception can relate. So, as part of her inner circle, try to avoid saying any of the following phrases to a woman that's trying to conceive.
1"At Least You'll Have Fun Trying With Your Husband."
Newsflash — not every woman trying to get pregnant is with a man, married, or even with a SO. (Yes, people choose to be single mothers by choice.) And if a woman in a relationship is trying to get pregnant, fun has most likely been taken out of the equation. Conception might involve expensive, uninsured IUI or IVF appointments at the ever-so-sexy gynecologist's office or scheduled sex with her partner, which is just about as fun as it sounds. There's a big diff between lovemaking and baby-making. Just sayin.'
2"If It's Meant To Be, It Will Be."
Thank you, zen master for telling me something that's completely not patronizing. Also, when you parse apart this sentiment in relation to TTC, the idea that if you don't get pregnant, that's was "meant to be" is just, well, frankly depressing. When TTC, you want everyone in your orbit to be performing a fertility dance nightly in your honor, preferably while burning sage.
3"Everything Happens For A Reason."
A variation of, "if it's meant to be," this empty platitude is equally frustrating. Now is not the time to enlighten someone on how you see the order of the universe falling into place. Not. A 2011 study found that when people grieve loss (and when you're TTC, every month you get your period may feel like a loss), they don't "want was to be offered false comfort in the form of empty platitudes." I'd say the same applies to women who are facing challenges conceiving.
4"Have You Tried [Insert Method Of Getting Pregnant]?"
Unless you're delivering the message that storks do bring babies to the doorsteps of women wanting a child, chances are the woman TTC is up on all the latest literature.
5. "Stressing Doesn't Help."
I know people who say this are trying to be helpful, but does stressing ever help with anything?
6"This Happened To A Friend Of Mine And..."
Not only is this story not making me feel any better, but can I say how sick I am in general about women comparing their experiences with each other? Sharing is one thing; gossip is another. Oh, and don't bring up celebrities, because they have much more to spend than your average woman TTC.
7"You Can Always Adopt."
8"Are You Praying?"
The sentiment here is sweet, but rather than ask a woman TTC to do yet another thing, you can say instead that you're praying for her. Might I suggest, Aphrodite, the ancient Greek fertility goddess?
9"It Will Happen When You Stop Thinking About It."
No, it really doesn't work that way. Actively trying to conceive requires a lot of planning to increase chances of getting pregnant. I think people say this because they're uncomfortable or just don't know what to say.
10"Do You Think This Has Something To Do With Your Abortion?"
I know this seems brutal — would someone really be that insensitive? — but I've had two friends report back to me that people have said this to them. One of my friends who had to endure this comment just walked away.
11"You Don't Look Infertile."
Guess what? You don't look like an idiot (kidding). But here's the deal. Infertility affects 10 to 15 percent of couples in the United States according to Mayo Clinic. Some women experience infertility in their 20s, others after having their first child. And there is an entire range of infertility issues that may affect a woman, so don't make assumptions.
Unless advice is explicitly solicited, I'd recommend that you listen to a woman TTC, and not say much except you understand that what she's going through must be tough. Lots of hugs don't hurt either.