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What not to say to a couple trying to have children

Two women sitting on a couch, one consoling the other

Shutterstock I Prostock-studio

Morgane Afif  - published on 06/05/23

Mathilde Margail, fashion and lifestyle content creator, explains from her own experience what to say and what not to say to a couple facing the painful cross of infertility.

“‘It’s because you’re thinking about it too much …’ That phrase is crazy, when you think about it. That phrase, and its insidious guilting; if it isn’t happening, it must be because of you, your way of being, of thinking. This idea that a couple who wants a child too much is condemned not to have one precisely because they want it too much,” says Mathilde on Instagram, in a post that drew reactions from thousands of Internet users.

On a video call, Mathilde smiles during an exchange tinged with seriousness yet not devoid of her trademark humor. It wasn’t an easy subject to broach, she explains, not least because it also affects her husband. After three years of marriage and incessant remarks from friends and strangers alike, being ready to speak out has been a long process. “Talking about it made infertility real in our lives. Putting a word to something that hurts also means making it real.”

Intrusive questions and arbitrary remarks

So what shouldn’t you say to a couple waiting hopefully to have a child, to avoid making them uncomfortable?

“I’d like people to refrain from asking questions that, while not malicious, are genuinely intrusive. These include the traditional … ‘Don’t you want to have a baby?’ Then there are the arbitrary, awkward remarks like, ‘You’re right to take your time and enjoy yourselves.’”

Mathilde continues, “It’s mainly the time that preoccupies us. So we try to live with the wait, so as not to turn it into a time of mourning and desolation. … Most of the time, a couple who don’t want a child at the moment don’t hide the fact, so it’s better to say nothing than to say something awkward.”

People all have an opinion about other people’s fertility, which adds suffering to the suffering of not having a child.

Naturally, on the other hand, couples who want a child will open up sufficiently to those with whom they feel ready to talk about it, “at least enough to tip them off and open up the possibility of a conversation. … But generally speaking, it’s important to understand that if people don’t talk about it on their own, it’s not up to us to broach the subject. When in doubt, keep your mouth shut! The best thing to do is to pray in silence.”

There are still too many people who make women feel guilty all the time, saying, “If you aren’t getting pregnant, it’s because you’re doing this or you aren’t doing that.” For Mathilde, “this is precisely proof that they don’t understand the subject, because when you know the field of infertility, you know that we’re not talking about a woman’s infertility, but a couple’s infertility. People all have an opinion about other people’s fertility, which adds suffering to the suffering of not having a child. Fertility, let’s not forget, remains a mystery, and I doubt that so-and-so’s uncle’s cousin has the solution when the doctors themselves haven’t found it yet.”

Being there for each other in the ordeal of loneliness

When a couple is faced with infertility, friendships are often disrupted as well. But they shouldn’t be deprived of the joy of other people’s children either. “It’s always complicated to hear about a birth when you’re not so lucky,” says Mathilde. “But it’s even harder to find out after five months because your friend didn’t dare tell you for fear of hurting your feelings.”

“I always appreciate the thoughtfulness of those who take the time to tell me in advance, so that I can absorb the news and then rejoice with them sincerely when the time comes. Just as infertility shouldn’t be a taboo, neither should the subject of our friends’ fertility. We mustn’t let taboos lead to shame, and I’d really like us to be able to talk freely on this subject.”

Nor should it become an exclusively feminine subject. “Men are often the forgotten ones when it comes to this issue,” Mathilde reminds us. “As women, we experience this wait in our flesh. By following our cycles, we know what’s happening or not happening inside us each month. Men, on the other hand, are powerless to understand what’s going on in our bodies, as each month brings new hope. They experience this expectation from the outside, without any grip on what we experience from the inside. They suffer just as much as their wives do every month when hope is disappointed, and we have to be there for them, too.”

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