Have you tried…….. Responding to unsolicited advice on your fertility journey.

Jul 31, 2023

Unsolicited advice is a tricky one.  Our friends and family provide it from a place of love.  They see us in pain, we have a problem, and they’re just trying to fix it.  They want to provide us with a solution.  And as a self-diagnosed “fixer”, I completely understand.  I’ve been on the receiving end of the……”have you tried……???”  And I’ve also been the person who has dished out advice without being asked, on numerous occasions. 

So, before we start sharpening the pitchforks, let’s start with a little compassion instead of labelling these people as the enemy.  Because I’m sure you’ve done it too.  BUT, just because they’re trying to be helpful, doesn’t mean it’s right or that we have to just suck it up either. 

And before we get stuck into the ways we can respond, create boundaries and actually receive the support we need when we’re trying to conceive and struggling with infertility, let’s understand WHY it hurts so much and is so f*cking annoying.  No, it’s not just you who wants to punch them in the face. 

Unsolicited advice when you’re trying to conceive is unhelpful because -

  1. The solutions and suggestions people provide are usually stuff we’ve already tried i.e. have you tried having sex when you’re ovulating, or have you tried acupuncture? Or my personal favourite (not), have you tried RELAXING?!!  There is always someone who has a little story to share about a friend who went on a holiday or got drunk and ended up pregnant.  It’s frustrating when we have to nod politely and say, yes, we’ve tried it.  Plus, it ends in us having to justify and defend and list out all the things we are trying and have done. 

  2. It puts extra stuff on our to-do list – if you’re anything like me, you googled the crap out of “how to get pregnant naturally”. You changed your diet, started exercising, implemented a gratitude practice, are taking the supplements, have booked in for acupuncture or have started down the assisted fertility route and have been doing IVF (which includes a million appointments, forms, injections, scans, and medications alone). We’re already feeling overwhelmed, and this is adding more stuff that we really don’t need.  It’s enough to push you over the edge.   

  3. Those simple solutions that are being suggested minimise how hard this actually is. For some of us, getting pregnant is freaking hard. And when we’re provided a simple solution to a complicated problem, it’s frustrating.  Because it shows that people just don’t understand, and makes us feel like we have to prove just how hard this is.  And that’s exhausting.

  4. It minimises what we ARE doing and places the blame on us. If a cycle doesn’t work, we always focus on the one thing we didn’t do, instead of the hundreds of things we did do.  So every time someone suggests one thing, we wonder whether that could be the reason why we’re not pregnant.  Which leads to guilt, and then we blame ourselves for not doing everything.

  5. It perpetuates the misguided assumption that we are looking for that one thing – that magic pill that will be the cure for our fertility struggles. When in reality, it is not just one thing, there may be lots of things all combined into one. 

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s focus on what we need instead. Because we want support, we want people to care, and we don’t want people to feel like they can’t mention it.  But it just needs to be more helpful.   

The first step is to respond to the unsolicited advice.  The second step is to set a boundary in place.  The third is to ask for what we need.  And we can do that all in one response quite succinctly, so you can then remove yourself from the conversation to try to regulate your emotions.

Now I love a good formula, so at the risk of sounding a little too structured, let’s go with it.  Because structure gives me some comfort, especially when your emotions are high and you’re feeling triggered.  I find that in these circumstances, preparation is key. 

Your response can have 3 elements.

  1. The kindness and compassionate element. Remember, (most of) these comments are well-meaning, so it’s important that we meet people where they are.  Thank them for thinking of you and for their suggestion.
  2. The BUT. This is the part where you educate them on how this makes you feel.  At the same time, it puts in place that boundary.  It says to them that what they have said to you is not helpful.
  3. The correction. Instead of just telling the person what they can’t say to you, and making things awkward moving forward, tell them what they can say.  Or tell them what you need instead.  You’re helping them out, and you’re helping yourself out at the same time. Remember – this is a learned experience, so if they haven’t been through it, it’s understandable they have no idea what to say.

So let’s put this into action.  Let’s say your Aunt Kathy comes to you at your cousins' wedding and starts telling you about a distant relative who got pregnant when she found a specific supplement made from the ejaculation of a unicorn (for example).

You could use any of these options, or mix and match as you see fit.

I appreciate your kind suggestion and I know you’re just trying to help………..BUT your advice makes me feel overwhelmed and like I’m not doing enough when I really am………INSTEAD, do you think you could just ask me how I’m feeling please?

Thank you so much for sharing that with me……..BUT hearing these stories and suggestions makes me feel even more disheartened because I’m trying so hard………INSTEAD, I’d love it if you could just say you’re thinking of me and tell me that I’m doing a great job. 

That’s really sweet of you to want to help…….BUT the solution you’re providing makes me feel like this is all my fault and if I just do what you’re suggesting (which I’ve already tried btw), our problems will go away. It really minimises what we’re going through…….INSTEAD could you just give me a hug and listen to me, instead of trying to fix me?

And then you can walk away feeling like you weren’t a heinous bitch (although that’s an acceptable option too), that you spoke your truth, and that the person is a little more educated.  It may even feel good to know that you’ve potentially helped a complete stranger who may also be struggling and on the receiving end of that same unsolicited advice one day.



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