Avoid These Actual Things Said to Couples Struggling with Infertility
BRS Segula Fund and Support Group
The BRS Segula fund was created by Michele and Chayim Dimont with the goal of alleviating the financial burden associated with the prohibitive costs of infertility treatments. Segula offers interest-free loans to couples in our community experiencing this monetary hardship. The loans are paid back only when the family gives birth to a child. Additionally, Segula offers a monthly support group led by our BRS Social Worker, Aliza Blumenthal, as well as confidential private support to infertile couples suffering from the emotional distress and challenges that infertility can bring.
Judaism is highly centered around the family and children. Those who contribute to Segula help BRS couples regain courage and hope in this bleak and discouraging time in their lives. For many, the financial component is the biggest obstacle separating them from their dreams of having children.
Since its inception, the BRS Segula Fund has helped more than 20 couples realize their dream of having a child. Unfortunately, the needs and requests continue. With your help and support, we can help and enable all BRS couples who seek our support. Please make a gift of any size at www.brsonline.org/segula or through a check made out to the BRS Segula Fund.
Members of the BRS Segula (Tikvateinu) support group
provided the following sensitivity tips for us to share:
One out of eight couples suffers from infertility, which can include the inability to get pregnant, secondary infertility, or loss of a pregnancy/stillborn. Many people do not wish to share these private struggles, and passing remarks or comments that others may think are okay can actually cause significant hurt unintentionally. Here are tips on how to be sensitive – what to say and not say to any couple, whether or not you are aware of their particular situation. (The following are actual things that have been said to people in our community suffering from infertility.)
Avoid the question, “How many children do you have?” This is difficult for those trying to conceive who have never gotten pregnant as well as those who have miscarried or those who have lost a child or children. A parent (especially a mother) will always remember how many children she has carried so this comment can be very hurtful to respond to. A child at any stage who has been lost will always “count” to a parent. Not sure how to approach this question? Let others volunteer information about their children if they wish first.
Avoid the questions, “How long have you been married…No children yet?” or “When are you going to have another baby?” Don’t assume you can question or comment on one’s plans to start a family or add to a family as no couple will answer with, “We have been trying for [2, 4, 10] years and don’t have a child yet.”
Don’t assume that a couple who doesn’t have children or has one child is “focused on their careers” and has no time for children or doesn’t want children.
Don’t say, “You guys are so lucky you don’t have children now – you can be free to do whatever you want.” Couples who are struggling with infertility want nothing more than to be tied down with a baby and not be able to “paint the town red.” Making light of the situation and brushing it off with a “you’re so lucky” comment can be extremely hurtful.
Never say, “You’re young, you have time before you have to start trying,” “Don’t try right away,” “Give yourself time to get to know one another,” or, conversely, “You should have a baby before [such and such age].” The choice of when to start having children is never a topic for a friend or family member (including a parent). It is the couple’s choice when to start, and is a private discussion that occurs between husband and wife. This is a sacred and private aspect of a marriage. In addition, if someone has decided to open up to you and share their struggle, it means that they are sharing something extremely private, making them extremely vulnerable and exposed. Many need an ear, not an insensitive “wave it off” comment.
If you know of a couple who has a few children and are trying to conceive, have lost a pregnancy, or have had a stillborn, a hurtful thing to say to them is, “Be glad for the children you have – maybe you were only meant to have [1, 2, 3, etc.]” Such a comment can cause irreparable damage.
Don’t ask another person’s child, “Don’t you want a little sister/brother?” So many people ask young children this question and children are usually unaware of the struggle parents go through. This comment can hurt a child or cause the child to put pressure on the parents who are already trying to do all they can as they deal with their infertility issues.
Difficult as it can be, try not to complain in any way about your children in front of a childless couple. Hearing how annoyed you are that they woke you in the middle of the night, how frustrated you are with your crying baby, how your children drive you crazy, how carpool is “the worst,” how you got no sleep and “miss the days you were free like you guys,” how hard it is to be a parent, etc. is extremely insensitive. Couples struggling with infertility would give anything to hold a crying baby in their arms and have a sleepless night.
If possible, plan a night out with a couple who doesn’t have children. Helping someone challenged by infertility feel like they still “fit in” even though they don’t have children helps them know they have your friendship even though they don’t share the common bond of being a parent. A lot of pain comes from feeling “left out” and not having anything in common with friends who are parents.
If someone you know has told you they are struggling with infertility, check in once in a while and say you are thinking of them and wondering how they are feeling. This is much better than saying, “Thinking of you and your struggle” or “How are your treatments going” or “When is your next fertility treatment”? If someone you really care about is struggling, let them know you are praying for them and that you are there no matter what – they will open up to you if they feel comfortable and ready to share the intimate struggles they are going through.
Some of the most hurtful comments are: “Why don’t you adopt?” or “We know someone who adopted and then got pregnant right after” or “There are so many children who need adopting” or “Maybe this is a sign from Hashem it’s not going to happen for you naturally.” The choice to adopt or expand a family in a variety of ways is deeply personal, and you can trust a couple is weighing all the options without needing such unsolicited advice from others.
Lifestyle suggestions such as what to eat or drink, going organic, putting one’s legs up, catching the next full moon, doing yoga, and avoiding things like trampolines are not helpful. Remember that you are not a fertility doctor. What worked for you or a person you know, or something you read online, is not always going to work for someone else. Many fertility issues need to be corrected with intense medical treatment, and some can never be corrected for various reasons. Your input is only another painful reminder of the struggle they are dealing with. If couples are looking for suggestions, they will ask for advice. Unsolicited advice is usually very unwelcomed and can have the opposite effect than what was intended.
The comment, “Just relax, it will happen,” can be offensive because it comes across as concluding the reason for the infertility being stress. Infertility is a medical issue and especially painful – a lot of stress stems from the pain of not being able to be a parent and less from the medical diagnosis. In addition, the couple will never not stress. Infertility is a daily struggle–everywhere a couple turns they are reminded of children (on Facebook, in shul, commercials, movies, at the mall, etc.). People struggling with fertility cannot escape it and every day these reminders add to their burden.
Religious suggestions such as “Get a bracha from this rabbi,” “Try this segula,” “Say this prayer,” or “God has a plan–stop worrying,” again, are unsolicited and unwelcome pieces of advice. Many people do all of the above for years and still have no child. These suggestions can, in fact, turn couples away from God. When prayers, blessings, or segulas don’t seem to be working, they can easily start to lose faith. Unless they ask, don’t offer your two cents. Instead, give them the honor of being “kvater” at a bris, ask for their Hebrew names so you can daven, say Tehillim, and bake challah with them in mind. If you are in your ninth month of pregnancy and go to the mikvah for the segula of an easy birth, offer the woman the honor of going into the mikvah right after you as a segula for them. These things may not work, but it’s less about trying to find a “magical potion” that gets them pregnant, and more about letting them know that you have their back and support them, are doing all you can to be there for them, and that their struggle is important to you.
If you want more information about Segula’s funds or support group, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the BRS Rabbis or Chayim and Michele Dimont.