news item: “12 Things You Should Never Ask a Woman”

This news item brought to you once again by “Things SRB Sees on Twitter, Somehow!” Meaning, I don’t follow Huffington Post*, but someone retweeted it. I clicked on it. I read it. I laughed. I nodded. And now, I report!

When I first found the ALI community on the, I found a lot of “Top Ten Things to NEVER Say to Someone Struggling with IF!” Some were funny, and some were…harsh. Depends on the author, depends on the reader. And while I can totally relate to some of the more strongly worded lists, I have always gotten a kick out of IF humour. It is important to laugh, you know, so that you don’t cry. You dig?

I haven’t read a list like that in a while. Reading this list brought up those old memories, and served as a reminder of how far I’ve come (and how far I have to go) about the degree to which some of these questions bother me. Right now, I am in the extremely fortunate position to be pissy when someone says to “Congratulations! Was it planned?” Um, gross.

In her list/article, Erica Berman describes the “12 Things You Should Never Ask a Woman” and why. Here are some of personal “favourites” that I have encountered over the years:

3. Never tell a woman that she miscarried because it wasn’t meant to be.

4. Never tell a woman who has miscarried not to worry, she’ll get pregnant again. Instead, try I’m sorry for your loss, or I’m sorry, please let me know what I can do to help.

5. Never tell a woman who has miscarried that next time she’ll just have to: drink less coffee, worry less, exercise less, eat better, etc. etc. Miscarriages are rarely caused by controllable factors, and making her feel like it’s her fault is a disgraceful thing to do.

Yeah. I think these go without saying. See also: “AT LEAST YOU CAN GET PREGNANT!!!” or “It wasn’t a real baby anyway” or “There was probably something wrong with it”

7. Never ask a woman with one child when she plans to have another child. Same as above. None of your business. Just because she has a child does not mean she is not struggling to get pregnant again. Secondary infertility is extremely common and just as devastating. This also means that it is not helpful to tell someone facing secondary infertility that she should be grateful that she already has a child or children. Most people have an idea in their head of what they want their family to look like, and if they are not able to create this family, they experience significant distress, even if they already have a child or children.

There is nothing in this statement that I do not agree with 100%. I wrote about this myself recently.

And finally:

10. Never assume what a woman dealing with miscarriage or infertility wants or needs. Come out and ask her if she wants to talk about it. Avoiding the issue may make some women feel worse while others may not feel like discussing it. Just ask!

Yes. Just ask. And keep asking. And might I add, never assume that you know what another IFer is feeling or needs. You can understand, but you can never assume you know. Just ask. And keep asking.

So, I just blew half the list for you, but I am curious to know what you think.

This list has a focus on fertility/infertility/miscarriage. Did Berman miss any? Did she miss the mark?

What is your experience with one or more of these statements? How did you handle it?

What about non-IF issues? What should you NEVER ask a woman?

*I am not a regular reader of the site, nor do I know much about the author and how she covers infertility issues. This is quite likely my first exposure to her, but I will be poking around the archives to get a better sense of the type of coverage she produces. Call it a mix of personal and professional interest.


  1. The simple question of “When are you going to have children?” or “Don’t you want children?” seems pretty rude to me! I still haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer. And for those who know I’m struggling, “Just relax” or “Your obsessing too much” is a comment that makes me inwardly erupt. It’s the fertility issue that causes the obsession and tension, not vice versa.

    Whoa. Vent over!

    • I found that sometimes I actually wanted people to ask. I never ask myself because it seem that, like you, most people don’t want to be asked, but I do remember wishing on more than one occasion that the someone would just ask the question so I could tell them what was actually going down.

    • The relax comment has to be the most frustrating ever! Or if you manage to somehow fall pregnant it is assumed that it happened because you relaxed!!

  2. My worst “consolation” that I got after miscarriage was my MIL saying that “at least you’ll have time to try and lose some weight now.” I can laugh now, but I seriously almost punched her at the time.

    • I would have punched her…good jesus that’s horrible….glad you can laugh now…I’d still be in my jumps serving 3-5 for assault.

  3. How about ‘don’t marvel at how much a child looks like its mother?’ My mother-in-law used to enjoy this one, until she decided we were unreasonable with our rules of ‘no Mountain Dew, especially at bedtime’ and things like that. Or ‘don’t ask for birth details just because you see a woman with a toddler.’ I think I scared a lady at the grocery store with my reply of ‘I don’t know, I wasn’t there.’

  4. I actually posted this on my FB page. Since I don’t get twitter…literally don’t understand it…I’m still a FB junkie. I think she did a decent job hitting the marks. There are some other things that a dear friend of mine said to me…she is no longer a dear friend, actually no longer a friend at all….I’ll link to the comments here:

    the you can read the follow up if you’re looking for a good laugh…

    and I totally agree with makingpebbles, it is the IF that causes the obsession and the downward spiral that followed. The fertile world is just so damn clueless

    • Oh honey that’s just awful and sad. Not exactly how comments such as those can be misconstrued……

  5. Oh my… if we’re comparing ‘foot-in-mouth’ moments following a miscarriage, have I got a doozy for you guys. After my first miscarriage, an acquaintance said, “Well, it’s actually for the best. You probably took birth control pills, right? Babies conceived after the pill never turn out right. That’s why your baby died.” And then she just kept talking about how birth control pills mess up moms and babies. Did I mention she was talking about this to me while I was at work… in a retail store… with my staff and customers all around us. Horrifying!

    People say the stupidest things in the guise of trying to be helpful. Heck, even my mom told me to stand on my head after sex so that I would get pregnant. (And she said it like she was sharing the biggest baby-making secret in the world.) Crazy!

  6. I remember all the stupid stuff people said to me after the death of my daughter at 29 weeks. I searched back and found my post about it
    I do try and remind myself that without the experience it is hard for people to understand, but mostly I think I’m the one who experienced this, I’m the one who should be considered, my consideration for your feeling uncomfortable pales in comparison. Slowly I have less and less to do with these people 🙂

    • Wow, I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with so many horribly inconsiderate people. Grief has a way of separating the people in our lives into the good and the useless.

    • Absolutely. You are the person going through hell, and you deserve at the bare minimum, to be treated with common courtesy. With dignity and compassion. An “I’m sorry for your loss” goes a long way. An ‘helpful explanation” goes nowhere. I am so sorry all this happened, Lyndell.

      This got me the most from your post: “But really I am trying to tell you my story, because you asked me.” YES. THIS. Just listen! And then be a human being about it.

  7. I had a number of shitty things said to me during and after my 2nd loss. By doctors, family, friends, what have you. Most were the usual platitudes as listed above. But the ones that stung the most came from someone who ABSOLUTELY should have known better, should have done better. My DH had to request that she stop ignoring me, to please reach out. Mistake. It isn’t just the specific things she wrote in her email (which I can recall verbatim, and will be able to for life) it is that despite several explanations as to how inappropriate, self-centered and callous it was, the behaviour is still excused. I *deserved* it. I can’t let it go because she refuses to see how incredibly hurtful and devastating this was and still is. I would have been *crucified* had the situation been reversed. If you can’t muster up an “I’m sorry for loss” keep your thoughts to yourself. At no time is someone else’s miscarriage is about you, or your feelings, in any way.

    On a lighter note, the principal at the first school I worked at once asked me how much I weighed. WTF!?! When I laughed it off with “A lady never tells.” He said, “Yeah. Right. Well, what size are you?” Inappropriate!

    • Continuing with the “lighter” side of things (because, honestly, the darker side of your comment makes my blood boil… the absolute WORST is the confidante who should know better), my current boss’ boss and I shared the following exchange on my first day of work:
      “Are you married?” No.
      “Do you have children?” No.
      “Do you have any lovers?” Blank stare.

      • OMG! The next time somebody asks me an inappropriate question, I am going to counter with “Do you have any lovers?”

        Pure. Gold.

      • OMG! This cracked me up! Maybe it’s because I live in the U.S., and New York specifically, but I can’t even imagine getting a question like that at work. Last summer I walked around visibly pregnant for awhile and no one at work said a word until I said something, at which point most people looked visibly relieved.

        I agree with SRB, “Do you have any lovers?” is a great retort to an inappropriate question!

        • Yeah, I’m thinking it’s definitely one of those “only in Spain” moments. He also told me that I was too pretty to be an engineer and that I needed to watch out because, “there are a lot of wolves out there.” This was the very first time I ever met the man. Now that I know him I’m surprised he didn’t say anything worse.

          Another of the bosses once made a hilarious (insert sarcasm) joke about “raising the pillars” if you catch my drift. Nothing more awkward than old, macho, Spanish, enginerds making lewd jokes.

      • Love this!

  8. I completely agree! Never assume you know what she needs or wants.

    I would add to the list . . . . .do not question someone’s plan for their family. We are only going to have one child. Getting pregnant the first time was hard, I had an awful pregnancy and we don’t have the money to adopt. I am happy with what we have and I consider myself blessed. But I would say whenever people ask me when we plan on having more (also annoying) and I tell them Avery is it, they look at me like I just kicked their puppy. And then they question me and once I have explained my reasoning they dismiss me with an “I’m sure you”ll change your mind”. annoying and none of your business!!!!!!

    • I like your description of how they look at you – as if you kicked their puppy. That is exactly it! When we only wanted one (partly because we only wanted one, and partly because we weren’t even sure we could have ONE), my older sister would look at me that way and dismiss me like I was an idiot. She even said, “you don’t know that until you have a real baby.” Ugh.

  9. You should never ask a woman if she really needed that new pair of shoes, hand bag, belt…..

  10. I can’t put this on my own blog because this particular friend reads my blog – but when we were JUST diagnosed with infertility, she jokingly said, “doesn’t it piss you off that you worried about getting accidentally pregnant all those years?”

    I didn’t know what to say! She was a good friend and I know she was trying to help and make me laugh, so I didn’t get upset. But on the inside, I was irritated for two reasons: 1) That she assumed I’M the problem in our infertility equation when I am NOT (We have MFI, for those of you who don’t know. Again, I can’t put that on my blog but you’re all smart enough to read between the lines). 2) Of course I’m not mad that I practiced safe sex all those years. Are you CRAZY?!?!?!


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