Infertility is becoming less and less taboo to talk about and that’s really good for the 1 in 8 couples struggling who can find themselves feeling isolated, depressed, or hopeless. It has been found that people who are navigating infertility can have the same level of emotional trauma as those diagnosed with cancer, HIV or chronic pain conditions. It takes a toll on individuals, couples and families. Sometimes it takes couples years to get pregnant and stay pregnant for the first time and other times, they conceive easily with their first and face secondary infertility when trying to conceive subsequent children. No matter where they are in their infertility journey or what decisions they have made about their fertility or family planning, these couples all deserve to be loved and supported.
People often ask, "what can I do to help a friend through infertility?" In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, I’ve put together a list of 10 ways to support friends or loved ones with infertility.
1. Ask them what they need from you. They may want encouragement or advice if you have faced infertility also, or they may just want you to listen and let them vent. They may want to keep their infertility private or talk about it only when they bring it up. Support them in the ways they want to be supported, even if it’s not what you would need if you were in their shoes.
2. Talk to your male friends. When we think about the emotional toll of infertility, we often think about women, but men are often grieving too. Reach out to them and let them know you care about their feelings and frustrations too. Let them know they aren’t forgotten in this and you think they are going to make a wonderful Dad.
3. Be thoughtful in how you announce your own pregnancy. It can be helpful if you know your loved ones are struggling with infertility, to let them know you are expecting before you announce publicly. Sometimes they can feel like they are blindsided by pregnancy announcements and they just want to be able to privately process the news first.
4. Avoid telling them to “just relax” or to “stop stressing”. For couples dealing with infertility, getting pregnant is not as simple as just relaxing. So much is at stake for these couples and the emotional, physical and financial investments they have made into building their families comes with stress. Help them to manage their stress in the ways that work best for them, rather than just telling them not to stress.
5. Don’t share your opinions or advice unless you are asked. It’s easy to see the pain and frustration and want to fix it or offer up solutions, but try not to unless you have been asked. Recommending they try IVF, become foster parents or adopt isn’t your place and we have to remember that they likely already know their options and the different pathways they can take to parenthood. All of those choices are incredibly personal and have so many factors going into them, so your friends will let you know when they are ready to explore those options.
6. Break bread with them. Whether it’s a dinner out at their favorite restaurant to take their mind off of all of the appointments or ordering them takeout the night after a procedure, food is comforting. You can learn their favorite recipe and even drop it at the door without the expectation of a greeting if they have gotten bad news or need some space.
7. Respect their distance. If they pull away during your pregnancy or after your baby is born, don’t take it personally. Keep checking in with them and letting them know you care, but don’t be offended by their distance. Sometimes they just need a little time and space to protect their hearts and it doesn’t mean they aren’t excited for you or don’t love you.
8. If they stop treatments, support their choice. If a couple has made the decision to stop treatments or to no longer try to conceive, meet them where they are and offer your support. They know what is best for their family and they will make the best choices for themselves about the next step. Don’t press them for reasons or ask if they are going to adopt instead now. They will need to be loved through their grief and they will share their plans when they are ready.
9. Think about your LGBT friends. There are many paths to parenthood for LGBT families and they can be really challenging to navigate. There are different choices for lesbian fertility options and for gay fertility options. No matter how they are considering adding a child to their family, it comes with added stress and sometimes fears that other families don't have to face. Offer unconditional, nonjudgmental support to your LGBT friends and follow their lead for the language they want to use. The choices they make are personal and ,will look different for each family. Avoid asking private questions out of curiosity and make yourself available to them as a safe person to share their fears, stress and excitement with.
10. Listen. If they want to talk about anything at all except their infertility, listen. Whether it’s celebrity gossip, football, last night’s episode of their favorite show, what concert they just got tickets to or what’s going on at work- listen. If they want to spend your entire lunch date talking about their IUI, hormone injections and a thousand fertility terms you don’t understand- listen. Be open to whatever they need or want to talk about.
Trying to conceive while struggling with infertility can become incredibly isolating. Couples can feel like no one else gets it and they can become slaves to the appointments, cycles, symptoms, treatments and roller coaster of emotions every month. Remind your loved ones you are here and you are rooting for them, because they deserve the family they want. Find ways to let them know you care and you haven’t forgotten about what they are going through. Let them know you are thinking of them often.
Is there anything your friends or loved ones did that helped you to feel supported through infertility or anything you wish they had done?