What Not to Say to Your Friends Who Are TTC (& what to say instead)

courtesy Abbe Feder

My husband and I tried to become parents for six years, three of those with the help of science, medical professionals, drugs, and a lot of therapy. Throughout that whole time, we were riding on a dizzying merry-go-round: from the excitement of getting a PPT (“positive pregnancy test” in fertility-speak) to the devastation of learning our pregnancy isn’t viable; from making beautiful embryos to learning that the pregnancy is ectopic. All of this and more. What I’ve come to learn is that while infertility — and the pregnancy loss that often comes alongside — is an issue so many couples of our generation face, most of us could use some help learning how to talk about it and support people through it.

Sure, there’s no “perfect” thing a friend can say, but in our case, unfairly or not, the longer our heartache went on, the more sensitive my husband and I became about the things our friends and family were saying — or not saying — to us. At one point we even started a list called People We Want to Punch. That helped.

The good news is that we, as a society, are shedding light on miscarriage (thanks, Gabrielle Union and Beyonce), IVF (thanks, Chrissy Teigen and “This Is Us”), and we have the chance to examine the conversation — and part of that means learning how to support each other.

Here are five things you, a good and well-meaning friend or family member, might think is helpful, but… well… isn’t. Please don’t say:

1. Nothing.

Listen, I get it. You’re hanging out with me and you don’t want to bring up the issue because maybe I wasn’t even thinking about it and you don’t want to remind me. But if I’ve previously shared with you that we’re going through treatment and loss and then you don’t acknowledge it, I feel like you don’t want to be there for me. Think of it this way: If I were grieving a different kind of loss (death of a loved one, for example), I’m sure you’d bring it up. Living with infertility is a daily dose of loss and grief, and you can be there for me by simply letting me know we can talk about it together.

What IS great to say:

Last time we spoke you were going through IVF. I realize you may not want to talk about it at all right now, but if you do I am here to listen.

2. “At least you know you can get pregnant.”

After four IUI treatments (intrauterine insemination) and three IVFs (in vitro fertilization), we finally got pregnant – only to eventually miscarry. A lot of people thought they were comforting me by saying “at least you know you can pregnant!” I literally was in the midst of miscarrying and people were saying this to me. Of course, there is no guarantee that getting pregnant once, or even more than once, means you’ll carry a healthy baby to term in the future, EVER. But more importantly, I hadn’t yet mourned my loss, so I wasn’t able to hear about a potential bright side. During that time, it felt inauthentic to push through and look at a bright side. I believe in feeling what I need to feel, acknowledging how crappy it is, and then — later, eventually — being able to move through it.

What IS great to say:

I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine what you’re feeling. If you want to try to explain it to me, I am here – I see you. And if you don’t and you want to go eat ice cream and drink a bottle of wine, I’m here for that too.

3. “OMG my cousin’s best friend had like five IVFs and they now have two perfect kids!”

I think that people assume this offers me hope, but, truth is, I don’t care, because when I’m going through my own treatment and pain, no one else’s story matters. Plus, everyone’s infertility case is different; there’s no logic in it, no parallels, and knowing that someone else had to endure the same emotional, financial, and physical hardships that we’re enduring isn’t soothing.

What IS great to say:

Last time we spoke you were going through IVF. I realize you may not want to talk about it at all right now, but if you do, I am here to listen. (Are you seeing a pattern here?)

4. “Keep me posted.”

I know you’re expressing interest, and you genuinely want me to keep you updated, but in saying this, you put the responsibility on me to update you. Again, if I were grieving the death of a family member, would you ask me to keep you posted on my grief? Take the initiative to jump in when you can. Instead of saying “keep me posted” or “let me know if you need anything,” show up at my door one day with my favorite ice cream, tell me you’re ordering dinner for us one night, or even just send me a text saying “thinking of you.” This stuff means the world.

What IS great to say:

Last time we spoke you were going through IVF. I realize you may not want to talk about it at all right now, but if you do I am here to listen.

5. “Just relax.”

There’s a meme floating around that I love that says something along the lines of “never in the history of calming down has someone been told to calm down and actually calmed down.” People undergoing infertility treatment or mourning the loss of a pregnancy are not going to relax, and they’re definitely not going to do so because you told them to. (Guess what? Lots of stressed out people get pregnant easy peasy. And lots of stressed out people have uneventful pregnancies as well.) Sometimes these “just relax” people have suggestions, too: sex positions to try (“just have fun! Try something new in the bedroom,”) timing suggestions (“we relaxed and switched to every other day, and BOOM we got PG!”), and “meant-to-be” reassurances that are maddening (“breathe and relax and it’s gonna work out when the timing is right”).

What IS great to say:

Just listen. That’s enough. Truly.

You don’t need to try to fix my medical, scientific, complicated, heartbreaking problem. All I need from you is to feel that you’re here with me and for me — that you’re willing to hold my hand, lend an ear, be a shoulder to cry on. Just sit in the sh*t with me – this is what friendship boils down to. And since you’ve already told me “Last time we spoke you were going through IVF. I realize you may not want to talk about it at all right now, but if you do I am here to listen,” I know that you will. And I’ll take it. Gratefully.

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Abbe Feder is an actress, producer, and founder of InCircle Fertility in Los Angeles. She is married to filmmaker Isaac Feder. Hear more about their epic love story and journey to parenthood on their podcast Maculate Conception, and see their craziness unfold on Instagram @abbefeder.