Good and bad things to say to someone going through IVF

As I am now easing into season 2 of IVF, I’m reflecting on some of the most kind and helpful things people have said to me during this process, and then some of the most unhelpful things. More often than not the annoying and hurtful comments that fall into the “unhelpful” category are not said maliciously, but that does not dilute how bone-jarringly brutal they can be at times.

So what’s a helpful thing to say to someone struggling to have a baby and/or someone who has recently suffered a loss such as miscarriage?

That is really terrible/sh1t/awful for you.  I’m so sorry.

This, or some kind of variation of this is really the only helpful thing that can be said.  I have also taken comfort and gratitude from those especially close to me who have reached out and asked is there anything I can do for you?  Most often there is not beyond hugs and listening to me go on, but just to know they want to help or support or do something is just beautiful. After my first miscarriage, my best friend sent me flowers.  She’s over the other side of the world from me and that small gesture meant so much to me.  It really touched me and helped me in that terrible time to feel like I wasn’t completely alone.

That same friend is also really good at not asking questions (mostly).  She senses when to question and when to just leave me be.  She has 2 children now and I saw her recently when I headed home and got to cuddle her new baby.  She didn’t say a thing when I sobbed as I held her daughter.  She just quietly went and got me a box of tissues. That is a good friend.

So over to the other side; what are some of the things that you should not say:

You just need to relax and not stress so much
Oh really?  Is that ALL IT TAKES?!  So if this all it takes then why don’t teenage sex ed lessons cover this all-important conception detail, FFS! While of course it would be ideal to be going through IVF in some kind of constant zen-like peace, anyone who has been through it knows it is very difficult to remain calm at all times.  Just hearing people telling me to relax makes me stress more.  So don’t.

You need to stay positive
This is closely linked to the above “relax” point, but the kind of people who say it to you are particularly self-righteous about always being positive.  I think it’s fair to say I started off season 1 of IVF very positive and confident it would result in a baby.  Some may say naive.  But you know, two miscarriages in 5 months is tough.  I will not apologise for being fragile and hesitant going into this process again, and someone militantly insisting I remain positive at all times does not have a grasp of my situation and is better off staying silent.

A friend of my friend’s cousin drank this magical tea/took vitamins and now she’s pregnant
Sure she did. Please stop wasting my time with your BS.

You just need to stop trying and it will happen. My cousin/friend/neighbour did IVF for years and then stopped and they fell pregnant straight away
Even if this was true – and I really do think this is the IVF version of a wives’ tale – it’s not helpful when you are pouring everything you’ve got emotionally into IVF (not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars/pounds/euros spent).

You’ll have a baby eventually
Maybe we will (I hope so), but I’ve looked at the stats and done my research and maybe we won’t, so don’t be putting more pressure on me by expecting that its a foregone conclusion.

Oh you’re so lucky you get to go out to restaurants and go on holidays abroad (said by parents)
Yes, you are probably right that this is one of the few perks of being childless and no doubt parents (especially of young children) probably miss this part of their pre-children lives. In fact, whenever we have had a loss one of the first things we go and do is book some kind of holiday. But look deeper.  This is usually because we need to re-set ourselves and get away from all the sadness.  By being so glib about what childless means is patronising and offensive.

I know exactly how you feel!
This is so often said by people who have gone through infertility challenges themselves and have crossed into the other (dreamed of) side of pregnancy and parenthood.  This is especially stinging because you would think such people should know better. One thing I have learned above everything else from this blog forum is that everyone’s story and pain is different and unique.  My story is different from your story even if we are both going through IVF.  My circumstance, background, age, experiences in the past are different from yours and thus my feelings are a kaleidoscope of those experiences, as are yours.  We might each have great insight and be able to share helpful anecdotes or experience – this is beautiful and should be encouraged. However, if you have been fortunate enough to graduate from the title of infertile to that of pregnant or a parent then do not come and tell me you know how I feel.  You don’t know how I feel any more than I know how you do.

Have I missed any really good ones?  Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

And then for a bit of light relief, I highly suggest you go and read this excellent and funny piece on IVF and the Dignity Olympics.

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11 thoughts on “Good and bad things to say to someone going through IVF

  1. I had an 80 something year old with no children (not sure if this was due to a medical issue or if it was intentional) tell me recently that we’re “really dragging our feet with this having kids thing.” Umm thanks. We were trying for only 4 months by that point but it seemed particularly odd coming from her.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t even remember, I was too busy seeing red lol. Probably something along the lines of yea, I guess we were too busy driving ships in Alaska, flying planes around hurricanes, and getting Master’s degrees.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s impressive you got your words together so fast. I tend to remember the great retorts hours later. A few weeks ago at a wedding someone asked me if we had any children yet, I’m sure fully expecting me to say yes (they were married after us and have 2 children now). I replied no, I have cats. I cannot begin to describe her face but she was actually speechless afterwards so I think that was an effective conversation stopper.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yea I’ve had lots of variations of the relaxing one. Like a suggestion to try yoga or mediation or stories of friends who stopped stressing about it and got pregnant. Like you wrote, those comments just make you feel less relaxed! And having people say things like “have you thought about adoption?” when you are in the middle of IVF doesn’t help!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s remarkable how people suddenly become experts on something they know nothing about. Also, how dismissive they are of what a physical and emotional investment it is to do IVF. They seem to assume you just pop to the doctor and get knocked up all in one visit!

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