Jerkproof: How Not to Talk to Infertile Friends

It’s time for a sharing circle, Persephoneers. We talk a lot about motherhood around here, and the choice to not be a mother. Today, we’re going to chat about those of us who aren’t in either the happily parenting or happily childfree demographic.

Today, we’re going to be talking about those of us with the baby blue and pink “I” on our chests, the Infertiles.

Both our moms and childfree writers have mentioned the pressure and judgement they’ve felt because of their choices; I’m here to highlight a few things I’ve heard as a result of my lack of choices.

I’m not one to tell people how or what to think, usually, but I would appreciate it, personally, if everyone who reads this blog post never says any of the following phrases. Not just around your infertile friends, either. If a jerk falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, he or she is still a jerk.

1. It’s God’s will.

Translation: God thinks you would be a terrible parent, so has done the proper thing and rendered you sterile.

Proper response: “Fuck you, that’s a really shitty thing to say.”

Okay, maybe responding with a “fuck you” isn’t the classiest choice, but for the love of unicorns, if this God goes around arbitrarily sterilizing perfectly lovely people (or anyone), He seems like an asshole.

2. My (sister/aunt/cousin/friend/lady in line at the store) (had/did/used) (IVF/a surrogate/fertility drugs/a four-leaf clover) to get pregnant, have you tried that?

Translation: Let’s talk about your ladyparts as if we were exchanging recipes or talking about Dancing with the Stars.

Proper response: “Did you conceive your children in missionary or doggie style? Oh, the mechanics of how you got knocked up isn’t civil conversation? MY BAD.”

3. Why don’t you just adopt?


Yes, it did practically rain orphans for the good-hearted Ma and Pa Ingalls to take in and raise on Little House on the Prairie. Movies and TV make it looks like couples and singles, even those not living in 19th century America, can adopt a baby or child as easily as they could pick up a loaf of bread at the grocery store. This is not the case. The complexities of adoption are worthy of a post, or series of posts, on their own, but here are some bullet points.

  • Adopting a healthy, typically developing baby or toddler is nearly impossible except for those wealthy enough to afford private adoption or the religious. God is apparently very serious about who gets to become a parent.
  • Adopting at all can be and is hindered, in various states and countries, for prospective parents who are gay, single, disabled, not sufficiently wealthy, not sufficiently healthy, too old, or too fat(!).

Adopting an older child, or a child with special needs, is much less involved and has fewer requirements for adoptive parents. The flipside of this is that not every prospective parent is up to the task of raising a child with special needs – and that’s okay, I’d prefer our most vulnerable kids go to homes that want and are prepared for them. Not every prospective parent is up to the task of adopting an older child, either, and I think that’s okay too. Sure, it’d be fantastic if every infertile wanted to adopt a family full of hard-to-place kids, but being an Infertile doesn’t automatically make you an Ingalls.

Proper response: “…”

4. I feel so sorry for you, you’ll never really know what it feels like to be a woman.

Translation: We’re sorry, the requirement for the Real Woman merit badge requires you grow a human in your uterus.

Proper answer: “Thank God I’ve got friends who can tell me all about it with their Facebook updates.”

5. I’ll pray for you.

Translation: Only God can help the barren.

Proper response: “If I grow another uterus, you’ll be the first person I call.”







By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

21 replies on “Jerkproof: How Not to Talk to Infertile Friends”

Thank you for the post. I read it much earlier in the day but did not have a chance to comment then. I have always struggled with what to say when I find a friend or acquaintance is struggling with fertility issues. I always want to say, “I’m so sorry!” because I can seen the pain in my friends eyes and I don’t want them to be hurting. But then I don’t want to sound like a patronizing ass, or worse, like I am pitying. So I usually don’t say much of anything other than “Do you want to talk about it?”. I never had fertility issues, and anyone who knows me knows I define myself as a mother, so I feel like its not even my place to comment on the emotional turbulence a woman who wants kids but is struggling with infertility experiences. Is that silly of me? Maybe. Maybe not. But anyway, thanks for the suggestions on what to say/how to act.

As someone who has adopted, let me just add that adoption does not “cure” infertility. Like Selena mentioned, there’s a lot of grief to process in accepting what is not to be, and that is completely separate from parenting.

In some ways, parenting has helped me let go of/process the infertility grief, but it sure wasn’t “Hey, here’s a replacement kid for the one you couldn’t make.” There are still times where I am left out, can’t relate, have no idea what other people are talking about. As my kids get older it lessens, but it’s still there.

Wow – this is an extremely timely post for me – I’m 22, menopausal (due to a congenital illness), and currently doped up on IVF drugs in preparation for having my eggs frozen in 2 days time as a last-ditch attempt at retaining some fertility. I’ve heard ALL of these, and they all suck…great post!

It’s such a difficult topic, and I think the other thing that needs to be borne in mind is that people react differently to dealing with their own infertility – some women need sympathy, others can’t stand it, some deal with it through dark humour, some through pouring out their emotions to friends & family.

Personally, I’ve always known that I’d be infertile, which I imagine makes it a lot easier to deal with (particularly as I’ve been fortunate enough to be rescued to some degree by the wonder of cryogenics!). However, I’ve noted a few pitying looks from other women in the fertility clinic waiting room, and it annoys the hell out of me. Likewise, my ex-partner’s response when I told him was pity, which wasn’t really what I needed and I’ve told very few of my friends for that reason – however, I think for some people, it can be exactly what’s needed, and you have to judge your response by the mood of the conversation.

I (and several other women I know) have also had friends trying to help by carrying out internet research at home, and actually felt rather violated by it. While I can appreciate it is useful to know a bit of background to something a friend’s going through, there’s a lot of badly-sourced information out there, and it’s incredibly frustrating to try and talk to someone about such a personal condition, and find they’re trying to play expert, offer entirely irrelevant advice, or have been researching all the gory details of what’s going on down there…..

I will definitely be mentally storing some of those epic comebacks up for future use, thanks!

I’m a surrogate – so I’m really on the wrong side of this conversation, however I tend to deal with this topic A LOT since well… I’m having someone else’s baby.

I’m actually the surro for a gay couple who live in a country were, while their marriage is recognized, adoption and surrogacy are illegal for them. I’ve also had a couple of friends struggle with infertility as well but both were able to adopt after a very long and very costly journey.

What would the best response be? I’d love to know – for real.

In the meantime, I normally reply with “good luck” followed by a genuine smile. I really hope that doesn’t come off condescending, but it’s hard to know what to say.

I second that. What’s the best thing to say when someone shares that they’re infertile? This topic has come up for me recently with some friends, and I know next time I see them, it will come up in discussion. I want to be supportive, since this has hit them hard, but do not know how best to do that.

How would you react to a friend that’s grieving? I can’t speak for all infertiles, obvs, but for me it was grief. I had to mourn the kids I always wanted and was always sure I was going to have. I would imagine there a lots of awesome and not jerky things you could do or say. “Let’s go for coffee.” “Do you want to talk about it?” “I brought you these muffins.” All of those work.

My core friends are awesome. They don’t treat me like some barren alien creature, they don’t make comments that imply their entire value as women is wrapped up in their fertility, they make me laugh. That’s really all it takes.

I don’t think you’re on the wrong side of this at all, and I appreciate your comment. First, I think you are giving that couple a great, selfless gift. It takes a special person to be a surrogate, not only because of the physical and emotional challenges of being pregnant, but also because I’m sure you get as much shit about your (fantastic!) choice as any of us that are grumbling about how we’re treated because of how/if we’re mothers.

It sounds like you already know what to do – be kind and supportive.

Best wishes to you for a great pregnancy, and congratulations-by-proxy to the soon-to-be new parents.

I may or may not be in this category … time (which I am running out of) will tell. I love reading all the posts from parents and non-parents, but it is wonderful to read something from this (my?) perspective a well.
I would add: don’t ask if I’m menopausal; don’t automatically assume that the ultrasound I mentioned on Facebook is because I’m pregnant (when, in fact, it might be the exact opposite), and don’t look at me with pity.
I may never be a parent. The older I get, the more I’m okay with that. I refuse to hang my happiness on it and add unnecessary stress to my family-life (and my pocket book) trying to conceive.
Again, great post … thanks!

I think you’re doing a great job of pushing through, and you have a great attitude. It sucks that so much of being a woman is wrapped up in what does or doesn’t come out of our ladybits.

I’m always here to talk, if you need an ear. You’re my favorite Pear, and we’ll never start that barren army without planning meetings. ; )

Listening and apologizing are two big ones as well (if you have stepped on toes). Just drop your own baggage for a hot second and hear someone out and be supportive in whatever way they need you to be.

Also, thank you for the solution to what to do with potential extras uteri. I was hoping to cash them out on craigslist if the time ever came, but your suggestion is way better. 90 day uteri do not wield as much profit as one would think

As someone whose fertility status is currently in a big box marked UNTESTED-DO NOT OPEN TIL 2015, but who has some friends struggling with this, I’ve learned a lot from reading blogs by people who are dealing with infertility (blogs for everyone!). Mainly what not to say, what to do (ask open-ended questions, be supportive), and wow are some people giant, giant assholes. The ‘just adopt’ people are just… ugh. Adoption is a process/institution with its own stresses and often problematic issues, there’s no ‘just’ in it.

Tertia had a good post on it:

Educate yourself about your friend’s diagnosis so that you can avoid offering pointless advice. And please, what ever you do, never, ever be so stupid as to say “just relax”. Would you say to a cancer patient “just relax”? Would you say to someone who can’t see “just relax”?

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