What to Say and What Not to Say
People naturally want to have things to look forward to. We cheer each other on through the seemingly natural stages of life: graduations, jobs, first houses, dating, marriage, kids, and retirement.
People assume once you graduate high school or post-secondary education, you should focus on getting an apartment or house (especially if you’re a man). Once that’s done, your next step is marriage, if you haven’t done it already. Once you’ve returned from your honeymoon and settled into your house as a married couple, you should start working on making babies.
You just thought of people who’ve asked you questions about this already, haven’t you? Society begins grooming you for it early on with questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They aren’t bad questions to ask. It fuels passion and growth. However, when you become an adult, those questions become harder to answer because there’s more factors involved outside of your control.
Maybe God intends for someone to only graduate secondary school and get a job instead of continuing in further education. Experience can be just as important as education in some fields. How many people in older generations had to drop out of high school to help run their family’s businesses? And many succeeded in this.
Perhaps the Lord intends for someone to remain single. The apostle Paul actually commends people who do, in order to remain undistracted and committed to the Lord’s mission. “I wish that all people were as I am. But each has his own gift from God, one person has this gift, another has that. 8 I say to the unmarried and to widows: It is good for them if they remain as I am.” 1 Corinthians 7:7-8
All stages of life are dependent upon the Lord’s provision. The Old Testament time of the Bible commanded married couples to have children in order to fill the earth. The New Testament commends it. However, it is not a sin to not bear children. No one can explain why the Lord chooses some married couples to remain infertile. He knows and that’s all that matters.
There are couples who choose not to have children from the beginning of their marriage. Some do it for selfish reasons; others because they’d rather use their time and resources towards other things the Lord has called them to. There are other couples who no matter how hard they’ve tried cannot bear children of their own. Yes, there are many other options to help create a larger family than two, but at times, the Lord just says no to children altogether. The infertile couple should not be shamed for this. It is not because of sin or something they have or have not done. So, we need to be cautious of what we say, either out of ignorance or expectation.
I have spoken with infertile people who have been deeply wounded by the remarks and questions of others. Whether done out of love or insincerity, they still leave a mark of shame upon the individual/couple.
- “When are you going to have kids/What’s taking so long?”
- “When are you going to give me a niece/nephew?”
- “When are you going to make your parents, grandparents?”
- “Don’t you think you’re running out of time to have kids? You’re getting a little old for that don’t you think?”
- “Your health is at greater risk the longer you wait.”
- “You know, it’s when you stop trying that you’ll get pregnant.”
- “Is it because of the wife or the husband?”
- “All of your other siblings could have children so why can’t you?”
- “Where’s the nursery going to be?”
- “You’ll probably get pregnant as soon as you adopt.”
- “I knew someone who… and got pregnant/got handed a child/easily adopted…”
- “Why don’t you just adopt?”
- (After a miscarriage) “It’s okay. You’ll probably get pregnant right away again.”
- “We didn’t even want kids and here we are with five!”
- “We just look at each other and get pregnant!”
- Or all they do is complain about their kids and the infertile person is dying inside wishing he/she had a chance to parent those children
These are all like knives to the infertile person’s heart and is often where the tension builds. It should be okay to ask someone if she has kids/would like children. But with every added harsh comment, she becomes triggered by this basic question and often answers it poorly.
I was guilty of this. I got to the point in my deepest time of struggle where I would curtly answer, “No!” or “We can’t!” to people when they asked if we had children. I knew this would abruptly end the conversation I didn’t want to have.
This adds to the problem many infertile couples face of feeling alone in their struggle. They get so wounded by all of the impolite questions and remarks that they are constantly on the defensive front. Even closest friends and family then struggle to bring the subject up in order to see how they’re doing. They’re afraid of the torrent of emotions or backlash they might receive for doing so. After a while, the infertile couple wonders why people have stopped connecting with them, making them think that no one cares about their situation.
Infertile couples need to be able to talk about it with people they trust in order to prayerfully and wisely process through their emotions and next steps. They’re often afraid and wonder who is safest to do this with. Because it’s such a private and vulnerable conversation, many just refuse to discuss it in length outside of their home. This again adds to the problem because they are left increasingly dwelling on it in their minds, often making the situation worse and more unclear than it is.
So, if you actually desire to come alongside a couple going through this struggle, here are some safer questions to ask:
- “How are you and your spouse doing? And is there anything I can help with?”
- “How can I best be praying for you and your spouse?”
- “What are the steps you’re working through right now/Are you feeling led in any direction at the moment?”
- “What are the things you’re enjoying most in this season?”
- “How’s your heart/spirit doing?”
- “Do you have anyone to turn to for support?”
These questions don’t necessarily point you to the answer you’re looking for, but they do genuinely show you care about the person and how they’re doing. Recently, a young man most respectfully asked a friend the “children” question the best way I’ve ever heard it put! I wish I could remember it word for word, but this is a summary of it:
“May I ask you a personal question? You don’t have to answer if you’re not comfortable, but do you and [your husband] plan to grow your family? Would you like to have children someday?”
This question is perfect for three reasons:
- First, it starts with a compassionate approach.
- Second, the way this question was formed allowed room for the possibility of biological, adopted, or fostered children.
- Third, it allows the person asking the question to come alongside the couple in their journey whether fertile or not. It will also safely reveal where the couple is at.
By asking these kinds of questions, you’re showing that you care about that person/couple more than the situation. Depending on how they’re doing at the time, their answers will either be short or they’ll appreciate your interest and will open up to you. Be prepared for either and don’t be offended if it’s short. Take that as your answer to how best to pray, and ask the Lord to heal and soften their hearts to be able to share. Then be confidential with their answers. If they feel you’re safe enough to share with, then be honoured by that and respect them in return.
Though it takes more work to think about, be considerate of the questions you ask others and show compassion to those who are hurting.
Thank you to all who do because there are MANY couples who struggle with some form of infertility, including secondary infertility, in silence.