How to support a loved one coping with infertility
Perhaps a loved one has just announced they* are coping with infertility, or perhaps they’ve been struggling for a while. As a friend or family member, it might difficult to know what to say or how to help. Your loved one might be experiencing anxiety, depression, and more. Below is a simple guide with suggestions about what to say and what not to say.
What not to say:
1. It’ll happen when the time is right. Who decides on the right time? Plenty of people conceive at the “wrong” time and others struggle to understand why they can’t get pregnant when they’re doing everything possible to make it happen. This advice is flippant and harmful.
2. Maybe it wasn’t in God’s plan for you to have a child. Same thing. Most of us are unfamiliar with God’s (or the universe’s) plan. Hearing that having a child might not be in the cards for you, however this is meant or understood, is unhelpful.
3. It’ll happen when you least expect it. My friend’s friend got pregnant naturally after several rounds of IVF. It might be true for some folks that a reduction in stress is positively associated with fertility; however, a carefree attitude does not cure infertility, and this statement is victim-blaming, implying that folks just aren’t trying hard enough to be calm and pregnant.
4. Have you tried eating x food, taking y supplement, using essential oils, etc.? We all have different beliefs on what promotes health and well-being. But, I encourage friends and family to allow professionals to be the guide in your loved one’s fertility journey.
5. Have you considered just adopting? Adoption is a complicated (yet obviously rewarding) process. Those who have adopted can tell you that this isn’t the the easy way out. Furthermore, while we all might sing the praises of providing homes for children in need, it’s unfair to challenge someone’s desire for a biological connection to a child, if that desire exists.
6. How much longer can you continue to go through this? Unfortunately, many individuals struggle with infertility for years. They might undergo countless procedures, experience pregnancy loss, and continue to persist on. Don’t challenge their efforts, determination, or resilience. They decide when they’ve had enough.
what to say:
1. Do you want to talk about it? Your loved one might want to talk or not. They might want to get right in there emotionally or distract from their worries, and this might be a moment-to-moment determination. One moment might demand a heart-to-heart, another a night out for distance. Continue to ask what your friend needs each time you have contact.
2. Do you want me just to listen or offer my thoughts? Sometimes, folks need a sounding board or just want a space to vent. Sometimes, they need suggestions or help with problem-solving. Ask what your loved one needs.
3. Would you like some company at any of your appointments? Your loved one will likely be attending scores of appointments with their reproductive endocrinologist and possibly with ancillary providers. At times, these appointments might occur daily. Ask if they want company.
4. I support you. Remind them that you love and support them. Communicate empathy for the challenges they are enduring. Express interest, compassion, support, and hope.
5. Should I ask for updates or wait for you to reach out? People have different styles of coping with challenges and new information related to these challenges. Some might appreciate friends checking in with them for updates; others might prefer that friends wait for them to reach out with news. Ask your loved one what their preference is regarding the frequency and flow of communication.
6. What can I do to help? Instead of guessing what might be helpful, simply ask. Is there anything I can do to lessen your load while you go through all of this? At times, coping with infertility can be like adding a part-time (or full-time?) job to one’s schedule. Ask how you can help lighten your loved one’s load. Can you pick up some groceries or your latest round of meds? Maybe you arrange to have your loved one’s home cleaned. While your friend might not take you up on your offer, your willingness communicates an understanding of the emotional, physical, and financial labor associated with infertility.
*they/their pronouns are used in this article to include those whose who are non-binary and to reflect the fact that folks of all genders struggle with infertility