Do you face insensitive comments about infertility? Here’s how to handle the situation

Infertility is a subject that’s far too personal. If you’ve been subjected to insensitive comments, here’s how to cope with it.
How to cope with infertility
Deal with infertility with support from loved ones. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Himanshu Singhal Published: 24 Sep 2021, 17:11 pm IST
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Since 1 in 8 couples experience infertility, the awareness around it has grown, but we have a long way to go when it comes to infertility etiquette. Culturally, there is a large taboo about infertility and pregnancy loss. Infertility, like weight, religion, and political beliefs should be considered personal and off-limits for snide remarks. But, unfortunately, it seems like fertility is an open topic. 

Unfortunately, the grief that couples experience is not really validated as an actual ‘loss’ on a societal level. Many people simply don’t understand what it’s like to go through challenges trying to conceive. 

Unintentional remarks can feel dismissive, leaving the couple feeling sad and anxious. 

Since we don’t really talk about pregnancy loss or infertility in our society, most people don’t know what to say in these situations. 

The holiday/marriage/baby showers/festival season can be especially hard to navigate, with friends and family asking tons of invasive questions, which may be belittling to a certain level. Even when they are well-meaning, it can be gutting to be asked again and again at the family holiday party. In India, some women might have been banned from certain ceremonies, as if they have a contagious virus.

Questions bombarded to you could be anything from

 “When are you going to have a baby?” 

“Hey, don’t you want to give your lovely daughter a brother?” 

“Are you crazy for wanting three?”

“So, the twins are your husband’s but not yours, right?”

“What a shame, you’re a woman and can’t have children.”

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“If you just lost a few pounds, it would probably happen.”

“Just get a dog!”

“You can have my children if you want.”

Sometimes, it feels like you just can’t win! 

how to handle insensitive comments about infertility
Show your support to someone living with infertility. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Here are some tips to deal with the situation as a couple:

If you are the couple who is being subjected to these comments, you could behave in these three ways. 

1. Be polite: Respond with dignity

2. Educate and inform the person about your situation in a kind, but informative way;

3. Zing: Literally zing them right back! if you think they deserve it, of course. 

Here are some other tips for you:
1. Focus on self-care during this time

It could be that they are feeling helpless and trying to make you feel better. Keep in mind those comments are coming from others, who probably “don’t understand pregnancy loss or infertility.”

Also, read: Tried everything but unable to conceive? Keep an eye on these early indications of infertility

Sometimes, such situations can be avoided by avoiding social media for a bit, if you don’t want to see birth announcements or not attending baby showers/functions for a while. It may not be realistic to be able to entirely avoid uncomfortable situations. 

2. Seeking out healthy social support

It is always a good idea. It is incredibly helpful to connect with at least one or two other persons who have gone through this situation.

how to handle insensitive comments about infertility
Communicate with people who’re suffering from the same problem! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
3. Be straightforward, and say it’s a private matter

You can either choose to openly discuss your fertility treatment or can say bluntly that it’s personal, and talking about it makes you uncomfortable. It can feel releasing and will give you control of the situation.

4. Change the subject

If someone asks a question you don’t want to answer, change the subject. 

5. Let your partner handle the conversation

After privately deciding what is off-limits to share, let your partner handle snarky comments or the nosey aunt, or in-laws.

Also, read: IVF is an effective and safe procedure to treat infertility

6. Walk away

If you’re just not able to respond immediately, it’s perfectly fine to excuse yourself and walk away.

6. Respond with humor

On some days, this is easier to do.  Responding with humor can ease frustration, and nicely remind the commenter to choose their words more wisely.

7. Let it go

Sometimes, people say awkward things because they don’t know what to say.  And sometimes, people are just rude. If you can, let it go.

Here’s what to do if you are a family/friend of the couple

Keep in mind that it’s often helpful to do more listening than speaking.

1. Lend a caring and patient ear

Listen, give them a hug and let them share what’s on their mind. Don’t ask questions or offer advice. By listening, telling them you care, and letting them know you are always there for them, you can show your support.

how to handle insensitive comments about infertility
Always listen first. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
2. Talk about things that are not centred around babies

While you are out to dinner/holiday keep the conversation about something other than kids such as hobbies, work, and current events, so that they can laugh and share with you. 

3. Be understanding if they opt-out of social obligations

They aren’t skipping the party because they don’t care about you; they are opting out because some events can be so painful that their heart aches. Sometimes, people need a little space and privacy to grieve as they deal with infertility.            

4. Think about what it is like to be in their shoes

An infertility diagnosis can cause feelings of shame, inadequacy, depression, and isolation. People with infertility often blame themselves for their diagnosis. Be aware and sensitive to what their needs may be, and choose your words wisely.

Also, read: Does a light period flow mean reduced fertility? An expert answers

5. Act interested

Some people don’t want to talk about infertility, but some do. Let them know you’re available if they want to talk.

6. Ask them what they need

They may also appreciate it if you ask them what the most helpful things to say are.

7. Reach out more to your male friends

Infertility is not a women-centric issue; your male friends are most likely grieving silently. Don’t push, but let them know you’re available.

8. When appropriate, encourage therapy

If you feel your friend could benefit from talking to a professional to handle his or her grief, suggest therapy gently. If you go to therapy regularly, or ever have, share your personal story.

how to handle insensitive comments about infertility
Those experiencing fertility issues may find it helpful to speak to a therapist. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
9. Support their decision to stop treatment

No couple can endure infertility treatments forever. At some point, they will stop. This is an agonising decision to make, and it involves even more grief.

10. Attend difficult appointments with them

You can offer to stay in the waiting room or come into the appointment with them. But the offer lets them know how committed you are to supporting them.

11. Watch their older kids

Attending appointments may be difficult if they have older kids at home.

12. Offer to be an exercise buddy

Sometimes, losing weight is necessary to make treatments more effective. If you know they are trying to lose weight, you could offer to join them.

3. Let them know about your pregnancy

But deliver the news in a way that lets them handle their initial reaction privately – email is best.

The last word

My intention in writing this entry was to enlighten everyone. Infertility is a subject that leaves many battle scars. Let’s try to support each other, as best we can, while we are waiting to celebrate the birth of your future children. 

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About the Author

Dr Himanshu Singhal, Senior Fertility Specialist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru (Bellandur &Whitefield) ...Read More

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