Because you can’t, sometimes things just can’t be fixed

Fertility Compassion 1I’m sad.

Just cheer up, it will be okay!

I’m anxious.

Just take a deep breath and calm down.

I’m angry.

Just count to 10 or walk away.

We’re having trouble getting pregnant.

Just adopt! Just relax! Just stopping trying!

We think these above statements are empathy. But, really they are pity filled sympathetic responses to provide that quick fix; our attempt to try to make it better.

It seems like empathy skills are missing for a lot of us. We aren’t taught how to be empathic and, I think, we even sometimes think we would rather have sympathy than empathy.

Sympathy is I feel for you; pity.

Empathy is I feel with you; I get it.

A think a major confusion is that we are mistaken in thinking that we must have gone through the exact same instance in order to have empathy. But that just isn’t how it works. In order to be empathetic we simply need to be able to understand and know what it feels like to feel the feeling that someone is experiencing. As Brené Brown states in The Daring Way™ curriculum, if you have ever experienced guilt, sadness, anger, disappointment, etc. then you are equipped for empathy.

So we all (outside of the extreme sociopath, read the Underwood’s from House of Cards) are able to show empathy and yet we are so quick to just fix it coming from a place of sympathy.

When we hear someone is in struggle we want to take away the pain, we want to make it better, we want to fix it.


We cannot stand discomfort.

We don’t like to feel sad or mad or disappointed ourselves, let alone to be with someone we care about in their sadness or anger or disappointment.

We don’t want someone we love, hell even a complete stranger, to feel this discomfort either. But, really it’s more about our struggle sit with them through it.

So, we try to fix it with a quick solution, a just stop talking about it.

And when we do this we minimize and invalidate; even if it does come from a place of love.

Practicing empathy means being willing to sit with someone in their discomfort. It means being willing to just be with someone maybe not saying a single word. It means simply saying, that is so hard, that sucks, I can’t imagine, ugh.


This is where I birthed fertility compassion.

The world needs a whole lot more compassion in every area. But through my work in Ever Upward, fertility seems to be one of the biggest areas.


Because everyone has an opinion on family planning and it is assumed that everyone wants, needs and is able to make a family.

When in reality, this can’t be further from the truth.

My #fertilitycompassion survey had three questions:

  1. What are some of the most difficult/insensitive statements or questions you have received in regards to your family planning?
  2. How did you respond? And why?
  3. What could have been a better way for the question to be asked?

The survey was anonymous and was answered by both men and women and by both people with and without children, fertile and infertile, and some childfree by choice, chance or circumstance.

Unfortunately, the results were not surprising to me as this has been my life, especially for the last years since we tried to have kids with a surrogate and are now accepting a childfree life.

Question #1 – The minimizing, invalidating, simple fix questions

These fell into 11 categories.

  1. God’s plan.
  2. Just adopt.
  3. Getting pregnant is so easy.
  4. Just relax.
  5. But you’re the lucky one.
  6. Parenting is the only purpose.
  7. Empathy versus sympathy.
  8. Easy solution.
  9. You’ll change your mind.
  10. Point the finger and blame.
  11. Family planning.

1. God’s plan – reading these statements made my heart ache and my eyes sting with tears.

“You’re just not being faithful enough. You aren’t praying the right healing prayers. It’s just not in His plan for you to be a mom. God doesn’t think you’re financially ready to be a parent. It’s just not meant to be.”

2. Just adopt – these still spark some anger in me, mostly at the lack of understanding.

“Just adopt. Why don’t you just foster? There are so many minority kids who need good homes. Don’t you think you should save a child before having any more of your own?”

3. Getting pregnant is so easy – obviously not: 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage.

“You’re so young, you have so much time. You’re next! A lot of women miscarry! You were so early!”

4. Just relax – if only it were this simple for all of us.

“Just relax. Go on vacation. Have a margarita. Just don’t think about it.”

5. But you’re the lucky one – the one upper, I have it so much worse.

“You have it so easy without kids. You don’t need time off work, you don’t have kids waiting for you at home. Oh, I’m a terrible mother, you can have my kids. You can borrow mine any time.”

6. Parenting is the only purpose – if this is true I’m screwed.

“You aren’t a parent, you wouldn’t understand. But kids is the only purpose we have in life. Who will take care of you when you are old? But, having kids is the only way to really feel love.”

7. Empathy versus sympathy – your pity does nothing for me and only leaves me feeling even more alone.

“I feel for sorry for you. Oh, I am so glad we never struggled, I can’t imagine.”

8. Easy solution – there are a millions way to make a family, none of them easy.

“Have you tried this? Or that? $15,000 isn’t that much money, just do IVF. My friend had that too, she got pregnant just fine. Just try again. I’ll carry for you.”

9. You’ll change your mind – we each have our own path, allow everyone to own theirs even if it is different than yours.

“But how do you know you won’t want kids later in life? You can always just adopt later on.”

10. Point the finger and blame – this feels so damning.

“Is he shooting blanks? What’s wrong with you? Who’s fault is it? There must have been something wrong with it.”

11. Family planning – everyone has an opinion they must share or could this just be a bid for connection?

“Everyone assumes we have 3 because we stopped trying.”

“You must want a girl or aren’t you glad you didn’t have a girl?! (We have three boys and our little girl is in heaven).”

“When are you having another?”

“Be thankful for the one healthy child you have.”

“You don’t want them too far apart! (we’ve had three miscarriages after our first)”

“You should really try for a girl next time. (we have two boys; we have lost three female babies).”

“Shouldn’t you just be happy with the two you have.”

“You don’t want to be too old.”

“Was she an accident? (she is five years younger than her brothers).”

Before I move on to writing about questions 2 and 3, I will let these settle in some.

Are we all just being too sensitive?


But as someone who has struggled to do the very thing that many of us believe we were put on earth to do, be a parent, these questions and statements cut like a knife.

They hurt.

They invalidate the painful journey we have been on.

They minimize the paths before us.

And, even though I sincerely believe they come from love (and curiosity), I also know they come from ignorance and comparison.

So for now, think before you speak and watch your tone, you honestly have no idea what the person on the other side of your words has gone through; the pain they have suffered, the losses they have endured and the struggles of their daily lives.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”—Rev. John Watson

“Including you.”—Glennon Melton

Don’t make your words added pain.

And, in part 2 I will share how people respond to these questions and statements. But, mostly I will focus on what we all really want and need to hear instead.

Compassion. Empathy. Hope.

Ever upward.



Kickstarter for Ever Upward Book Trailer has only hours to go and we are so close! Every dollar (share and prayer) helps!

Ever Upward presale live now.

Ever Upward Launch Party is October 4th.

Fertility Compassion Survey will continue to collect responses.

If you found this post enjoyable, inspiring, helpful, hopeful, interesting or even infuriating 😉, please take the time and the chance to share it through your social media! More shares means more eyes, means more people helped and the message heard on a wider scale. Thank you! Justine

38 thoughts on “Please Just Stop Trying to Make It Better – Part 1

  1. busynothing says:

    This is a brilliant post. xo

    Now that I am (shockingly) pregnant, the number of people who say “see, you just needed to not think about it…” or “you just needed to relax” is staggering. First of all, this spring was one of the most stressful of my working life. Second of all, I didn’t stop thinking about it. Not for a moment. Unless they are a passing stranger and it isn’t helpful, I correct every single one of them. I’m sure it makes me sound defensive (I am) or like I have unprocessed stuff (I do), but I need people to know that it is always so irritating to hear that kind of pablum no matter what your situation. It’s not science, it’s not even pseudoscience. It’s just grasping at control, or answers. I’m sure it is intended as sympathy or to be encouraging, but it just feels like blame.

    This post is amazing. No doubt it will gather many views for a very long time.


    1. Thank you so much! In reality you are my perfect responder to this survey ;). And thank you for being brave, I don’t care where is comes from, and taking every chance you can to educate because this is the only way things will change. Hope this one makes the rounds for sure. Look out for part 2! Thanks again, Justine

      Liked by 1 person

      1. busynothing says:

        You changed my life forever. Not because I did get pregnant, but because you taught me how to realize there is more to life. It is applicable in so many scenarios and will be useful forever. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude.


      2. These words made me sob, an amazing,soul gratitude cry. I have figured out and done the work to know that what I have been through was not for nothing. But, when I make connections and friendships like ours and learn that I have maybe helped even just a bit, I know I can truly trust it. And that this really is supposed to be my light. Thank you, thank YOU! You have no idea how much I needed this reminder. So much love and gratitude, Justine


  2. Wow. Just wow. This is so beautiful, so perfect. I felt like I was listening to an amazing sermon at church (in a very-very good way). There is something so sacred in naming our hurts and our hopes. Thank You!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this amazing comment! I am so glad you enjoyed it. Hope this ones makes it around the world! <3, Justine


    2. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this amazing comment! I am so glad you enjoyed it. Hope this ones makes it around the world! <3, Justine


  3. raphaela99 says:

    Reblogged this on Hummingbird Redemption and commented:
    I love this so much! It’s a natural tendency to try and make people feel better, but sometimes the best thing we can do is to sit with the person and their pain with empathy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the reblog!


  4. Wonderful, truthful post. I felt like you were inside my head as I have heard so many of these insensitive comments. I am really looking forward to part two!


    1. Thank you so much! Hoping many eyes and hearts see this series! Thank you for reading and leaving such an amazing comment! Justine


  5. Anne says:

    Justine, I’m your friend Jen’s aunt. My husband, Jen’s Uncle Gary, passed suddenly and unexpectedly in March. Everything you wrote about sympathy vs empathy and about people being afraid of discomfort has been so true for me in my bereavement as well. Thank you for raising awareness that in trying to fix someone’s pain or in ignoring it, we are often making it worse. Blessings to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anne,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I am so happy you found this to resonate with you. I am so sorry for your loss, your broken heart, everything. Sending you love and light. Thank you again! Justine


  6. rainap1013 says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post! It resonated so much with me! I filled out your survey as well!


    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment and especially for taking the survey. I am so glad you found this post helpful! J

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The difference between empathy and sympathy can be just a few words, but it is SO profound. You’re so right that so many of us aren’t equipped to give empathy. We’re uncomfortable with discomfort. Another great post, Justine!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much Lisa, thank YOU for the link up! J


  8. Fascinating results, Justine. Compassion is one of those things they should teach at school, and build in as early as possible.

    And congratulations on your Kickstarter campaign – you did wonderfully. That must be so exciting! ~Catherine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Catherine, Thank you so much! I can’t believe the Kickstarter came through, so thankful. I meet with the studio tomorrow for script and production planning!

      Working on Part 2 now. J


  9. sarahchamb says:

    Hi Justine – You’re doing some great and important work here. If there’s one thing about our socialization that needs to change in my opinion, especially in regards to fertility issues, it’s this.
    Early on in my IF journey I was often guilted when lamenting over the cold clueless things people said to me with “don’t be upset, they were just trying to help”. I’d respond, “No they weren’t, they were trying to make themselves feel better!”
    In addition to people wanting to avert discomfort, I also think people are, understandably so, exceedingly uncomfortable with the fact that none of us are really in much control over when, how or even if our children get here. I’ve found people will do or say just about anything to avoid this truth.
    I’ll definitely be referring people to this post and am looking forward to part 2.


    1. Sarah, Thank you so much for reading and for this great comment. You are so right, sometimes it is just too hard or uncomfortable to face the truth! Thank you so much! Justine


  10. Amanda Susemihl says:

    Justine, I really enjoy this blog and so appreciate your open and honest perspective. This post resonated with me on so many levels. Thank you for sharing your experiences and the lessons you’ve learned from them. I completed your survey and will be anxious to hear what you learn from all the responses you receive!


    1. Amanda, Thank you so much for stopping by to read and comment! And thank you for taking the survey! I hope this conversation continues for a long time! Thanks again! Justine


  11. We found out at our 10 week check-up on April 28th that we were expecting twins about two minutes filled with silence before we were told they were having trouble finding their heartbeats. The day of our D & C I was started by how many of the hospital staff told me to look on the bright side, that at least we knew we could get pregnant, told me of stories of their relative or friends that had miscarried, or told me that we were newlyweds and so young that we had plenty of time to keep trying. I was also shocked at how few took the time to read my chart before asking me why I was there so I had to keep stating that I had miscarried our twins and was having a D & C. I didn’t want to be there, let alone to hear their comments or have to tell them the horribleness of why I was there.

    Some of the best and most comforting words came from women at our church on the Notes & Cards team as well as the meals team. I will never forget how soothing it was to my soul for them to hug me and sincerely say, “I’m so sorry, there are just no words, but I will be praying for you.” Because honestly, there are no words in those moments. Nothing anyone could say can take that ache away or make it lessen. I don’t need to be reminded to look for blessings or that we can try again. Even if we were to conceive twins again, the second set would never take the place or ease the loss of the first set. One of my dearest friends lost both her ovaries the year before and she was an amazing source of support, empathy, love, and encouragement. Everyone should have someone like her when they go through a loss like this and if they find your blog they will. Thank you for all of your beautiful writings on something that is often so hard to talk about.


    1. Thank you so much for sharing your brave story here! I am so sorry for your loss and know the pain that stays with us forever. We definitely have to have those fellow warriors in our lives. Much love, Justine


  12. Rachel says:

    I so relate to what you post about here, hence the name of my own blog. After more than six years of infertility and also living with Multiple Sclerosis, I’ve heard all of these platitudes. They’ve often been the most painful thing about the whole infertility journey. The lack of understanding and insensitivity has at times made the pain so much worse.You’re so right that it seems like everyone has an opinion on family planning and on what decisions we should make in the infertility journey, once they know about that. What never ceases to amaze me is when people who obviously have little understanding of the complexities of infertility, offer a pat solution as if they think that that would never have crossed my mind! In six years! Like I would never have thought of having a holiday, of considering the fertility treatment options, of adopting, or of lying in bed with my legs in the air after BDIng! Reading a post such as yours is a moment of conection, a “yes, someone else gets it” moment. Thank you.


    1. Rachel, Thank you so much for reading and leaving you powerful words! I get it, oh I get it, and this little survey is speaking volumes! I hoping to have part 2 ready this week. Thank you again and sending you light and love! Justine


  13. bethgainer says:

    Justine, this is an excellent post, and I agree that people make remarks because our society is empty of some empathy. People can be insensitive, for sure. I think many people are uncomfortable with the anguish you are experiencing, and they want to put a bandaid on it, but the pain continues. I was rendered infertile from my chemo treatments. I would like to tackle the “You can just adopt” line. In my case, I adopted a baby girl from China. And I can say firsthand to these insensitive folk that adoption is not so simple. I waited for her for 4 years, fraught with anxiety. And my daughter, who is now six and told from the beginning she was adopted, still thinks she came from my tummy. I have no idea if there will be emotional fallout from knowing that I’m not her birthmother. Adoption is not simple; like everything, it is complicated. Also, the reason to adopt is not to help an unfortunate kid. That is a misconception that so many people have.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. I wish you the best and know I care.


    1. Beth,
      Thank you for that rant! The misconception keep the ignorance alive, speaking our truth and our voice is how we can be truly seen, known and loved in this world. Thank you for reading and commenting. Justine


  14. Alexis says:

    Thank you is really all I can say. This post and the second are truly beautiful and I relate to all of it. Even my fertility doctor (who was 7 months pregnant by the way) said some of those hurtful comments to me when our treatments failed. Also, I realized that I am just as guilty of this, which I was surprised about because I have always considered myself sensitive to these types of things because of what I am going through. So thank you for the wake up call and for the comfort knowing I am not alone in any of this!


    1. Alexis,

      Thank you so much for reading and leaving this comment! I am so sorry about your doctor, ugh! So frustrating! I hope you enjoy parts 2 and 3 just as much and find them helpful also! Thanks again, Justine


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