Causes & Treatment

A Doctor Told me to Break Up with my Husband because he’s Infertile

Eloise Edington  |   29 Mar 2022

Anyone who’s been candid with friends, family or strangers about trying to conceive knows that other people love sharing their advice and tips about how to get pregnant.

But rarely are these suggestions novel, and they have a tendency to do more harm than good.

For this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week, we’ve teamed up with Laurel Fertility Care to share the things our community has been told when TTC. We offer helpful advice on how to combat unhelpful comments and consider what we can do to change the narrative around fertility. (Download our free fertility community app here to speak with others going through it, too.)

Laurel Fertility Care is a fertility clinic based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a personalized approach, bursting with care, is at the heart of their approach to fertility treatment. Visit their profile here and click here to request an appointment.

Read on to find out some of the mind-boggling comments our fertility community has received from friends, family and fertility specialists, and learn how we can shift the narrative to stop words hurting.

Written by Holly Pigache and Laurel Fertility Care

It’s a spring day and you’re having brunch with a group of friends who know you’ve been trying to get pregnant. One friend asks how it’s going. Not well, you respond, but you’re still trying.

“Have you tried having sex upside down?” one friend asks.

“My cousin’s best friend’s sister got pregnant after having fertility acupuncture for three months, going to yoga each week and taking prenatal vitamins for six months! Have you tried that? chimes another friend.

The friend-of-a-friend who joined brunch last minute then chips in: “Just stop trying, it’ll happen…”

For anyone who’s been TTC for a while, such suggestions will be unhelpful.

Often, friends and family share conception tips from a place of love; they want to help you create your dream family in any way they can. However, the chances are you’ve had sex in every position, tried fertility acupuncture and yoga, taken high-quality prenatal vitamins for at least three months and considered taking a break. Are you pregnant yet? Unfortunately not.

Recently, we asked our Instagram community to finish this sentence:

“On my fertility journey, I’ve been told ‘You should just…’”

Answers came flooding in. Relaxation seemed to be the number one recommendation within our fertility community. “Relax and it will happen”; “Don’t stress”; “Chill”; “Don’t force it, let it happen naturally”; “Stop thinking about it, it will happen when you relax 😒 ”; “Get drunk and have sex”.

Do any of these suggestions sound familiar? Most likely. In fact, these comments are just the tip of the iceberg; well-meaning family and friends frequently recommend taking it easy, distracting yourself and having a holiday. (Yasmin was told, “Go on vacation – you’ll come back pregnant!” Some people forget that holidays aren’t always logistically or financially viable in the midst of fertility treatment.)

Fortunately, some community members have been offered helpful advice from fertility specialists. Scientifically-backed advice such as cutting down on alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, following a fertility-friendly diet, stopping working out so much, and maintaining a healthy BMI can help boost chances of conception.

Yet it’s hard to stifle a giggle when a well-meaning loved one suggests, “Stop trying and it will happen” as this is completely nonsensical. And being told to “Take your time because you’re not that old” or “Be patient, it’ll happen when it happens” can be terribly infuriating.

Rylee* experienced similar frustrations and writes, “A doctor told me to break up with my husband because he’s infertile.” Sarah’s friends suggested she “cheat on [her] husband” to bypass his fertility problems and get pregnant. Is that the way to build a loving family rooted in trust and respect…?

Undoubtedly, faith can play a comforting role in the lives of many but when a believer advises a non-believer to “Stop trying to play God”, “Stop messing with Mother Nature” or “Wait on God’s timing”, it can be amusing to wonder what was said next. Similarly, Alice was advised to “‘Trust the process.’ Trusting a process that’s not guaranteed is scary.”

Perhaps, for some, helpful advice has got lost in translation. Reducing stress, maintaining a positive outlook and enhancing your well-being will definitely increase your chances of conception, avoiding sex will not.

Speaking of sex, have you thought about having more of it? Friends, loved ones and fertility specialists suggested just this to a huge proportion of our community. (Thanks… we hadn’t considered that 🙄 .)

Ola* writes, “My friend told me to have more sex when I was TTC. Well duh!” 

Marcia’s* friend told her and her husband to “enjoy having sex every day” (as if fertility trackers and ovulation predictor kits aren’t stressful). 

“‘Keep trying!’ This was from my GP after two years of trying already!” Ria writes.

Clearly, we’ve all been there. One moment you’re opening up about your fertility struggles or goals with a friend, family member, or co-worker, and the next moment they’re telling you that “you should just adopt,” or “you should stop stressing and it’ll happen” or “you should stop drinking” or “you should just relax.”

While we know that these advice-givers usually have good intentions, it can be hard to remember this, particularly when we’ve heard the same suggestions time and time again and our attempts have been futile. And no matter how innocent someone’s tone and choice of words was supposed to be, what was said and how it was said can have a lasting impact on our emotions.

Those of us struggling with infertility know that no matter how much someone (who hasn’t experienced fertility problems) may try to empathize and say they know how we are feeling, the reality is that they don’t. It helps to remember that this is okay and that everyone’s journey to parenthood is different.

To help you deal with unsolicited or unhelpful fertility advice, try to feel empathy towards the person giving advice. Consider how they haven’t been in our shoes and then take ownership of the situation. Together, we can work to shift our mindset and our response to fertility remarks.

Here are three ways to handle unwanted advice when TTC:

1) Honesty. People aren’t mindreaders and honesty without anger or rudeness can go a long way. Trying a simple, “Thank you for trying to help, but I was hoping you could just listen” might be enough to engage in a helpful dialogue about what you’re going through and how the person could support you.

2) Cut it off. Go for a quick and breezy: “Thanks! I’ll try that” as this response acknowledges the advice. Chances are, you’ve tried it, but this leaves the adviser feeling helpful and you not having to have a long discussion about fertility and TTC.

3) Educate. If you’re feeling energized, you could kindly tell them that you’re sure they’re offering suggestions to help, you’ve tried that, and so much more. Thank them for their support but share with them other ways they could support you.

This year’s theme for RESOLVE’s National Infertility Awareness Week (24th – 30th April 2022) aims to flip the script on unsolicited “you should just” advice and turn it into something positive and empowering. Instead of what “you should just” do, let’s focus on what “we can all” do. “We can all” share our stories, “we can all” help raise awareness about infertility, and “we can all” do our parts to help change the narrative around infertility.

Secondary infertility is still infertility and trying to conceive with no luck is no easier if someone already has one, two or five children. Comments like “Stop complaining, you already have a child” did nothing for Stephanie’s efforts to grow her family. When Charlotte* was trying for her second, an acquaintance said, “Be thankful for the one you have” – this caused her so much distress. 

As people experiencing infertility and fertility problems together, if we can find the strength to educate others about what a helpful comment is, we will begin to flip the discourse around fertility issues.

“We can all” be in this together – sharing our stories, spreading education and lifting each other up.

*Names have been changed

The supportive, caring team at Laurel Fertility Care are with you every step of your fertility journey. They understand how emotionally fraught this time can be and offer emotional guidance alongside the highest quality fertility treatment. Click here to request an appointment.

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