What to Say to a Friend Who’s Dealing With Infertility

Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade told Oprah about their stressful journey. Here’s what to say to a friend going through something similar.

Image by StockRocket/ Getty Images
Image by StockRocket/ Getty Images

Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade have been vocal about their long battle with infertility. The actress and NBA superstar have spoken about facing the heartbreak of past miscarriages, and about coping with the stress of multiple failed IVF cycles. In an exclusive at-home interview with Oprah Winfrey, the new parents talked about what their honesty could mean for others struggling alone on a similar journey.

“So many people are suffering in silence,” Union told Oprah. “Every time, when we’re candid and transparent about our journeys… you are allowing people to be seen and heard and empowered in ways that they’ve never been,” she said. “They feel like they’re not alone.”

Union addressed her struggle with infertility in her best-seller, We’re Going to Need More Wine, but as new parents (they recently had a baby via a surrogate), the couple has a new perspective on the subject. “There are many paths to parenthood and motherhood,” Union said. “Every path is beautiful, real, valid, and worthwhile.”

Everyone’s struggle with infertility is deeply personal and complex, and it can be hard to know what to say when a friend is facing this kind of stress. “There isn’t a general rule when it comes to consoling a friend because everyone’s journey is so different,” Maria Shifrin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, tells Thrive Global. “But while the cases can vary, there are general guidelines that can be helpful in navigating the conversation.”

Even if you’re not dealing with infertility yourself, here’s what you should say (and what you should avoid saying!) to a friend so you can help them through this often-stressful period.

1. Empathize with how they’re feeling

“As a friend, it helps to conceptualize the process as an ambiguous loss,” Shifrin says. “Infertility can be this unclear, nebulous experience if you’ve never gone through it — and people don’t know how to be helpful because we don’t understand what the feeling is.” By thinking about your friend’s experience as one of loss (either a literal loss, in the case of miscarriage, or a figurative loss, where they are mourning the easy, seamless conception they hoped to have), you can better understand how to approach them. “Every month, they’re going through grief and loss over and over again. Labelling it can you better understand that,” Shifrin says.

2. Be careful about advice

Don’t offer advice unless it’s asked for, Shifrin says. If you are weighing in, keep your comments vague and supportive. “Personal insight can often feel insensitive,” Shifrin explains. She says that some friends tend to guess why or how their friend is dealing with this issue, but they typically just need your support. Make it clear that you’re there to listen — that will matter most.

3. Foster social connection

Some of the most meaningful support for people struggling with infertility comes from being around others who are going through something similar, Shifrin says. “If you know of someone else going through a similar journey, connect them. Even if you can’t relate to their struggle, helping them build on the connection of social support is helpful.”

4. Just be there

Remember that there’s value in being an empathetic friend and just being physically there, Shifrin notes. Often, people can feel lonely, anxious, and isolated during this time, so they really want non-judgmental, unbiased support. And even if they are talking about their situation with their doctor, you shouldn’t assume your presence isn’t appreciated. “There can be a lack of sensitivity in the medical field, and that’s when people need a friend,” Shifrin says. Without asking too many questions, simply prove that you’re there for them if they want some company.  

Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

By Johnny Nunez/Getty Images

Why Dwyane Wade’s Parental Support for His Transgender Child is a Game Changer

by Cynthia V. Catchings

Pregnancy Loss and Infertility Came As a Shock

by Sophia Campbell Johnson
sharing my journey for the first time ever on stage in front of 200 women last May.

How to survive the hell of Infertility

by Rhoda Twumasi
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.